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Film / The Sacrifice

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The Sacrifice is the final film by lauded Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky, released in 1986.

It begins as the story of Alexander, an old retired actor whose friends and family come to his island house to celebrate his birthday. Midway through the visit, an announcement is issued from the TV—war has broken out, and nuclear annhiliation is most likely imminent. In the midst of everyone freaking out, Alexander tries to strike a bargain with God to prevent the destruction of the human race. Things get weirder from there.

Like all of Tarkovsky's work, questions of faith and existential concerns are central to The Sacrifice. Indeed, the movie was specifically made as a direct homage to Ingmar Bergman, whose movies trod similar ground. So direct an homage, in fact, that Tarkovsky made use of the Scandinavian director's preferred cinematographer, the famed Sven Nykvist, as well as Bergman's favorite filming location in Sweden and one of his regular leading men, Erland Josephson, to play Alexander.

Many people see the themes of death and apocalypse in the film as an outgrowth of Tarkovsky's own imminent demise, but in fact he had not been diagnosed with the cancer that killed him until after filming was completed. The film is also noted for a famous ending sequence that features the entire set being burned down. Unfortunately, the scene was being shot from a single angle in one long take, and the camera jammed. The production had to request money from the producers to do it all over again (this time with two cameras, though footage from only one was used).

This has no connection with the video game Sacrifice.

This film provides examples of:

  • Aside Glance: Maria gives one as she repeats Adelaide's orders.
  • Art Shift: Lots of variances in the color schemes, very much to the purpose.
  • Author Avatar: Many of Alexander's long soliloquies on the state of the modern world are Tarkovsky's own beliefs.
  • Awful Wedded Life: Adelaide married Alexander because she admired his acting career. But he retired a few years later, and she seems to have been disappointed with him ever since.
  • Mood Motif: The Japanese music that plays on Alexander's stereo.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: We never see any signs of war, or even the face of the television announcer informing the group that war is imminent.
  • Power Floats: What happens when Alexander and Maria have sex.
  • Scenery Porn: Getting Sven Nykvist to do the cinematography for The Sacrifice certainly wasn't a bad thing, what with his gorgeous set design, and use of bleach bypass and careful color timing.
  • Stop, or I Shoot Myself!: How Alexander gets Maria to sleep with him.
  • The Oner: Very much integral to Tarkovsky's style; this movie has only 115 shots making up its 149 minutes, and its opening, the longest shot to be found in Tarkovsky's filmography, runs for 9:26. To put things in perspective, the famous long take at the beginning of Touch of Evil is about a third as long.
  • The Voiceless: Little Man for most of the film. Alexander, by the end.