Monday, April 09, 2007

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Solaris: Counterpoint of Sculpting in Time

Natalia L. Rudychev

Conference Procedings of Hawaii International Conference on Arts and Humanities
Available on line at (5318-5330) and as
CD-ROM ISSN 1541-5899, Honolulu, 2006

Andrey Tarkovsky finished the work on Solaris in 1972 – sixteen years after his first student work as a director Ubiitsy (aka: The Killers) and fourteen years before his death. Solaris became not only the central point of the director’s body of work, but (and it is much more important) the counterpoint of that which Tarkovsky defined later as sculpting in time. This paper seeks to explore the meaning of this counterpoint and its philosophical implications for Tarkovsky’s filming.
Tarkovsky’s film is loosely based on Stanislaw Lemm’s science fiction novel Solaris. What interests the director in Lemm’s novel is not advances in the technological progress of human civilization, but ever present dilemmas of human spirit. That is why Tarkovsky pays very little attention to the futuristic entourage of the film, as was the case with his previous film Passion According to Andrei set in 15-th century Russia when he made it a point not to stress any exotic details pertaining to that particular époque. What interests Tarkovsky is the phenomena passing through time that leave their mark on the canvas of the human soul.
In Sculpting in Time Tarkovsky says that “the cinema image is essentially the observation of a phenomenon passing through time”.[i] Therefore the counterpoint in filming is the ability to simultaneously express a phenomenon passing through time against another phenomenon passing through time in a comprehensible way. The counterpoint of Solaris deals with time - the time of a human being. What is this time of a human being that speaks in Solaris’ counterpoint? Tarkovsky says that in its essence it is “the relationship between man and his own conscience”.[ii] This way time of a human being reveals itself as a counterpoint inextricable from the nature of what a human being is. It is existence in time that cannot be separated from itself. It depends, as Levinas puts it in On Escape “on the very being of our being, on its incapacity to break with itself”.[iii]
The counterpoint of one’s presence to oneself is intelligible only because it harbors a need, a profound need to escape because one’s presence to oneself can be unbearable, shameful, nauseating. In this sense images of Tarkovsky’s films make the viewers’ presence to themselves radically visible. In the same way, Hari’s appearance on the Solaris space station makes visible Kris’ presence to himself in all its nakedness and brutality. In this light it is not accidental that the theme music of Solaris is J. S. Bach’s Prelude F minor - a hymn of supplication, an expression of a profound need to be delivered from unbearable solitude of our presence to ourselves. The last words of this hymn strike me as particularly relevant to the understanding of escape:

O make me now and wholly
Love Thee solely,
My neighbor hold as self,
And keep Thy word e’er holy.[iv]

We can hold the other as self only when we stop seeking excuses for all that is shameful, unbearable and nauseating in our presence to ourselves.
Solaris begins with long takes of nature: seaweeds gracefully waving in a stream, close-ups of green blades of grass, a beautiful landscape embraced by the light fog. Kris, the main character of the film, is present in this beautiful setting but is completely oblivious to its presence. Thus Kris’ presence in the landscape is given through his absence from its presence. Consequently Kris is oblivious not only to his presence in the landscape but also to his presence to himself in this landscape. This is time lost. Time we loose every day without ever noticing it. Tarkovsky’s images make this time lost visible. In other words, they reveal the difference between what we see without taking notice and what is visible as immediate intimate presence in our presence to ourselves. This is how cinematic image becomes expressive. It turns that, which we see without seeing it, visible. In Sculpting in Time Tarkovsky wrote that time can be felt in a shot.
It becomes tangible when you sense something significant, truthful, going on beyond the events on the screen; when you realise, quite consciously, that what you see in the frame is not limited to its visual depiction, but is a pointer to something stretching out beyond the frame and to infinity; a pointer to life. (Andrey Tarkovsky. Sculpting in Time)[v]

