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with the feeling of death

March 11, 2009

All of the themes that come to life or materialize within my films are born of ideas that have existed in me, the author, for a very long time. None of them is accidental or circumstantial, or a product of historical happenstance or fate. To spontaneously think something up one day, and the next day there is a scenario for a film, is not my style. Any themes that develop have a long life; that is to say, they are the summation of, say, ten to fifteen years of reflection and consideration. Death is not a theme that’s exclusively mine. Death is one of the principal subjects of classical Old World art. Even though I am a modern person, all of my roots lie very much embedded in the traditions of the Old World. For me, Life and Death (more importantly Death) are not quandaries associated with emotional or philosophical attitudes and contexts but are rather questions of art. I won’t always be successful. Not every film is going to be a fully realized and valuable work of art, but I am bound by the force of my convictions and life choices to strive to make it so. Art prepares a person for death. It helps one to make peace with the fact of mortality. A work of art is like a teacher, an unending school, a lesson from which each person, in the course of his or her life, rehearses the feelings associated with death. If we never had encountered art with the feeling of death–in films, in the pages of a book, or in a painting–then when we confronted the reality of death, we wouldn’t be able to live through it. We wouldn’t know how to behave; we wouldn’t know how to swaddle or protect ourselves. Our souls would fall apart from grief because our essence would not be prepared for it. Can you imagine if you knew nothing about this, if you did not have any psychological or moral training, and suddenly you learn of the death of one near and dear to you? You come home, and the already cold corpse is lying there, and that’s it. But you loved this person, this person was the closest to you, and your being literally does not know how to respond.

Death is a theme of absolutely fundamental importance, and art, it seems to me, demands thematic fundamentalism. There cannot be any chance occurrences, or any arbitrary actions taken by the director. It’s not as if, “Oh, well, right now I’ll make a lightweight, commercially viable picture and make some money, and then I’ll come back and make something more artistic and worthwhile later.”

Alexander Sokurov
(read interview)

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