Tuesday, January 31, 2012

January 31 (tennis and The Last Station)


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.   

17 comments:

  1. This has been such a warm winter, glad you got to enjoy playing tennis with your daughter

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    1. I would have prefered to be skiing with her!

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  2. Dude you live in MI and you're moaning over 50 degree weather, you had your chance to ski n Saturday---hopefully your last one.

    I kind of find Tolstoy's life an oddity, born to the aristocracy but wanting to free and educate every serf and servant and give his wealth away. This was one of the themes he dealt with in in W & P. He was worth a pile and my wife gets an attitude if I give a few bucks to the casino. What a world.

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    1. Sorry, I know you Michigan old-timers are enjoying this global warming! ;)

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  3. The temperatures are almost ten degrees warmer down here and I have found myself missing winter. Normally it is so brutally cold right now that all I want to do is sit in front of a roaring fire and read. Instead I have been outside doing house maintenance, lawn maintenance and occasionally starting up the snow blower for a few minutes just to make sure it will start easily when I need it. I can't remember ever doing that before. So far, this has been the winter that wasn't.

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    1. I, too, haven't burned much wood this winter--I don't like to build a fire unless it's below freezing

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  4. Yeah, cold climates are not for me...

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    1. that's why you live in Florida? Thanks for stopping by, Agnes

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  5. I'm in south Georgia today and the temps are in the 70s.

    I'll definitely watch that film.

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    1. We're having a "Georgia winter" up here!

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  6. Enjoyed your review of THE LAST STATION. I kept wondering how much actual history was transformed for the sake of the movie, but I didn't care. Plummer and Mirren are great...I recently learned of the Doukhobors, a large colony of Russian immigrants settling in Western Canada, who were like Tolstoy in their rejection of the orthodox church and czarist rule.

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    1. I've not heard of the Doukhobors... I'll soon be putting a book review up of "In Siberia" which talks a lot about various religious movements in Russia.

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  7. I should check out "The Last Station." I've heard of it but haven't seen it.

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  8. I'll bet your ---Racquets were ccccold!!! ar ar,

    I'll check out the last Station!

    J

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    1. At 50 degrees (my daughter has a fancy racket that she doesn't let get colder than 40 degrees)

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  9. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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