Tarkovsky never ceased to stress that the artist has to be touched by the presence of that which he transcribes into his artwork. It is the main condition under which the artwork can acquire expressive force; the rest is the work of a pure skill. Benjamin, in his now classical work “The World of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”, foresaw and highlighted the expressive potential of the cinematic image by pointing out that “the camera introduces us to unconscious optics”[vi].
Tarkovky wrote that the viewer must be ready to receive the selfless gift of the creator - it takes an equal effort to understand the work of art as it is needed to create one. He also points out that the director “from a ‘lump of time’ made up of an enormous, solid cluster of living facts, cuts off and discards whatever he does not need, leaving only what is to be an element of the finished film.”[vii] The little metallic box for sterilizing syringes that is shown in the beginning of the film, keeps reappearing throughout the film and is present in the last scene was not cut off and discarded. It is there for a reason. Tarkovsky is subtle and it requires an effort to understand the cluster of meanings to which this image points. Kris is shown with the box in the beginning of the film, but it is closed and the viewer is left perplexed about what Kris is doing with this box during his morning work. Only before Kris’ lift off do we meet with this image again. The box is open and some soil is spilled over the Don Quixote novel. Kris puts the box in his bag to take it to Solaris. Thus Kris pays tribute to the ancient ritual of taking a handful of native soil into a long journey. But Kris - who has a concrete goal and is ready to destroy that which he cannot understand, who thinks like an accountant and is interested in abstract truth - is not capable to live through the ritual or to comprehend its meaning.
When Kris is shown in the beginning of the film in the midst of the beautiful landscape the viewer feels ill at ease about his absentee presence and preoccupation with a metallic box for sterilizing syringes. This feeling of uneasiness reveals that the old ritual that Kris performs there is empty. Only when Kris confronts his own self externalized by planet Solaris in the form of Hari does the true meaning of this ritual come to the surface: return. The impossibility to break up with what you yourself are that becomes painful to the point of malaise shows itself as presence, presence of Kris’ being to himself. This is return that in its essence is escape. It is a return because it is his presence to himself that is unbearable and it is an escape because, as Levinas puts it, “The fact of being ill at ease [mal à son aise] is essentially dynamic. It appears as a refusal to remain in place, as an effort to get out of unbearable situation.”[viii] This effort involves Kris’ being as a whole because it is the presence of this being as a whole is unbearable. The effort itself might be fruitless but it is the effort that counts. Only in this effort, which has no other goal but to get out of the unbearable situation of being oneself, does the dignity of the being that undertakes this effort have a chance to reveal itself and that which is co-present with this effort have a chance to acquire value and meaning.
The soil from the box was spilled over the Don Quixote novel. The whole life of Don Quixote was pitched towards escape in Levinasian sense of the term. His efforts are often fruitless but they engage his whole being and it is for these efforts that we love and respect Cervantes’ character. In a sense, this state of being pitched towards escape from one’s own self is very Kantian. In fact Kris’ consciousness turns into a battleground between pure science and morality. On the one hand Hari is a byproduct of a scientific experiment, on the other she is a being that shows all the characteristics of a human being and cannot be treated as a mere object for research. Hari is at the same time the most foreign as a creation of the Ocean Solaris and the closest as the most painful reproach of Kris’ consciousness. Hari makes visible that which Kris wants to hide even from himself. Presence of Hari makes Kris ashamed of himself. Hari exhibits the nakedness of Kris’ total being. As Levinas puts it, “Nakedness is shameful when it is the sheer visibility [patience] of our being, of its total intimacy.”[ix] Shame makes Kris conscious of his need to escape the shame of being the being that he himself is.
Kris is the being that makes the viewer feel ashamed for him. His presence is characterized by his absence from the presence of everything and everyone that comes into contact with him in the first part of the film. He is absent from the presence of Earth that is represented by the beautiful landscape near his house when he is about to leave it. Kris is absent from the presence of his aunt when she cries he does not find parting words for her. Kris is irritated by Burton’s visit during his last day on Earth and is deliberately cruel to him. Kris is ready to continue the research on Solaris even at a cost of destruction of that which we are not yet capable of understanding. In one of the most powerful scenes in the film Kris deeply hurts his father without even noticing that he does it. This happens in a scene where Kris and his father stand by the bonfire on which Kris burns the papers that he considers useless. Kris makes a passing remark that he has so many useless papers: student notes, research papers, thesis and notes with irritation that he cannot understand how all these papers survived throughout the years. At the moment Kris utters these words the camera shows his father’s back. The whole posture of his father expresses that he is helpless, caught in the act of caring that is not needed, considered a mere nuisance.
Thus the shame that Tarkovsky’s Solaris sculpts out of time is twofold. On the one hand it is Kris’ shame of himself and on the other viewers shame for him. These two kinds of shame are closely connected. Kris’ cheer visibility to himself makes him ashamed which in its turn makes shameful visible and enables him to be ashamed for others. The images of the film make the shameful visible in the same way as Hari makes what is shameful visible for Kris. And this enables the viewers to be ashamed not only of but for as well. It is not accidental that towards the end of the film Kris says that shame is the feeling that is going to save humanity.
How is this escape possible? Once Kris realizes the need to escape he makes an attempt to behave humanely in inhuman situation. But he takes the route that is fallacious. Kris wants to escape by protecting and loving Hari. He wants to escape from what he is by means of the pleasure of undoing what he has done in the past. It is not possible. As Tarkovsky says that one cannot do it “if he had been able to live this stage of his life differently, he would not have been guilty the first time, either”.[x] It turns out that the pleasure of being united with the being you love is a false promise of escape. The pure ecstasy of being united with the being you love that is skillfully rendered on the screen through levitation abruptly breaks up in Hari’s new attempt to kill herself. Contrary to common belief that the absence of sexual acts in Tarkovsky’s films is due to the censorship and Puritanism of soviet society, the director states in multiple interviews that the uniqueness of this act done in privacy acquires an opposite characteristic when performed on the screen.[xi] Tarkovsky searched and found cinematic expression of this act that would preserve its uniqueness – levitation. The pure pleasure and ecstasy of Kris and Hari’s embrace in levitation is cruelly cut short by the harsh sound of broken glass of the can from which Hari drank liquid nitrogen. The promise of escape through pleasure proves to be an illusion. Levinas formulates in the following words, “the moment when pleasure is broken, after the supreme break, when the [human] being believed in complete ecstasy but was completely disappointed, and is entirely disappointed and ashamed to find himself again existing.”[xii] Kris comes to the point where “nothing-more-to-be-done”, to the point of ultimate solitude that makes him physically ill. He makes one last subconscious attempt to ground himself by appealing to the most precious memory of his childhood – mother. But his past fails him too. His mother abandons him and fades into darkness. Kris’ memory turns into pure pain, time lost. By time lost Tarkovsky understands experience of death of another person. The moment of death is also the death of individual time: the life of a human being becomes inaccessible to the feelings of those remaining alive”.[xiii] The main character, Kris Kelvin, lost two very close people: his mother and his wife, Hari. Kris’ mother was cold and distant towards him. In a home video to which Kris constantly returns in his memory his mother never smiles to little Kris, never plays with or talks to him. She seems to be in some world of her own and this world is inaccessible to Kris. As a child Kris suffered because of lack of emotional connection with his mother. It was not his fault, but he still felt guilty. When she died there was nobody to reconcile him with his painful childhood memories and answer the question: “Why?”. But since she is dead she is inaccessible to Kris’ feelings, and his attempts to question his memory turn into pain: “As a moral being, man is endowed with memory which sows in him a sense of dissatisfaction. It makes us vulnerable, subject to pain”.[xiv]
When appeal to the memory turns into pain Kris finds himself in “limit-situation in which the uselessness of any action is precisely the sign of the supreme instant from which we can only depart.”[xv] This is the moment when the metallic box with the soil from Earth reappears on the screen. Only this time there is something different about it: little green plant springs out of it. Nobody planted it but it is there. It is the escape that springs out of the last memory where Kris tries to find refuge and fails. It is the point at which Kris realizes that one can love only that which he can loose. That preservation of simple human truths requires mystery. That one cannot rest in a satisfied illusion that his self is transparent to him. That it is not your world, other worlds or other people you are in conflict with. The conflict lies much deeper – it is in the self itself. As Snout puts it, “We don’t know what to do with other worlds. We don’t need other worlds. We need a mirror. We are in the foolish human predicament striving for a goal that he fears, that he has no need for. Man needs man.”[xvi] The counter point that Tarkovsky sculpts out of time is the self against self, the impossibility to be the being that you are and remain human. In this line of thought Tarkovsky comes very close to the idea that Levinas expresses in On Escape, “Every civilization that accepts being – with the tragic despair it contains and the crimes it justifies – merits the name ‘barbarian’”.[xvii] The barbarian civilization can occupy itself only with knowledge understood in a sense of rational and methodical appropriation of everything that is as a whole. This is exactly what Kris does in the beginning of the film.
The refusal to accept and justify what you are as “the fait accompli of creation”[xviii] means return to your true self and rediscovery of the mystery that makes simple human truths possible. Only through that refusal to remain in place can we rediscover people as the reason for love. This can be accomplished only when we are sick at heart of what we are, through the experience of nausea. Tarkovsky very skillfully prepares the viewer to the understanding of this intuition in the beginning of the film. When we feel ill at ease because of Kris’ cruelty to Burton who exposes himself to Kris in the uttermost way Tarkovsky reinforces this feeling by cinematic means. Burton makes an effort to reach Kris by sharing with him the most painful experience of his life only to be hurt at the moment he is most vulnerable. The viewer does not know that Burton has a proof of his experience on Solaris that would satisfy Kris’ requirement of verifiability but still feels ill at ease. This is highlighted by Kris father’s emotional response to the harshness of Kris’ position. When the proof is exposed and the viewer is made conscious that the cruelty Burton was exposed to was uncalled for the experience turns from uncomfortable into sickening. This is reinforced by the nauseating cinematic experience that follows. The long shot of Burton’s drive through the location of Akasakamitsuke in Tokyo is accompanied by electronic music that gradually increases in volume to the point of becoming unbearable. Olga Surkova writes about Tarkovsky’s work on this shot in her Tarkovsky’s Chronicals. She says that it was Tarkovsky’s intention that this shot would be unbearable to the point of nausea.[xix] Only after going through the experience of nausea ourselves we can comprehend Kris’ experience of it as true. This is how the viewer can see the possibility of return to our true self shown on the screen as the one that can be ours.
The film ends with a scene in which the Ocean Solaris brings from out of its depth that which can open the road for any contact – return to our true self. On the screen it is rendered through strong visual allusion to Rembrandt’s canvas The Return of the Prodigal Son. The little metallic box that Kris took from Earth is still there. It is closed. But this time the fact that it is closed is not entrapment in the self it is preservation of mystery.
In conclusion I want to say that counterpoint of self against self that penetrates all Tarkovsky’s films is not the only meaning of counterpoint that can be applied to Tarkovsky’s cinematic works. There is another meaning of this term on which I want to elaborate briefly – polyphony. It became a common place in viewer’s accounts after watching Tarkovsky’s retrospective that they are under impression of seeing on long film. In this sense Solaris stands out because in a crystallized way its images contain allusions to past works and seeds of the works yet to come. Visually Solaris sends us back to the images of Ivan’s Childhood through dreamlike shots of nature. Ivan’s Childhood opens up as yet another sense of shame - shame of being human with respect to our historical existence. History is not a glorious march toward progress and happiness if the price that is paid for them is a child’s life and sanity. Solaris evokes moral themes of Passion According to Andrei through the image of Rublev’s Trinity that is preceded by the return to the main musical theme of this film. Rublev’s dilemma of his inability to reconcile vocation to love humanity as a whole and inability to love that which is disgustful and cruel in individual human beings. This theme is very strong in Kris’ monologue in the second part of Solaris. Illogical sequences of Kris’ memories of his childhood and dream scene with his mother will later be developed in the Mirror. Science fictional setting and collision between moral and scientific worldviews stresses Solaris’ affinity with Stalker. Stalker will later reinforce the theme of human ignorance that is one of the focal points of Solaris. We are ignorant. And if we are forced to face our true self most of the time we choose to retreat. We consciously choose to ignore that which was best expressed by Plato through Socrates in the Apology – “the unexamined life is not worth living” (Apol. 38a). This thought is expressed in Stalker through the story about Dikoobraz. Dikoobraz was a renowned stalker who went into The Zone with his brother. He lost his brother in The Zone and upon his return became astonishingly rich. Dikoobraz hanged himself a week later. In The Zone there is a place that grants the most sincere desires of the heart. Dikoobraz might have cried his eyes out asking for the return of his brother but this was not the deepest desire of his heart. So he was granted money instead. Dikoobraz could not face his true self and committed suicide. This theme is particularly strong in Solaris. Hari asks Kris if he knows himself. Kris’ response is that he knows himself as every human being does. In fact he does not know himself. Moreover, he is fully aware that he does not. When Snout suggests that Kris’ waking thoughts would be transmitted to ocean Solaris, which is considered to be a gigantic brain with which the human race tries to establish a contact, he resents this suggestion for the fear that he might subconsciously desire Hari to be dead. This fear is very real. The nostalgia for Earth, for home, for the place of our origin of which we are ignorant in our everyday existence, which is stressed in Akira Kurosawa’s essay on Solaris[xx], finds its new development in Nostalghia, which practically quotes the shot of Kris’ aunt over the valley on the day of his departure from Earth. Kris’ readiness to sacrifice any hope for return to Earth for the sake of Hari foresees the main theme of the Sacrifice that quotes levitation as an ultimate expression of love between human beings. Viewed this way Solaris is a thread that is weaved into the fabric of Tarkovsky’s cinematic work as a whole.

