Anna Karenina (1935) is a beautifully acted film based on Leo Tolstoy’s classic novel.i Set in Moscow and St. Petersberg, this black & white depiction of aristocratic life during the denouement of Tsarist Russia is bursting with the forgotten glories of civilization.ii The costumes alone – ladies wearing the most lavish gowns and fur coats, gentlemen wearing the most elegant tuxedos and military uniforms – are enough to make one book an appointment with their tailor.iii The sets were equally noteworthy for their opulence and detail: chandeliers brillantes hoisted from vaulted ceilings above sweeping staircases and carved busts displayed atop magnificent oak credenzas… It was a visual feast of another time and another place. The world that Tolstoy drew was certainly nowhere near that of the ordinary Russian in the 1870’s, but history hardly remembers those who toil in the mire, does it?
As to the story itself, it’s predicated on the eponymous protagonist’s staunch refusal to accept a man’s sense of duty to his fellow maniv as any less real than the mother’s duty to her child.v Really, she goes out of her way to misconstrue it as “inconsiderate” and “selfish,” as if that same sense of duty hadn’t given her the life of luxury she knew and they could somehow be teased one from the other. In reality, men who neglect their duties, that is, are base and abusive of their WoT, don’t last long in aristocratic cultures.vi Perhaps unsurprisingly then, thinking that she can create a magical wonderland where men love her and dote upon her all the hours of the day, she’s seduced away from her husband Kareninvii by the young Count Vronsky who… turns out to be very much like Karenin. Surprise, surprise, aristocratic men are aristocratic men.
Anna’s bewildered by her mistake.viii She thought that she could rewrite the rules and found out that, no, she was not welcome to pretend like social structure and convention were figments of her imagination waiting for her to contemptuously brush aside. They’re as real and as right as rain.
In an attempt to console the stupefied Anna, Dolly, Anna’s sister-in-law, said it best: “Whatever way one lives, there’s a penalty, I suppose.” This is it. This is what Anna and the rest of the emotionally-driven “progressive” world miss: that there’s no utopia of honey-flavoured equality,ix the human condition is to be understood not repaired,x and there are always and everywhere trade-offs to decisions.xi
Ultimately, Anna commits suicide. Ultimately, her heaven wasn’t on earth.
Nor, as it so happens, is the shepherdless mob’s.
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- Which is worth reading every bit as much as the film. Though the film is 95 minutes long compared to over 800 pages of reading, you’re unlikely to regret the effort. Then again, who ever regretted effort expended on culture? [↩]
- We’ve mostly forgotten what the marks of civilization even look like. Hint: dancing, drinking, fighting, flirting, eating caviar, and speaking French, to name but a few. [↩]
- If you have a dog groomer and a psychologist but not a tailor, you’ve got some work to do. [↩]
- That is, in this case, his work and social colleagues. While the expression “my fellow man” can be taken to mean “all of humanity,” here, it refers only those in the man’s WoT with a Y choromosome. Coloquially, the closest term is “bros before hoes.” [↩]
- In the story, as you’d expect from someone who doesn’t understand duty, Anna, in leaving her family for Vronsky, also neglected her responsibility to her son. [↩]
- Nor, incidentally, do weak and untrustworthy men last long in #bitcoin-assets. But you already knew that. [↩]
- Played by the quite brilliant Basil Rathbone, perhaps best known for his leading roles in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1939). [↩]
- “O noes, why couldn’t she just find someone who loved her for who she was?” If that was you, you don’t deserve an aristocratic man either. [↩]
- Without discernment, that is, without prejudice, what’s left is not just a world of “good” but its exact opposite. The good emerges from the bad quite intentionally. To prevent this, either legally or socially, is to reduce the whole lot to the lowest common denominator, that heavy breather of humanity, that kid who deserved to be picked last because he sucked. [↩]
- Despite your University education teaching you the exact opposite of this. [↩]
- Whether it’s a bailing out a bank and inflating away a currency or eating an entire pint of ice cream in one sitting, actions have consequences. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t act, the world belongs to the active after all, just that you should act to understand before you act to impose your will. [↩]