Tarkovsky, Bach, and God

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I first heard Bach’s choral prelude Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ (“I call to thee, Lord Jesus Christ”) in Tarkovsky’s Solaris (1972). It seems to me one of the most beautiful compositions, and Tarkovsky’s scene, in which the piece harmonizes with the camera as it plays over Brueghel’s Hunters in the Snow (1565), one of the most solemnly lovely in cinema. The camera scrutinizes Brueghel’s painting, at first coldly (as Kris must see it), and then with a certain wistful sorrow, as if in recognition of our hopeless estrangement from the natural life of the old village. The mournful precision of Bach’s piece underscores that there is only the sadness of our estrangement and longing. Kris stirs with new humility and humanity, and he and Hari begin to float, ostensibly in a state of zero gravitation, but actually in a state of grace.

People often speak of Falconetti’s ecstatic expression in Dreyer’s La passion de Jeanne d’Arc (1928) as film’s most inspired synecdoche of the religious experience, but Tarkovsky, in my opinion, exceeds Dreyer artistically and spiritually. Tarkovsky seems engaged not in a pastiche of an archaic faith, but in the genuine struggle of modern faith, and his dense, intricately coded scene seems to compress everything integral to Western culture in its modern self-bewilderment and tentative hope.

In a 1986 interview, Laurence Cossé asked Tarkovsky whether he considered his films “acts of love towards the Creator.” Tarkovsky responded ”I would like to think so. I’m working on it, in any case. The ideal for me would be to make this constant gift, this gift that Bach alone, truly, was able to offer God.”

Solaris:

 

Horowitz’s transcendentally lovely interpretation:

Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1525-1569), The Hunters in the Snow, 1565, Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien, Vienna:

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David Ross

Dr. David A. Ross is a graduate of Yale and Oxford. He is senior lecturer in English and Comparative Literature at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is the author of A Critical Companion to William Butler Yeats (2009) and the co-editor/co-translator of The Search for the Avant-Garde, 1946­–1969 (2012), the descriptive catalogue of the Taipei Fine Arts Museum. He edits the Southeast Review of Asian Studies and has served as president of the Southeast Conference of the Association for Asian Studies. His enthusiasms include high modernism, modal jazz, Chinese ink-brush painting, and really well-made pizza.