[i] Andrei Tarkovsky. Sculpting in Time. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2003, 67).
[ii] University of Calgary, “On Solaris”, 13 October 2005, (13 October 2005).
[iii] Emmanuel Levinas. On Escape. (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003, 63).
[iv] Virtually Baroque, “Virtually Baroque”, 16 October 2005, (16 October 2005).
[v] Andrey Tarkovsky. Sculpting in Time. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2003, 117-118).
[vi] Walter Benjamin. “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”, in The Critical Tradition. Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends ed. by David H. Richter (New York: St. Martin Press, 1989, 584).
[vii] Andrey Tarkovsky. Sculpting in Time. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2003, 64).
[viii] Emmanuel Levinas. On Escape. (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003, 58).
[ix] Emmanuel Levinas. On Escape. (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003, 64).
[x] University of Calgary, “On Solaris”, 13 October 2005, (13 October 2005).
[xi] University of Calgary, “Nostalghia”, 22 October 2005 (22 October 2005).
[xii] Emmanuel Levinas. On Escape. (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003, 61).
[xiii]Andrey Tarkovsky. Sculpting in Time. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2003, 57).
[xiv] Andrey Tarkovsky. Sculpting in Time. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2003, 58).
[xv] Emmanuel Levinas. On Escape. (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003, 67).
[xvi] Andrei Tarkovsky: Solaris, prod. and dir. Andrei Tarkovsky, 169 min., MosFilm, 1972, DVD.
[xvii] Emmanuel Levinas. On Escape. (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003, 73).
[xviii] Emmanuel Levinas. On Escape. (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003, 72).
[xix] Old Kinoart, “Old Kinoart”, 13 October 2005 (13 October 2005).
[xx] University of Calgary, “Kurosawa on Solaris”, 23 October 2005, (23 October 2005).


