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Film / Leviathan (2014)

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Leviathan is a 2014 film from Russia directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev.

Kolya is a handyman/mechanic who lives with his second wife Lilia in a gray, sad little town on the shores of the Arctic Ocean near Murmansk. Mayor Vadim, the fat, corrupt Mayor of the little town, is pushing an eminent domain claim that will allow him to seize Kolya's house and land, at a grossly low price. The mayor claims that he will build a communication station there but Kolya suspects it's for his own personal benefit. Kolya isn't going to cave so easily, however, and calls in his old army buddy Dmitri, now a Moscow lawyer, to help.


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This movie provides examples of:

  • The Alcoholic: Every named character who drinks alcohol. The main character seems to end up like this.
  • As the Good Book Says...: The bishop quotes from Job 41. See Title Drop below.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: The mayor succeeds in seizing Kolya's land and building a church, and Kolya goes to prison to boot.
  • Bowdlerized: In Russia itself, all the profanity was censored.
  • Corrupt Bureaucrat: The main antagonist is the mayor of a northern Russian town, who is seeking to seize the protagonist's land.
  • Corrupt Church: The Orthodox Church is presented in far from the best view in the movie. The bishop, who puts on a mask of Christian goodness, seems to be conspiring with the mayor to seize Kolya's land.
  • Downer Ending: Lilia commits suicide. Afterwards, Kolya is arrested and charged with murdering her. This allows the mayor and the bishop he's in cahoots with to proceed with their project, building a cathedral where Kolya's house was.
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  • Driven to Suicide: It isn't shown, but apparently Lilia flung herself off the cliffs by the ocean.
  • Fat Bastard: The mayor's obesity underscores his corruption, greed, and amorality.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: This film about a corrupt kleptocrat leader and the corrupt, lawless government that enables him was made in Vladimir Putin's Russia. There's even a portrait of Putin behind the mayor's desk, which is a not-so-subtle condemnation of the social order that Putin represents. What's more is that the film got thirty-five percent of its budget from the notoriously reactionary Ministry of Culture, so Zvyagintsev had to have done some smooth talking to get them to sign off on the project.
    • Amusingly, in spite of the film's critical angle towards the church, the real-life metropolitan of Murmansk (where the film was shot) approved of the film's social commentary, candidly describing its portrayal of Russia's social problems as "honest."
  • Headbutt of Love: Kolya and Dmitri do this during a night of drinking.
  • Hypocrite: In spite of being chummy with the Russian Orthodox church and paying lip service to its values, the mayor gets up to some very unchristian behavior. Besides the fact that what he's knowingly violating the law, he also has no problem using other legal mechanisms to ruin Kolya's life. That's to say nothing of how he's persistently driven by greed (his desire for more power), gluttony (the fact that he's living comfortably at the expense of his hardscrabble, working-class citizens) wrath (his anger at Kolya and Dima for objecting to his abuse of power), pride (his belief that he understands God's will and is merely acting on his behalf) and more than anything else, his envy of Kolya's land.
  • Jerkass: The priest who Kolya speaks to isn't particularly sympathetic to his plight, coldly insinuating that the man's losses are all part of God's plan and giving him the hallow, unhelpful advice that he should accept his fate, like Job did in the bible. Seeing as the bishop is complicit in the mayor's scheme, the priest was likely using scripture to justify the church taking advantage of Kolya under the pretext that it's what God wants.
  • The Man Behind the Man: The Orthodox Bishop. While throughout the film it seems the mayor is the main antagonist, and the direct cause of much of the characters' suffering, in the end it seems the Bishop was pulling his strings the whole time.
  • Motor Mouth: The judge who reads the ruling in Kolya's case. She rattles off the whole opinion in record time. Doubles as a very black Brick Joke when the same judge reads off his 15-year sentence for murder at the same lightning speed.
  • Noodle Incident: The nature of the blackmail Dmitri tries to use on the mayor is never explained.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: Everyone who isn't actively screwing Kolya over is passively refusing to help him. When he's chucked in prison, the lady at the prosecutor's office says that no one's there and she isn't authorized to let him out. When Dmitri tries to find a judge, the judge conveniently isn't there either.
  • Reckless Gun Usage: The characters get very drunk on vodka and use Kalashnikovs to shoot portraits of Soviet/Russian leaders as a way of blowing off some steam.
  • Ribcage Ridge: The whale skeleton on the beach. While it isn't literally another world, as Murmansk Oblast is in fact on Earth, it serves to help mark the town as someplace different. The whale bones also help reinforce the mood of hopelessness and despair.
  • Scenery Gorn: Opens with shots of the bleak and depressing town, with special attention to the rotting hulks of long-derelict ships in the harbor.
  • Stupid Evil: Either Bishop is this or the casting team did a Critical Research Failure. While the main premise of the film is taking the land from the protagonist to build a church, a ruins of another one are also shown. Bishop could have achieved his goal by restoring it. Not only it would give him less bureaucratical hoops to jump through, Russian government actually subsidizes old church restoration projects meaning he also might lose some financial gain by ignoring such an opportunity.
  • Title Drop: And also As the Good Book Says.... After Kolya challenges the bishop about where is God, the bishop quotes the first three verses of Job 41, comparing Kolya to Job (they certainly both suffer, but Kolya doesn't get Job's happy ending.) The allusions to Leviathan seem to be a reference to the corrupt, unjust Russian state. There is also a visual title drop with the shots of the skeleton of a whale, washed up in the harbor. And another visual title drop when Lilia, looking down from the cliff, sees a live whale in the water.
    Can you pull in Leviathan with a fishhook
    or tie down its tongue with a rope?
    Can you put a cord through its nose
    or pierce its jaw with a hook?
    Will it keep begging you for mercy?
    Will it speak to you with gentle words?
  • Where the Hell Is Springfield?: The town the movie is set in doesn't exist, but shares a name with several towns in Russia.
  • Your Cheating Heart: Lilia has a fling with Dmitri.

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