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Film / The Return (2003)

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There are actually three main characters in this movie, but this image only shows two of them: Ivan (left) and Andrei (right). Their father, as usual, is nowhere to be seen.

A 2003 Russian film directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev, The Return tells the story of two brothers — 15-year-old Andrei and 13-year-old Ivan — and the fishing trip they take with their father. Oh, did we mention that the father has been absent from their lives for the past 12 years and abruptly returned the previous day under somewhat vague and shady circumstances?

The two brothers are initially excited at finally being able to get to know their Dad. Ivan, however, quickly begins to develop second thoughts (possibly thanks to his mother's grave composure at both the father's return and at the upcoming trip). These second thoughts give way to hostility and fear as the generic fishing trip turns into a lengthy quest to a remote, mysterious island. What is so special about this island? Does their father have ulterior motives? Is he a criminal? Did their mother know what he was really up to before okaying the trip? Are their lives in danger? The brothers debate these questions amongst themselves up until the film's climax.


As interesting as these questions are, the movie is less concerned about them and more interested in using them to explore the dynamics of father-son relationships. This was a subject very close to the heart of the director, whose own father disappeared from his life when he was a child. There is a story, mind you, but this is one of those cases where plot takes a backseat to theme.

This Film Contains Examples Of:

  • Alternate Character Interpretation: In-Universe Example. Andrei and Ivan debate the true motives (and even the actual identity) of their so-called father. We never do learn which brother was correct.
  • Audience Surrogate: Both of the brothers; they're as much in the dark as we, the viewers, are.
  • Ax-Crazy: Possibly. It could be that the father was trying to give them another tough life lesson (which he had been doing all throughout the movie) rather than trying to kill them.
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  • Calling the Old Man Out: Ivan and (eventually) Andrei do this.
  • The Cassandra: Since we never know Father's true nature, either Andrei or Ivan can be viewed as this, although Ivan is a far more overt example.
  • Character Development: In the third act, both brothers are the opposite of how they were in the opening; Ivan is willing to stand up to things and people that scare him; Andrei becomes a leader and acts more mature, confident, and responsible.
  • Gainax Ending: Very subtle as far as this trope goes. Father is no longer in the family picture at the end of the story, taking the movie from realism to pure allegory.
  • Ironic Echo: "With [y]our little hands."
  • Messianic Archetype:
    • The script deliberately gives Father several parallels with Jesus (how he appears in his very first scene, his mention of having eaten a lot of fish once, his possibly acting as The Paragon, the Gainax Ending revealing that he may have been a supernatural being, etc.); heck, the film's very title could be a reference to the Christian belief of the Second Coming.
    • Curiously, the film also goes out of its way to contrast the two (Father getting angry at Ivan and Andrei for forgiving a bully, his lying to them about the length of the trip, the way he lustfully gazes at a passing woman's bottom, and so on).
  • My God, What Have I Done?
    • Ivan, after Father falls off the tower.
    • Possibly Father, during the chase scene. He arguably comes across as someone who has just realized that things have gotten out of hand and is now trying to clear things up.
  • Mysterious Past: Father and, to a lesser extent, Mother.
  • No Name Given: All of the characters except Ivan and Andrei
  • Tough Love: Again, Andrei's theory on Father until Andrei finally hits his breaking point.
  • The Unreveal: What was in that box? What was Father up to? Why did he involve the boys? Did he commit a crime? Was he even really their father? All of these questions get some build-up, and none of them are ever answered.
  • "Well Done, Son!" Guy: Andrei towards Father