1. Tarkovsky, Andrei. Sculpting in Time. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2003.
2. University of Calgary, “On Solaris”, 13 October 2005, (13 October 2005).
3. Emmanuel Levinas. On Escape. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003.
4. Virtually Baroque, “Virtually Baroque”, 16 October 2005, (16 October 2005).
5. Walter Benjamin. “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”, in The Critical Tradition. Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends. ed. by David H. Richter (New York: St. Martin Press, 1989, 584).
6. University of Calgary, “Nostalghia”, 22 October 2005 (22 October 2005).
7. Andrei Tarkovsky: Solaris, prod. and dir. Andrei Tarkovsky, 169 min., MosFilm, 1972, DVD.
8. Old Kinoart, “Old Kinoart”, 13 October 2005 (13 October 2005).
9. University of Calgary, “Kurosawa on Solaris”, 23 October 2005, (23 October 2005).

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Tarkovsky' Thinking (Ivan's Childhood)

Natalia L. Rudychev

Conference Proceedings of Hawaii International Conference on Arts and Humanities. Available on line at (5242 - 5257) and as CD-ROM ISSN#1541-5899, Honolulu, 2005

The purpose of this paper is to look into complex ideas expressed by Tarkovsky in his highly underestimated film Ivan’s Childhood. Upon reviewing modern books in the philosophy of film I came to realization that this work of famous twentieth century director is given very little credit. Even in 1962 when this film had won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival it was misunderstood and misinterpreted by the critics. J. P. Sartre’s letter in defense of Ivan’s Childhood bears witness to this unfortunate fact. Most of the present day works on the philosophy of film do not even mention Ivan’s Childhood. I think that Ivan’s Childhood is very important not only for understanding Tarkovsky’s body of work but is a milestone for the development of cinematic thinking in the twentieth century.
Ivan’s Childhood presents us with all the main topics which Tarkovsky explores in his later work. Here I want to mention just a few of them: St. Anthony’s complex, human solitude, madness, the tragic nature of human history, human dignity, and care. Moreover, Tarkovsky, by the very way he presents Ivan’s story, raises very important questions. What is art? Who is an artist and what is his calling? In the paper I intend to give a detailed analysis of these topics and questions.
In Cinema 2 Deleuze writes “that Tarkovsky challenges the distinction between montage and shot when he defines cinema by the ‘pressure of time’ in the shot.”[1] In Ivan’s Childhood Tarkovsky abandons traditional representational approach to the cinematographic image in favor of making visible relationships of time. Thus through his own medium Tarkovsky expresses general tendency of modern philosophy to break with the reign of representational thinking.
It seems to be an odd coincidence that both Russian authorities and Italian journalists blamed Tarkovsky for the same things. They referred to the film as unrealistic, and reproached the director for Ivan’s dreams. In his book Sculpting in Time Tarkovsky writes, “Working on Ivan’s Childhood we encountered protests from film authorities every time we tried to replace narrative causality with poetic articulations.”[2] J. P. Sartre in his letter to the editor of L’Unita quotes Italian critics, “The dreams! We, in the occident; have long since stopped using dreams! Tarkovsky is slow: That used to be fine between the wars!”[3] But at a deeper look this is not a coincidence. Critics from both sides approached Tarkovsky’s film with certain ideological presuppositions. The ideology of all ideologies is that there is something in the world and we can fully grasp it. It is either you are with us, or you are against, and, therefore, do not have the right to exist. To put it in Heideggerian terms, this is the approach of calculative thinking which turns everything that it casts its glance on into a standing reserve. Everything that cannot be used as a standing reserve is discarded as having no value. Tarkovsky was accused of betrayal of reality. By that the critics meant that Tarkovsky abandoned linear succession of events, merged dreams with reality, and replaced “narrative causality with poetic articulations.” I want to address these accusations and show their inconsistency.
First of all I am going to describe a personal experience of a well-know Russian film critic Olga Surkova which she retells in her book Tarkovsky and I. In 1962, when Ivan’s Childhood was released, Surkova was a 17 year old high school student aspiring to become a mathematician. But after watching Ivan’s Childhood she underwent a spiritual transformation and made a decision to devote her life to the study of film. Surkova writes that one shot from Ivan’s Childhood changed her entire life. This was the shot of an apple in an out-stretched child’s hand wet with drops of summer rain. In the context of this film the shot united in itself abundance of life and premonition of frightening and inescapable end, greatness of the world and fragility of our presence in it, heartbreaking love towards the world and nostalgic pain of its inevitable loss[4]. Surkova feels that you cannot measure harmony with algebra and changes her career plans. What more reality can you expect from a film? What reality is more real then a reality of encounter like this one? Surkova reacts to the film not as if it is a thing which has to be consumed by her, but as if it is a real person with whom she can have a dialogue. In this dialogue her true self is revealed. This is not the situation of calculative thinking in which everything is represented as a thing to be grasped and consumed. This is the situation of meditative thinking in which cinematic text fully realizes itself as a semiotic person. Russian philosopher Y. Lotman expressed this thought in the following way: “The structural parallelism of textual and personal semiotic characteristics allows us to term the text of any level as a semiotic person, and the person of any sociocultural level as a text.”[5] In fact, every text of every level has a potential to be a semiotic person, only in the context of calculative thinking both the creator and the preserver of the text block this possibility by turning it into a standing reserve. Whenever the creator treats the audience as a mere means for making more money (not that there is anything bad in gaining profit from your work) or for enforcing of a particular ideology (needless to say that no work of art is completely free from the ideological aspect), the audience treats him back in the same way. You have to read certain books and to watch certain films in order to be acknowledged as a part of a particular sociocultural group, just as you have to follow an excepted dress code when you go to a particular social event. This is how logos, the law reveals itself in our lives. But life is not exhausted by the law (scientific, political or economic). Life, as A. Hitchcock articulated it in the title of his film, is “rich and strange.” The question of relationship between the life and the law is probably as old as philosophy itself. Aristotle in Nicomachean Ethics gives a really deep insight in to this matter when he ponders over the equitable and the law. Aristotle writes “that all law is universal but about some things it is impossible to make a universal statement which will be correct… for the error is not in the law nor in the legislator but in the nature of the thing… the nature of the equitable, a correction of the law owing to its universality” (NE 1137b 12-27). The equitable speaks for everything that is not universal, for everything which is unique, concrete, and personal. It takes into account personal history. And personal history given in words (pictures, sounds, films) is mythos[6]. This is how mythos reveals itself in our lives. Mythos, as personal history, is not identical to a person but is inseparable from it. And as Russian philosopher A. Losev puts it, “The person is first and foremost self-consciousness and intelligibility.”[7] Self-consciousness exists only when it is acknowledged by another self-consciousness[8] and therefore is social in its nature. Thus, personal history, as it is inseparable from a person, is social in its nature, too. Mythos is the ever stepping back horizon of logos.
The fact that personal history is social in its nature is very important for Tarkovsky’s cinematic thinking. In Sculpting in Time Tarkovsky points out, “I am firmly convinced of one thing (not that it can be analysed): that if an author is moved by a landscape chosen, if it brings back memories to him and suggests associations, even subjective ones, then this will in turn affect the audience with particular excitement.”[9] The director also mentions that the landscapes that moved him in Ivan’s Childhood include the birch wood, the one that appears in the background of the last dream, and the swamp in the forest. Let us take one of them and consider it more closely. The birch wood stands out for me because the director shows it in such a way that his art goes beyond its formal function of representation, beyond the visible. It creates a mood, an invisible aura that cannot be represented and grasped as a picture. The birch wood appears in the film several times. I want to look at the scene in which Captain Kholin takes Masha for a walk in the birch wood. This is a scene that is full of tension. On the one hand, we have Kholin’s almost aggressive desire for Masha’s affection, and on the other Masha’s innocence and confusion. The birch wood is not a mere background in this scene; it is a character in its own right. The maze of identical trees produces hypnotizing and disorienting effect and the mechanical sound reminiscent of the woodpecker seems to be echoing the uneven beat of Masha’s heart. At the same time the gathering of white, slender, innocent trunks amazes with its breathtaking beauty. When Masha runs in confusion after her first kiss every tree becomes an obstacle in her way. For Tarkovsky it was important to show not the realism of the outward objects but the realism of the invisible, of that which goes on inside a person.
It is crucial that mise en scène, rather than illustrating some idea, should follow life – the personalities of the characters and their psychological state. Its purpose must not be reduced to elaborating on the meaning of a conversation or an action. Its function is to startle us with the authenticity of the actions and the beauty and depths of the artistic images – not by obtrusive illustration of their meaning. As is so often the case, undue emphasis on ideas can only restrict the spectator’s imagination, forming a kind of thought ceiling beyond which there yawns a vacuum. It doesn’t safeguard the frontiers of thought, it simply makes it harder to penetrate into its depth.[10]

