Ah, The Passion Of The Russians!

A couple nights ago I watched The Last Station, which is based on a novel of the same title, written by Jay Parini.  The movie (and the novel) is about Leo Tolstoy’s last years, and the fight between Tolstoy’s wife and one of Tolstoy’s “apostles.”  Tolstoy seemed to be somewhat embarrassed by his wealth and position in society, especially when there were so many peasants that didn’t have enough food.  Because of parts of Tolstoy’s writings, some of his followers started “Tolstoyan communes.”  Tolstoy’s wife, Sofya felt that Tolstoy should leave his copyrights to his family (he had thirteen children with Sofya), while Tolstoy’s apostle, Vladimir Chertkov, felt that the copyrights should be left to the “Russian people.”

Chertkov sends in a young Tolstoyan follower, Valentin Bulgakov, to be Tolstoy’s secretary and his spy.  Chertkov wants to know all the details about what Sofya says and does.  It’s not long before Bulgakov is torn between his intense admiration for Tolstoy and his growing sympathy for Sofya.

Part of the excellence of this movie, along with the scenery and the costuming, is the casting.  Christopher Plummer is the beleaguered and sometimes confused Tolstoy, Helen Mirren is the volatile and passionate Sofya, Paul Giamatti is the plotter Chertkov, and James McAvoy is the impressionable and devoted Bulgakov.  On a side note, I found that McAvoy looks a little like a young Anton Chekhov.  It’s interesting that a Scot can look like a famous Russian author!

Some people may think this movie is only interesting to people who like Tolstoy’s writing.  I think, however, that it is interesting because it shows how someone’s teaching can be twisted by those who claim to follow his or her words.  In the movie, Tolstoy says about someone else, “He is a better Tolstoyan than I am.” 

The words of a teacher can be twisted to better suit the ideals of an “apostle.”

2 Responses

  1. Dave

    Is the film an accurate portrayal of Tolstoy’s final years? I have been tempted to put it on my queue, but I don’t want to pollute my image of Tolstoy in case it tinkers with the facts too much for the sake of art.

    1. From what I know about Tolstoy’s later years, the movie is accurate to a point. There was a growing divide between Tolstoy and his wife, mostly because of his changing ideas and his seeming willingness to hand over his copyrights to people like Chertkov. The Last Station very well might make Sofya more sympathetic than she really was. I’m not sure about that part. But Tolstoy really did leave his home and die in at a train station.

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