Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Dekalog
We were brainstorming films for movie night, and I thought that you could never go wrong with a Kieslowski. (This was proved erroneous by the averse reaction to someone’s independent choice of Decalogue I for film night on the Long Weekend Away.) His Dekalog television series is a masterful example of film-making and effective story-telling. It is also a good observation of how the complexity and breadth of the so-called Ten Commandments and how the utter fallenness of this world affects our obedience to the commandments.
The characters in all 10 films appear to live in the same drab apartment block neighbourhood. They are dressed in normal dull clothes, live in normal dull apartments, are balding and aging; normal people wrestling with these issues in everyday life. And then there is a man who appears in most of the films – he never gets involved, be is always observing.
Only slightly coherent blurbs below:
Dekalog I: “I am the Lord your God; you shall have no other gods before me.”
Computers, mathematics, logic cannot answer the questions of death and souls. They cannot reveal meaning and purpose and the dreams of loved ones. They can’t be trusted to predict the future. They are not God. The computer is a false god.
Dekalog II: “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.”
Powerless doctor is pushed to play God. He is Christian (see Dekalog VIII).
Dekalog III: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.”
Sabbath equated with Christmas Eve (or Christmas?). The sacredness of Christmas eve (Christmas?) is understood universally – a day to be set aside for family, for going home. We think it a sacrilege that it should be spent with other people, elsewhere. Even though we understand that Christmas is the day we celebrate God-with-us, yet we do not rejoice in putting aside the Sabbath to spend time with God.
Dekalog IV: “Honour your father and mother.”
People are not one’s father and mother merely by blood. Rather, it is when a female chooses to honour a male as father, rather than merely a member of the opposite gender, does he truly become her father.
Dekalog V: “Thou shalt not kill.”
A prohibition against harming another. But who harms who? The law decides. But the law doesn’t adjudicate all wrongs. And don’t the enforcers of the law also harm the perpetrators? Jurisprudence, philosophy of sentencing. Who decides when taking a life is wrong in one scenario and right in another?
Dekalog VI: “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”
A teenager wants to possess (in a non-sexual manner) someone who isn’t his wife; an older lady has multiple sex partners without loving any of them. Adultery either way since adultery is lust for another person outside a marriage relationship.
Dekalog VII: “Thou shalt not steal.”
Who is stealing from whom in this film? Is attempting to possess what one should not legitimately have a right to, even if that thing isn’t property but a person, stealing? Is attempting to reclaim what rightfully belongs to you, stealing? But to whom does a child rightly belong – biological mother or functional and legal mother?
Dekalog VIII: “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.”
A web of lies. In 1943, a Catholic couple back out of an agreement to hide a Jewish girl, citing incompatibility with this commandment. In fact, they were lying – they backed out because someone had themselves given false testimony against the people who brought the girl in, saying that this was a sting operation by the Germans.
Dekalog IX: “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife.”
Perhaps this commandment is less about coveting and more about being content with what one has – flawed and little as it may be (a beautiful voice, an impotent husband, a childless future).
Dekalog X: “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s goods.”
“You can covet everything,” sings the younger brother at a metal concert,”because everything is yours.” Not so cool when he and his brother inherit valuable stamps that other people want. The brothers are obsessed with completing a final valuable collection that they give up their families and careers and one kidney – is stamp collecting a type of legitimised coveting? But all for naught – in the end, they lose everything to another’s avarice.