When the critics demanded realism from Tarkovsky they apparently reduced realism to the careful reproduction of the visual manifestations of real events. Tarkovsky understood realism in a very different manner. His vision of realism includes in itself very insights into the nature of the creative process. I intend to survey the most important of them. Although talent, skill and hard work are prerequisites for the creation of the work of art, Tarkovsky thinks they are useless if the artist is not honest in his work. “Even when the problems shown are most complex, the sequence of images, formal structure of the work most complicated – for the creator the fundamental problem will always be honesty.”[11] If the creator is himself moved by that which he is trying to communicate to his audience, then he would be heard, if not by his contemporaries, then by later generations. If the creator is moved by a landscape, a story, an emotion then it becomes a part of his personal history. Personal history is social in its nature and therefore exists only in being acknowledged. Personal history is a fact and it does not become any less real if it does not quite fit into the conceptual framework of the moment. August Roden gained acceptance only when he was fifty; Van Gogh was understood only after his death. “It is very difficult to be both useful to the society and at the same time truthful, it is difficult to be convinced about uselessness of one’s work if nobody needs it. Nevertheless, there is but one path: to do what seems proper.”[12] The creator is always facing the St. Anthony’s complex. “It is a conflict between spirit and matter. It is a conflict between the ideal and that which is possible, which is realistically possible.”[13] The highest level of realism that can be achieved in the work of art is the realism of the creator’s being true to himself. In fact the creator, just like Camus’ Sisyphus, is ceaselessly rolling a rock to the top of the mountain in spite of the absurdity of the situation, and thus preserves his dignity and humanity.
The film Ivan’s Childhood is based on Bogomolov’s short story Ivan. In Sculpting in Time Tarkovsky admits that a personality of a twelve-year-old boy moved him to the bottom of his heart. “He immediately struck me as a character destroyed, shifted of its axis by the war. Something incalculable, indeed all the attributes of childhood, had gone irretrievably out of his life.”[14] The personal history of the writer found its audience in the face of the filmmaker, was broken through the prism of his perception, and became his personal history, which yet had to find its audience. This is the logic of art. In science you can use a non-contradictory logical construction, demonstrate your discovery on an experiment, show its practical value, and thus convince your audience. In art this simply does not work. You can use the most beautiful idea, illustrate your idea with vivid imagery, ague for its practical value, and still fail if you leave your audience cold. This would mean one of the two things: either you yourself were not moved by that which you were trying to communicate or you failed to communicate it. But if you manage to move your audience, then you achieve the highest realism possible in a work of art. Now we can see that Tarkovsky understood realism in a very different manner than his critics. Rethinking the making of Ivan’s Childhood, Tarkovsky wrote, “The explanation is that the pattern of life is far more poetic than it is sometimes represented by the determined advocates of naturalism.”[15] Limitations of coherent logic and schematism of linear sequentiality drain life from the work of art. Tarkovsky argues that art cannot be reduced to illustration of laws of conventional logic. Its realm is the realm of poetic reasoning. Coherent logic is always an abstraction. Poetic reasoning is the thought in act. Tarkovsky stresses that poetic reasoning and associative linking is the special virtue of cinema. And although reproduction of thought in act is not an end in itself it can infuse the work of art with life and provide a horizon for self-discovery and an attentive attitude towards the world. “Poetry is an awareness of the world, a particular way of relating to reality. So poetry becomes a philosophy to guide a man throughout his life.”[16] It is amazing how close Tarkovsky’s thinking comes to the ideas expressed by Heidegger about art. Both the philosopher and the director point out that all art is essentially poetic and poetry is the founding of truth, and they agree on the fact that the work of art comes into being through equal efforts of both creators and preservers. That is what Heidegger writes about it in The Origin of the Work of Art:
Art, as the setting-into-work of truth, is poetry. Not only the creation of the work is poetic, but equally poetic, though in its own way, is the preserving of the work; for a work is an actual effect as a work only when we remove ourselves from our commonplace routine and move into what is disclosed by the work, so as to bring our own nature itself to take a stand in the truth of what is.[17]

