In Andrei Tarkovsky’s Words: “Russia’s Michelangelo and Tyranny of the Spirit”

An artist never works under ideal conditions. If they existed, his work wouldn’t exist, for the artist does not live in a vacuum. Some sort of pressure must exist. The artist exists because the world is not perfect. Art would be useless if the world were perfect, as man wouldn’t look for harmony but would simply live in it. Art is born out of an ill-designed world. This is the issue in “Andrei Rublev” (1966).

Andrei Tarkovsky

“I cannot help but wonder why they persecute me so”, Andrei Tarkovsky said. Soviet censors shortened Andrei Rublev by 25 minutes due to excessive religious symbolism. He was not allowed to make another film for six years following the release. Andrei Rublev is in fact a critique of the Soviet Union, of tyranny and oppression. He was allowed to make only 5 films during his filmmaking career in the Soviet Union and various project were left unrealised. Film critic Valery Fomin said: “Censorship left an enormous cemetery of films and unfinished projects in its wake. It wasn’t enough to ban or cut; they had to punish, as well. This acquired monstrous forms of public execution.”

Tarkovsky’s often-cited words on the uselesness of art in a perfect world, since in such a world we would live in harmony and wouldn’t strive to create artistic perfection, can be associated with our Fall from the Garden of Eden. Particularly our pursuit to create new worlds which can serve as reflections or memories reminding us of Lost Paradise and its perfection (Plato’s ideas if you like). Tarkovsky’s films are such reflections, perfect and pure, which possess a timeless quality.

Yet, the rest of the aforementioned quote deserves even closer scrutiny. We should ask ourselves how it is possible that under such hardships, innability to work and create, mankind has received one of its most cherished artistic works. Tarkovsky is, without a doubt, Russia’s Michelangelo. The right answer might be, that precisely because of such hardships, torments – they “spat on my soul” the director said – his works were possible. This doesn’t mean that artist feeds on the sufferings of others, like some are reported to do when they visit India, for example. On the contrary, the struggle, the very need to create a world which is the opposite of a bleak one in which tyranny of the spirit prevails, is the driving force behind art.

We must keep in mind that Tarkovsky in fact did create five films in the USSR, the tyranny over his soul was not complete. Friedrich Nietzsche once wrote: “The highest type of free men should be sought where the highest resistance is constantly overcome: five steps from tyranny, close to the threshold of the danger of servitude.“ This was, more or less, Tarkovsky’s position: he was in constant danger of artistic death, but managed to elude it, and his freedom was even greater than the type of freedom (or libertinage, Nietzsche would say) men in the West now enjoy.

Russia’s Michelangelo did not come into being solely because of his enormous artistic talent, but also because of the ill-designed world he was destined to live in. Michelangelo’s Florence exchanged republics for tyrannies in a matter of years, wars and diseases were frequent, yet, some men prevail and create for centuries to come. In the 20th century, totalitarian regimes were invented, they were a plague more devestating than medieval plagues. Andrei Tarkovsky overcame the plague and created everlasting works of art.

8 thoughts on “In Andrei Tarkovsky’s Words: “Russia’s Michelangelo and Tyranny of the Spirit”

  1. That quote certainly is food for thought. I’ve only ever seen one of Andrei Tarkovsky’s films and that would be Nostalghia. I have to admit I wasn’t impressed; it seemed a little too self-indulgent for its own good, though the cinematography was excellent. Still, I do have a copy of The Mirror lying around and I do want to give it a shot at some point.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You should check out Solaris and Stalker. Better films (to start with Tarkovsky), but Mirror is almost as great. Amazing films, although they don’t necessarily garner universal appeal. Contemplative, poetic and philosophical aspects of his works don’t work for everyone, even if you love such films. I warmly recommend his films; they need to be experienced, more than comprehended.

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      1. First time I saw it, I saw Domenico’s speech at college and saw the film later. I believe it is amazing, impressions on poetry, madness, redemption, can be interpreted psychoanalitically, the motif of being far from your homeland… Visually amazing, captivating, hypnotic… Loved the shot in the apartment if I remember correctly that it is from Nostalghia.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Interesting. As I said, the cinematography is great, but the experience seemed to lack focus, and I felt it was worse off for it. I first learned of it through an indie game called The Witness, which I actually felt was even more self-indulgent.

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