Sometimes the status quo doesn’t work for everyone. When an enormous divide between people groups appears, it’s usually only a matter of time before their differences spiral into conflict. Whether these divisions are due to race or wealth, if a peaceful compromise cannot be achieved through words, a revolution is bound to arise. Often, these revolutions are instigated by the people group who feels oppressed by the current state of affairs. If this group is big enough, they can enact a change to their benefit through sheer force alone. The 1917 Russian Revolution was just such a revolt. It’s a little odd to think it’s now been just over 100 years since this country changed from a monarchy to the communist state we see today. This week’s two films highlight the effects the Russian Revolution had on different people groups within the former empire of Tsar Nicholas II.
Length: 94 minutes / 1.56 hours
On one side of the Russian Revolution, we have the aristocracy. I’m sure that monarchs like Tsar Nicholas II would like to have peace within their countries. Even if the people don’t get to choose the leader, the whole system works better if the king and his subjects are on agreeable terms. That being said, people will often look out for their best interests before thinking about others. Consequently, wealth and comfort tend to flow up to the rulers in these political systems, leaving the working man destitute and angry. Despite the Russian Revolution balancing this inadequacy, the royal family was still just that: a family. It is easy to villainize your opponents to justify harsh actions, but sometimes we forget that the opposing side is comprised of people not too different from ourselves. No family should have to endure losing a daughter, even if they are wealthier than the common man.
While not historically accurate, Anastasia (1997) follows the titular Russian Grand Duchess as the events of the Russian Revolution cause her to be separated from her family. Angry about being exiled for treason, Grigori Rasputin (Christopher Lloyd) curses the royal family with a magical device he obtained by selling his soul. As the revolt ramped up, Anastasia (Meg Ryan) became separated from her family, receiving an amnesia-inducing bump on the head in the process. A decade later, former servant boy, Dimitri (John Cusack), is aiming to collect the reward for the safe return of the missing Anastasia. Even though he identifies the real Anastasia as a dead ringer, he soon realizes she’s the real thing. Unfortunately, Rasputin has also realized the last heir of the royal family is still alive and sets out to capture and kill her. Upon meeting her grandmother in Paris, Anastasia regains her memories and defeats Rasputin.
Length: 197 minutes / 3.28 hours
Winston Churchill is quoted as saying, “History is written by the victors.” If the films made after the Russian Revolution about the revolt are any indication, this is a true statement. Even a single decade after the change in politics, Sergei Eisenstein made October: Ten Days That Shook the World (1927), which has been hailed as one of the best works of cinema. Similarly, Reds (1981) received a nomination for Best Picture, as did Doctor Zhivago (1965). The one film that carries a caveat is Animal Farm (1954) since it is used as propaganda to highlight the dangers of the Russians’ new way of thinking. At any rate, many of these films show the Russian Revolution from the perspective of the common man. It becomes clear that change was inevitable, especially from those who just want to live their lives, Doctor Zhivago being the best example of this.
During a peaceful demonstration in 1913, Yuri Zhivago (Omar Sharif) uses his medical skills to treat one of the dissenters, meeting Lara (Julie Christie) in the process. When World War I starts, Yuri is drafted as a battlefield doctor while Lara enlists to be a nurse as she searches for her friend Pasha (Tom Courtenay). Upon their return home, the February Revolution of 1917 causes Zhivago to ask Lara to help him take care of the wounded. It’s at this time that the two fall in love, despite Yuri already being married. His poet’s heart continues to beat for Lara as he remains faithful to his wife. Unfortunately, his poems are seen to be anti-Communist which forces him to escape to the countryside. Of course, this is after he is accidentally conscripted to be part of the revolutionary army against his will. When he finally arrives, his family is gone, and he is finally able to live his life with Lara.
2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 repercussions from the Russian Revolution