Tarkovsky called Ivan’s Childhood his qualifying examination. He thought that if he managed to move the audience with that by which he himself was moved in Ivan’s story, then he would have the right to work in the cinema. The creation of this film became an ethical matter, a matter of artist’s responsibility towards his audience.
The film tells a story of a twelve-year-old orphan boy-soldier and follows it up to his death. J. P. Sartre was deeply moved by this film. That is what he writes in a letter to Alicata:
Ivan is mad, that is a monster; that is a little hero; in reality he is the most innocent and touching victim of the war: this boy, whom one cannot stop loving, has been forged by the violence he has internalised. The Nazis killed him when they killed his mother and massacred the inhabitants of his village. Yet, he lives. But somewhere else, in that irremediable moment when he saw his neighbour falling[18].

While following Ivan’s story in the film, one cannot stop feeling uneasy, almost frightened. There is something truly deviant and abnormal when a lovable little boy is a perfect soldier with only one thing on his mind - revenge. Human history is not a happy march towards a perfect future, because there is Ivan. In the film Ivan appears from dark, dirty waters of the swamp and disappears into it. He comes having accomplished one war mission and goes away to die in another. He is just a ripple on the dark waters of history. Ivan is a little feather that falls into a deep well in his second dream. But can we forget him? Can we forget the eyes that were wide open with wonder and excitement in Ivan’s first dream? Can we erase the memory of the pure joy of his run in the river in the last dream and not shiver from horror, upon realizing that that was a dream of a dead boy? Ivan is a real monster. He is horrible, abnormal and frightening. He frightens even his comrades in arms. What can be more frightening than a little boy who was forged by the war, lived for revenge and died in the war? Ivan is a monster, a warning. Tarkovsky created one of the most powerful works of art that makes us aware of the madness of war, of its monstrous nature. “Madness? Reality? Both of them: in war, all soldiers are mad, this child monster is an objective testimony of their madness.. It is neither a question of expressionism nor that of symbolism, but a certain manner of narration demanded by the subject.”[19] Tarkovsky skillfully immerses us into this mad reality by merging real events of the combat with boy’s nightmares. Ivan is a monster but in a monstrous world. For him, just like for the star in his second dream, there is no difference between day and night. All soldiers that surround him are affected by the war. But they are “normal.” That means after war they can return to a peaceful way of life. For Ivan this possibility is irrevocably lost. The only thing that connects him to life is his usefulness for revenge. Ivan has no place in the “normal” world. His death is inevitable and in fact he is already dead when we first meet him. In Sculpting in Time Tarkovsky writes, “It is with Ivan, that the dénouement is inherent in the conception and comes about through its own necessity.”[20]
Ivan is not the only child that we meet in this film. There is his little sister who is dead and has reality only in Ivan’s dreams. She is a beautiful, tender creature that was sucked in by the dark swamp of the war. In the last dream we see Ivan’s playmates. Thoughts about them turn into question marks: did they perish with other inhabitants of his village or did they live? In the crypt there is a sign on the wall:
In destroyed Berlin we see the images of dead children of the offices of the Third Reich. They were murdered by their own parents. That is the monstrosity of war in act. Ivan’s last dream is happy. That is the only dream which is not a nightmare for Ivan, but it is the dream of a dead boy. So the audience lives through it as through its own real life nightmare. Ivan is a monster – that is a warning (monere - in Latin has a meaning “to warn”). He is that bell that he mounts in the crypt. Ivan is the bell that tells for us, for our consciousness.
Sartre is right. What Tarkovsky creates is not a symbolist or an expressionist representation of reality. It is a myth, the myth in a Barthean sense. Tarkovsky takes a little boy and shows him as a war hero in order to make us aware of monstrous nature of the war. Tarkovsky uses two languages: the language-object and metalanguage. If we abstract from the myth, created by the film, for the purpose of analysis we can say that the first sequence of Ivan’s Childhood uses the language-object, and through a series of beautiful images presents us with that which means to be a little boy (curiosity, tenderness, playfulness, wonder, and excitement of sharing your discoveries). This meaning is sucked in by the form of the metalanguage. When it is joined with the concept “little war hero” we find ourselves in the realm of myth. In this particular case it is the myth of the monstrous nature of the war. Myth escapes representation due to the double nature of its form which is always and at the same time the meaning of the language-object. In other words, myth has an alibi for the representational thinking. In Myth Today Barthes writes:
Myth is a value, truth is no guarantee for it; nothing prevents it from being a perpetual alibi: it is enough that its signifier has two sides for it always to have an “elsewhere” at its disposal. The meaning is always there to present the form; the form is always there to outdistance the meaning. And there never is any contradiction, conflict, or split between the meaning and the form: they are never at the same place. ..But the result of this alteration is constant… ..In mythical signifier: its form is empty but present, its meaning absent but full.[21]

