Anna Karenina (2012) Dir. Joe Wright


How to turn a classic into a sappy love story that you wouldn’t care less about in a few simple steps courtesy of Joe Wright.

Get rid of social context. The tragedy of Anna Karenina is not about infidelity per se. Its aim is not the study of feelings or unfaithfulness. It is deeply rooted into a social context. In Anna’s world, everything operates according to certain standards and unwritten rules. The tragedy is not about the physical act, but the outrage that a married woman dares leave her husband and her child. Wright attempts to squeeze in a few scenes of social ostracism toward Anna, but they are lost between the sappy love story and very shallow dialogs that only a desperate chick flick lover would buy.

Get rid of depth. As mentioned, the dialogs become unbearable at some point. As long as we can enjoy the beauty of Keira Knightley’s face and Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s blue eyes uninterrupted by any dialogs, we don’t realize there is so much wrong with this picture. Once the characters start talking, it becomes obvious. They proclaim love and show affection in a way every true Twilight fan would appreciate. It does not suffice to use the word love to show it. Anna and Vronsky seem to be driven by it, but we see it more clearly before they even get involved into the love affair. Once they try the forbidden fruit of sex (forbidden for Anna only, of course), it’s already too late for the movie. It fails to capture the development of their passion and the depth and complication of their relationship. Anna’s suicide is barely a tragedy.

Get rid of character development. The duet Joe Wright and Tom Stoppard barely scratch the surface as far as character development is concerned. The theater play-like form does not help here either. The characters appear as mannequins. They are lifeless, but still driven by emotions and feelings. Some of them are driven by sexual needs like very much caricatured Oblonsky (Matthew Macfadyen), Anna’s brother and a notorious one-night stander (is it a suggestion infidelity runs in the family?). Others find it impossible to live without love. How do we know that? It is plainly stated. There is nothing left for us to figure out.

Get rid of any sensible form and convention. The choice of theater-like or at times circus-like convention is lost on me. It adds a sense of artificiality. And it takes away the scope of the tragedy, its grandeur. Everything seems locked in confide spaces. The society is represented by a mere group of strangely dehumanized ladies and gentlemen. Why should we care when Anna reveals her feeling for Vronsky in public during the horse race since the public is just a small group audience in a theater room?

Get rid of motives. Karenin’s (Jude Law) motives seem the most convoluted. At one point, he is the obstacle for Anna’s happiness. He refuses to give her divorce and her son. At other point, he forgives her and removes himself from the picture. Why he does that is never explained. As for Anna’s suicide, it’s a long stretch to assume why she commits it. From the novel and other adaptations we know she cannot give up her son and cannot give up Vronsky. However, she can’t have them both. Plus, the pressure of social ostracism is more than she can take. In this adaptation, the son disappears at some point, we forget about him. The society is just a bunch of mannequins performing a neatly choreographed show. Vronsky does not give her any reason to be unhappy (his alleged love affair with some princess come as morphine-induced hallucination). The movie fails to present her entrapment, her despair. We should feel it as strongly as she does. Instead, we just wait for it to happen since most of the viewers probably already know the ending.

Long days, pleasant nights,

Veronica Bazydlo

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