Leviathan: Will he speak to you with gentle words?

I’m a bit conflicted about this one; I wanted to fall in love with this film. I had high expectations although I didn’t know much about it before going in. Perhaps it’s my own fault for not doing any research beforehand. I saw Leviathan at The Little last night. Although I enjoyed it I felt the pacing was a bit slow for my personal taste. I recommend you check it out in theaters. The film itself is well done, and the story is intriguing, but something about the plot just didn’t sit right with me. I guess what I wanted was a happy ending, but in stories like this the bad guys win. And when the bad guys win they win big. I think I’m going to need to re-watch to absorb the full breadth of the film. As is the custom here on lifezugzwang here is the trailer:

I should mention that last night I was pretty exhausted. I haven’t been sleeping much this week and that definitely affected my mood. I fell asleep a few times during the film; but not because it was boring. As my friends know, when I’m tired, I sleep. It’s something I’ve become quite good at. I think it’s a testament to my clear conscience. I wanted to learn more about the film I decided to read the reviews and the wiki entry. The story of Marvin Heemeyer inspired the director. When I was writing this I didn’t remember hearing about Heemeyer.  In case you’ve forgotten here’s the tl;dr version of his story. Heemeyer got into a zoning dispute with the town board. He then drove an armored bulldozer through 13 buildings before killing himself.

The story of Marvin Heemeyer is one marred with diametrically opposing views. I’ve read accounts that labeled the town zoning board as “oligarchs”.  I’ve also read accounts that labeled Heemeyer as a crazed madman. Somewhere between those two views the truth exists. At this point it’s difficult to dig apart what actually happened. The constitution waving masses have held him up as a hero. This means that you have to dig through a lot of bullshit to get the facts. If you have a few hours to kill it’s a story worth looking into and not to worry, he left a diatribe behind. Also he had a super sweet “killdozer”:

Yes, driving a killdozer through your town is sure to solve whatever judicial error might have occurred.

Yes, driving a killdozer through your town is sure to even the score with your town zoning board.

Interwoven into the story is the story of Job from the bible. We all remember this lovely tale from Ketuvim right? I didn’t so I did what any Talmudic scholar does when he is looking for an answer; I went to Wikipedia. Again I will provide the short version, it’s a millennial thing. We lack the attention span to actually read anything longer than 250 characters. The book of Job recounts the story of the sufferings of a righteous man, Job, and various responses to his sufferings. I took the time to read the entire book of Job… that’s a fucked up book. You should read it too because it gives you a good foundation into a film like this.

With all that in mind we get to the story of Leviathan. As I mentioned earlier the story of Heemeyer and the film are quite similar. A zoning board is forcing Kolya, an out of work mechanic, played by Aleksey Serebryakov, off his property. Kolya calls in his lawyer friend from Moscow, Dmitri, played by Vladimir Vdovichenkov, to help him in court. One of the most powerful scenes in the movie is when the judge reads off the verdict. Her words spit out like a teletype machine portraying the inevitability of Kolya’s situation. Facts read, judgment delivered, and everyone goes home and drinks Vodka.

The Russian stories I’ve read tend to be loquacious. I’m reminded of the stories by Dostoevsky, Tolstoy and Nabakov. All brilliant storytellers who, wrote with language that makes for large books and longer movies. This film is no different. The story plays like it was grabbed off of the pages from a book, page by page, scene by scene. The leave almost nothing to the imagination.

The interpersonal relationships between the characters are complex and emotional. Kolya has a deep affection for his friends and family. He’s gentle and terrifying at the same time. The film is a window into a world that we here in America know little about. Corruption and cronyism run rampant and you can bribe state officials. Oligarchs like the mayor and the Russian Orthodox Church rule the town. Every character in the film does something morally reprehensible by our western standards. I’m always intrigued by observing the way that other cultures interact. There are rare candid moments of deep affection in the film. Usually these moments occur after a couple of glasses of Vodka.

The scene between Kolya and the Orthodox priest outside the general store was striking. The priest quotes the passage from Job about the Leviathan:

1 Can you pull in the leviathan with a fishhook or tie down his tongue with a rope?

2 Can you put a cord through his nose or pierce his jaw with a hook?

3 Will he keep begging you for mercy? Will he speak to you with gentle words?

4 Will he make an agreement with you for you to take him as your slave for life?

He may have continued but I don’t remember. The priest’s candor and frank delivery was striking. He’s so matter of fact, he is the righteous in a town full of the wicked. Perhaps the most relevant line from that passage (Job 41:1-34) goes as follows:

33 Nothing on earth is his equal—a creature without fear.

34 He looks down on all that are haughty; he is king over all that are proud.

Quite a striking passage that’s particularly applicable to the film. I’ll let you guys discover what I mean by that after you’ve seen it. The more I’ve read about the film, and the more I write. The more it makes sense and the more I appreciate it. As I mentioned earlier, this is a film you’re going to want to see more than once. Remember everyone, “you can’t fight city hall”… unless of course you bulldoze that motherfucker to the ground.

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