In Ivan’s Childhood the little boy is at the same time the absent full meaning and the present empty form. It is no wonder that an ambiguous nature of the subject demanded from the director specific means that would make the audience aware of this ambiguity. In Sculpting in Time Tarkovsky says that “art is a meta-language”[22] and “the image is not a certain meaning, expressed by the director, but an entire world reflected as in a drop of water.”[23] Bearing this in mind we can see why Tarkovsky could not adopt Eisenstein’s montage of attractions which is directed towards meaning, and is representational in its nature. In the montage of attractions, editing produces a structural organization that generates meaning and is subordinated to a particular idea. But myth is not an idea. It is ambiguous in its nature. The audience can be introduced into the realm of myth only through constancy of alteration of meaning and form. This means that structural organization gives way to rhythmical. Each shot is organized not according to the idea it is supposed to support in the whole of the film, but according to the rhythm that is demanded by the subject. In traditional montage time is linear. In Tarkovsky’s rhythmical alteration time is non-linear and multi-faceted. In Ivan’s Childhood this affect is achieved through constant alteration of dream and reality, so that the audience is no longer able to separate them and to impose a fixed chronological order on the events of the film. Thus the events of the film get their alibi and escape representation and the director achieves his goal of non-imposing a ready-cooked concept upon his audience, instead Tarkovsky turns his spectators into co-creators.
Ivan’s Childhood was Tarkovsky’s stepping stone. “After I had finished Ivan’s Childhood I felt I was somewhere on the very edge of cinema. A miracle had happened – the film had worked. Now something else was being demanded of me: I had to understand what cinema is.”[24] The six films that followed all grew up from the seeds that were planted in the production of Ivan’s Childhood which made the director aware of the fact that the subject of the film is at the same time present and absent on the screen.

[1] Gilles Deleuze. Cinema 2. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989, 12).
[2] Andrei Tarkovsky. Sculpting in Time. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1987, 30).
[3] Jean Paul Sartre. “A letter addressed to Alicata, the editor of L’Unita. The French Letters, no 1009”, Nostalghia, 1963, (24 Oct 2004).
[4] Olga Surkova. Tarkovsky and I. (Moscow: Zebra E / Exmo / Decont +, 2002, 25).
(О. Суркова. Тарковский и Я. (Москва: Зебра Е / Эксмо / Деконт + , 2002, 25).
[5] Yuri Lotman. Towards Building of the Theory of Interactions of Cultures. Vol. 1 of Selected Articles. (Tallinn, Russia: “Alexandria”, 1992) 116. (Ю. Лотман. К Построению Теории Взаимодействия Культур. Т. 1. Избранные Статьи. (Таллинн: «Александрия»., 1992), 116.
[6] Aleksei Losev. Philosophy. Mythology. Culture. (Moscow: Publishing House of Political Literature., 1991, 134). (А. Лосев. Философия. Мифология. Культура. (Москва: Издательство Политической Литературы., 1991, 134).
[7] Aleksei Losev. Philosophy. Mythology. Culture. (Moscow: Publishing House of Political Literature., 1991, 134). (А. Лосев. Философия. Мифология. Культура. (Москва: Издательство Политической Литературы., 1991, 74).
[8] Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. Phenomenology of Spirit. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977, §178).
[9] Andrei Tarkovsky. Sculpting in Time. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1987, 28).
[10] Andrei Tarkovsky. Sculpting in Time. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1987, 25).
[11] The Jerzy Illg and Leonard Neuger. “"I'm interested in the problem of inner freedom...", Tarkovsky Interview, p.3, 1985, (24 Oct 2004)
[12] The Jerzy Illg and Leonard Neuger. “"I'm interested in the problem of inner freedom...", Tarkovsky Interview, p.14, 1985, (24 Oct 2004)
[13] The Jerzy Illg and Leonard Neuger. “"I'm interested in the problem of inner freedom...", Tarkovsky Interview, p.23, 1985, (24 Oct 2004)
[14] Andrei Tarkovsky. Sculpting in Time. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1987, 17).
[15] Andrei Tarkovsky. Sculpting in Time. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1987, 22).
[16] Andrei Tarkovsky. Sculpting in Time. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1987, 21).
[17] Martin Heidegger. “The Origin of the Work of Art,” in Poetry, Language, Thought, 74-75. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers., 1975.
[18] Jean Paul Sartre. “A letter addressed to Alicata, the editor of L’Unita. The French Letters, no 1009”, Nostalghia, 1963, (24 Oct 2004).
[19] Jean Paul Sartre. “A letter addressed to Alicata, the editor of L’Unita. The French Letters, no 1009”, Nostalghia, 1963, (24 Oct 2004).
[20] Andrei Tarkovsky. Sculpting in Time. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1987, 16).
[21] Roland Barthes. “Myth Today” in A Barthes Reader, 109-100. New York: Hill and Wang, 1996.
[22] Andrei Tarkovsky. Sculpting in Time. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1987, 40).
[23] Andrei Tarkovsky. Sculpting in Time. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1987, 110).
[24] Andrei Tarkovsky. Sculpting in Time. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1987, 94).
Deleuze, Gilles. Cinema 2. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989
Tarkovsky, Andrei. Sculpting in Time. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1987.
Surkova, Olga. Tarkovsky and I. Moscow: Zebra E / Exmo / Decont +, 2002
Lotman, Yuri. Selected Articles. Vol. 1. Tallinn: Alexandria, 1992.
Losev, Aleksei. Philosophy. Mythology. Culture. Moscow: Publishing House of Political Literature, 1991.
Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. Phenomenology of Spirit. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977.

