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Film / The Brothers Karamazov 1969

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The Brothers Karamazov is a 1969 film from the Soviet Union directed by Ivan Pyryev, Kyrill Lavrov, and Mikhail Ulyanov.

It is, of course, an adaptation of the famed Russian novel The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky. Fyodor, the drunken, thoughtlessly cruel patriarch of the Karamazov family, has three sons. Alyosha (Andrey Myagkov, The Irony of Fate), the gentlest of the three, has joined the Russian Orthodox priesthood and is a novice monk. Ivan (Kyrill Lavrov) is a cynical intellectual who likes to prattle on about how people only accept morality because they believe in life after death, and if anyone ceases to believe in that, they must also cease to believe in right and wrong, thus "everything is allowed." Dmitri (Mikhail Ulyanov) is a cavalryman, and a scoundrel who likes drinking, gambling, and sex, not necessarily in that order.


The Karamazovs, Alyosha excepted, have rather complicated love lives. Dmitri is engaged to Katerina, the daughter of his former commanding officer. He has however dumped her, instead falling for Grushenka, an alluring woman who is implied to be a High-Class Call Girl. Ivan, for his part, is suffering with unrequited love for Katerina. And Dmitri's father, Fyodor, also loves Grushenka and wants her for himself.

Other adaptations of the novel include a 1958 American film with Yul Brynner and William Shatner (really!) and a 2009 Russian TV miniseries.

Ivan Pyryev died during production of this film, leaving Lavrov and Ulyanov to complete it by themselves, which is the reason why there are three credited directors.



  • All There in the Manual: Someone who hasn't read the novel and doesn't know the intricacies of 19th century Russian peasant superstitions might wonder why so much fuss is made about Elder Zosima's body starting to smell. The reason is that it was a common belief among the peasantry in that era that a holy man's body would not decay after death.
  • Betty and Veronica Switch: Katerina seems to genuinely love Dmitri and want him back, while Grushenka is toying with his emotions. But by the end of the novel Grushenka is proclaiming her love for Dmitri and following him into Siberian exile, while a bitter Katerina produces the incriminating letter that dooms Dmitri to a long prison sentence.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Even more so than the book, surprisingly. Dmitri is marched off to Siberian forced labor, although he still has an optimistic attitude, and Grushenka is coming with him. The book ends that particular plot with a sort of Left Hanging ending in which the family is plotting to spring Dmitri from prison and smuggle him to America along with Grushenka. The film also lacks the moment of contrition and redemption between Katerina and Dmitri.
  • The Butler Did It: Turns out that Smerdyakov, the weaselly butler, was the one who really killed Fyodor. He also happens to be Fyodor's illegitimate son.
  • A Chat with Satan: As Ivan starts to go genuinely crazy towards the end, he hallucinates a chat with Satan in his room, where Satan mocks his "everything is allowed" philosophy.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The angry letter a drunken Dmitri scrawls to Katerina relatively early in the film, writing about how he'd like to kill his father. At the end of the movie, a vengeful Katerina produces it at trial and dooms Dmitri to conviction.
  • Dodgy Toupee: In the scene where Grushenka is is telling her former client/patron the Polish officer to get lost, she spits out "Where did you get that wig?" She then proceeds to rip the wig right off his head.
  • Dutch Angle: Ivan, who was previously maintaining a state of calm after entering Dmitry's trial to testify, sees the blood-spattered clothes on the table. The next shot is a Dutch Angle of the judges from his POV. He has a public breakdown immediately after.
  • Empathic Environment: A raging thunderstorm breaks out on the night of Fyodor's murder.
  • For Doom the Bell Tolls: The tolling church bell seen in the very first shot of the movie sets an ominous mood.
  • Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: Alyosha, the gentle monk who is easily the kindest member of the family, has sandy blonde hair.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Grushenka, who initially comes across as a Femme Fatale, is eventually revealed to be this, as well as being genuinely in love with Dmitri.
  • Hot Gypsy Woman: A drunken Dmitri pays for a band of gypsies (Roma) to play and liven up the party with Grushenka. The prettiest woman in the bunch sings a song.
  • Off-into-the-Distance Ending: Ends with Grushenka, in a coach, following Dmitri and the other prisoners as they march off into Siberian exile.
  • Orbital Shot: Around Grushenka as she dances in the middle of the party guests.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: Even a 218-minute movie has to cut great big chunks out of Dostoyevsky's Doorstopper. The story of Ilyusha, the sickly neighborhood boy and victim of bullies who is befriended by Alyosha, is cut completely. So is the long "Grand Inquisitor" section of the novel, often called the most famous part, but one which doesn't advance the plot. Another whole section, the life story of Alyosha's senior monk the Elder Zosima, is also cut.
  • Rage Against the Heavens: Seeing a bunch of idiot fundamentalists spit on the corpse of Elder Zosima leads Alyosha to stagger out of the monastery in hysterics. He shouts at the heavens, asking God why he didn't smite the people who disrespected a holy monk.
  • Thanatos Gambit: Smerdyakov kills himself to insure that he can't be questioned at Dmitri's trial.
  • Whip Pan:
    • Done as a POV shot from Alyosha's perspective to demonstrate his grief and disorientation after seeing Elder Zosima's corpse spat upon by villagers.
    • Later done with Ivan and his hallucination of Satan, the room whipping around them as Ivan comes unglued.

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