It’s the last day of January. I took off work while it’s still daylight. I should have had enough time for a couple of miles of cross-country skiing; after all I am living in Michigan. But what did I do? I hit tennis balls with my daughter. And I’m not talking about making the familiar 30 mile drive to a big city where she takes tennis lessons in an inside tennis center, but at the courts at the local high school. Yep, that’s right, it was 52 degrees (11 degrees Celsius for my non-USA friends). I played in shorts and a long sleeve sweatshirt. Of course, we didn’t have a net (the nets have been removed for winter) but we did have the courts to ourselves. After dark, I took the pooch for a walk around town. When I came back home, I watched for the second time The Last Station.
If you haven’t seen the The Last Station I recommend it. The movie is based on the final year of Tolstoy life as seen through his last secretary, Valentin Bulgakov. Valentin goes to live at Tolstoy’s family home, where he witnesses the struggle between Chekhov to Tolstoy’s wife Sophia’s battle over the rights to Tolstoy’s work. He also sees the bitterness and the love between Tolstoy and his wife. At one point, the author is frustrated with his wife’s complaining and says, “You don’t need a husband, you need a Greek chorus.” Chekhov, who dislikes Sophia, tells Tolstoy’s wife, “If I had a wife like you, I would have blown my brains out… or gone to America.” Even though there is tension, you do get the sense that Tolstoy and his wife are in love even if they can’t live together peacefully and the elderly man finally decides he has flee. Tolstoy leaves on a train until his health fails and he is taken into by the station master at a remote station and given a place to die. The small town in inundated with reporters wanting to know what’s happening to the world famous author. During this time, Chekhov and one of Tolstoy’s daughters conspire to keep Sophia away from her husband. They are successful until the very end when the daughter relents and allows her mother to see him one final time.
In addition to the drama around Tolstoy, Valentin also has some drama of his own. As a Tolstoian, he is trying to live the ideal life based on the ascetic principals of his boss, yet he finds himself having an affair with Masha, a young Tolstorian. In a way, you get the sense that what Valentin and Masha are experiencing in their love mirrored the relationship between Tolstoy and his wife when they were younger.
The movie deals with how we create idols out of our heroes. Around Tolstoy are a group of disciples trying to live as he has taught. At best, Tolstoy is amused by this and his wife is repulsed by it. Tolstoy takes a liking to his new secretary, confiding in him that he’s not a very good Tolstorian himself. In another scene, one in which Chekhov is present along with a lot of reporters, Tolstoy kills a mosquito. Chekhov denounces this, saying that it doesn’t look good for him to kill anything. Tolstoy counters, telling Masha that Chekhov is a better Tolstorian than he is. At the end of the movie, Valentin confronts Chekhov, charging that he is creating an icon out of Tolstoy and that the image is going to look more like Chekhov than Tolstoy.
The scenery in the movie is lovely. The birch forest reminded me of being in Russia this summer (even though much of the movie was filmed in Germany). Of course, the train scenes were also pleasing to my eyes! This is a good movie that shows how the perceived lives of our heroes often differ from the reality. It also shows how people attempt to control others for their own gain. This is a good movie. It’s romantic, but with a twist.