Natalia L. Rudychev

Natalia L. Rudychev

maiden name: Natalia L. Kurdubova
affiliation: 1) Duquesne University, USA
2) St. Petersburg State University, Russia

PhD Candidate Duquesne University, 2001-2006
FJDP Fulbright Junior Professor, Texas A&M University, Critical Theory, 1998-1999
ABD St. Petersburg State University, Social Philosophy, 1996-1998
MA Institutio Rossica Christiana, Romano-Germanic Philology, 1989-1996
MA Russian Hertzen State Pedagogical University, English&French Languages, 1990-1995

Fulbright Fellowship, Texas A&M University, 1998-1999
Assistantship, St. Petersburg State University, 1996-1998
Red Diploma (Russian Award for Highest Achievement), Institutio Rossica Christiana, 1996
Award for Best Thesis, Russian Hertzen State Pedagogical University, 1995
Award for Excellence in English Studies, Bruton, Somerset, England, 1989

Exhibitionism and Social Justice, The Perceptions and Politics of Social Justice, Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, 2/18/2006
Solaris: Counterpoint of “Sculpting in Time”, Hawaii International Conference on Arts and Humanities, Honolulu, 1/11/2006
Cinematic Thinking and the Meaning of History: A. Tarkovsky’s The Passion According to Andrei, PIC, Binghamton, 4/22/2005
Academy and Polis: Politics of the Language, The Academy and the Polis, Duquesne University, 2/25/2005
Tarkovsky’s Thinking (Ivan’s Childhood), Hawaii International Conference on Arts and Humanities, Honolulu, 1/13/2005
Becoming and Lordship and Bondage and their Contribution to Political Thought, PIC, Binghamton, 04/17/2004
The Phenomenon of Monstrous in F. W. Murnau’s “Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror”, Hawaii International Conference on Arts and Humanities, Honolulu, 01/11/2004
Vertigo (Filming as Thinking), APA, Washington DC, 12/28/ 2003
Visions of the Future and the Role of A.I., Learning Solutions, Vienna, Austria, 12/05/2003
Social Sciences: Caring Glance or Grasping Stare?, XXI World Philosophy Congress, Istanbul, 08/11/2003
Apology of Desire, St. Petersburg State University, Russia, 06/03/2003
Artifacts and Thinking, St. Petersburg State University, Russia, 06/10/2003
Contemporary World Picture: M. Heidegger and E. Elias Merhige, PIC, NY, 04/12/2003
Change of the Paradigm of Thinking and Text, Theory & Praxis, Duquesne University, 10/26/2002
Past as Philosophical Problem, St. Petersburg State University, Russia, 06/10/2002

Rudychev, Natalia L.. “Academy and Polis: Politics of the Language” accepted for publication in a book.

Rudychev, Natalia L.. “Solaris: Counterpoint of Sculpting in Time”, Conference Proceedings of Hawaii International Conference on Arts and Humanities. Available on line at (5318 - 5330) and as CD-ROM ISSN#1541-5899, Honolulu, 2006

Rudychev, Natalia L.. “Cinematic Thinking and the Meaning of History: A. Tarkovsky’s The Passion According to Andrei” accepted for publication in the forthcoming International Studies in Philosophy

Rudychev, Natalia L.. “Becoming and Lordship and Bondage and their Contribution to Political Thought”, International Studies in Philosophy 37:1, 2005, pp. 119-128

Rudychev, Natalia L.. “Tarkovsky’s Thinking (Ivan’s Childhood)”, Conference Proceedings of Hawaii International Conference on Arts and Humanities. Available on line at (5242 - 5257) and as CD-ROM ISSN#1541-5899, Honolulu, 2005

Rudychev, Natalia L.. “Visions of the Future and the Role of AI”, Conference Proceedings of the 1st Global Conference Artificial Intelligence: Exploring Critical Issues. Available on line at

Kurdubova, Natalia L.. “Being of Social Self-Consciousness” (in Russian), Proceedings of the Conference on Social Reality and Social Theory, St. Petersburg, 1998

Kurdubova, Natalia L.. “Myth in the Structure of Social Self-Consciousness” (in Russian), Proceedings of Russian Philosophical Congress, Vol. 4, St. Petersburg, 1997

Kurdubova, Natalia L.. “Solipsism Facing Absurd” (in Russian), Proceedings of the Conference on the Structure of Consciousness, St. Petersburg, St. Petersburg University Press, 1997

Kurdubova, Natalia L.. “Crime as a Moment of Truth Objectification” (in Russian), Proceedings of the Conference on Crime, St. Petersburg, St. Petersburg University Press, 1996

Kurdubova, Natalia L.. “Modernistic Aesthetics and Mythical Method in James Joyce’s Ulysses”, (in English) RuBriCa #1, 1996

Kurdubova, Natalia L.. “Solipsism or Hide-and-Seek” (in Russian), Vestnik RHGI [RHGI Journal] #2, 1996

Rudychev, Natalia L.. “on this day in May” accepted for publication in red lights, Issue II, June 2006.

Rudychev, Natalia L.. “tender side”, “forty days after” accepted for publication in Presence # 29.

Rudychev, Natalia L.. “the poppies” (triptych), in Quill, Spring 2006, volume 10, 36.

Rudychev, Natalia L.. “hanami”; “between the lines”, in Pen.

Rudychev, Natalia L.. “~wings of flight~”; in APORETICA (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University, 2006)

Rudychev, Natalia L.. “~wings of flight~”, in American Open Mike: The New American Voice, ed. C. J. Laity (Chicago: Press, 2006), 33

Rudychev, Natalia L.. “Autumn letters”; “A question”, in :lexicon, The arts and literary journal of Duquesne University, Fall 2005, 15 and 47

Adjunct, Basic Philosophic Questions, Duquesne University, Fall, 2005
Adjunct, Philosophy of Film, Duquesne University, Summer, 2005
Teaching Workshop, Duquesne University, 2004
TA, Basic Philosophical Questions, Duquesne University, Fall, 2001
Lecturer, English 203, Texas A&M University, Summer Session One, 1999
Research Assistant, St. Petersburg State University, 1996-1998
Lecturer in English Stylistics, Modernism, Structuralism, Institutio Rossica Christiana, 1994-1998
Lecturer in Modernist Aesthetics, Russian Hertzen State Pedagogical University, St. Petersburg, 1996-1997
Lecturer in English, Humanitarian Gymnasium, St. Petersburg, 1993-1994

American Philosophical Association
The Society for Women in Philosophy
Haiku Society of America
Tanka Society of America

Professor Dr. Wilhelm S. Wurzer, Duquesne University, USA
Professor Dr. Tom Rockmore, Duquesne University, USA
Professor Dr. N. B. Ivanov, St. Petersburg State University, Russia