The Island (Octpob in Russian) is a movie I never would have watched on my own. I love foreign films, but this is way off the foreign path, even for me. However, it was the first selection for the Film Club that is being hosted by Amy and Carrie and it was easily accessible on Netflix streaming. So my husband and I watched it. (The Film Club discussion actually took place at Amy's blog on March 29th, but of course here I am plodding behind - apologies.)
This is a story about an old Russian Orthodox monk who lives in the cold, bleak far reaches of Russia in a monastery with a few other monks. He has always been an enigma. He is a perpetually distressed, self-flagellating fellow, haunted by sins from his past (the first scene actually shows his biggest sin, but I'll let you discover it for yourself). Yet at some rare moments, he is a bit of a prankster and loves to break the monastery's rules. He has a reputation on the mainland that he can exorcise demons, heal physical ailments and predict the future, and he is happy to do so, in return for the healee to spend a little time praying and taking communion. Unfortunately most people, once they are "fixed", turn tail back home, much to this man's distress and anger.
For the most part, the movie progresses slowly, almost painfully, as if we are paying for his sins too. The hauling of coal every day. The stark landscape. It was like watching Job. My husband fell asleep, and we had to watch the second half the next night.
In the last half of the movie though, this monk started to become endearing to us. He made a positive impact on everyone he came in contact, including the other monks. He taught them sacrifice, dedication to God, and humility. It was just distressing to watch the man suffer so. You want him to find peace. And in fact, towards the end, you find your spirits lifting because he does find peace, only in ways you don't expect.
This movie apparently was all the rage in Russia back when it was released. I'm a little surprised at this, because the movie is incredibly spiritual and powerful, but not what you would call blockbuster material (at least by American standards). The fact that is WAS so successful certainly says something about the Russian people. First and foremost, I think it says they have better tastes in film! Ha!
I don't say this often, but I think the movie would warrant multiple watchings to better appreciate the subtle messages. This is a movie experience that requires one to sit back and relax, resist the craving for action and car chases, and open your heart to a deeper message.