Andrei Tarkovsky’s Andrei Rublev (1966) – Faith in the Arts and Faith in God’s Approval of It

Andrei Tarkovsky Marathon Part III of III

Wow, I didn’t expect Andrei Tarkovsky to have this level of scale in him. 

Unquestionably the “epic” of the Russian auteur’s timeless career, Andrei Rublev, its title character of a monk, is a famous painter from the 14th century. The movie here primarily focuses on him while being able to cast an additional plethora of characters and extras to further enhance his journey. Not to mention, the plot is also formatted with an ambitious 7-act structure that jump-cuts to future time periods in Rublev’s life during any unanticipated moment of the movie. There’s also a lot of macabre violence, and a lot of Kurosawa-ish action too? Wait a second, what happened to the slow-poke chintz that I used to know? Are we sure this is a Tarkovsky picture? Well, yes: the film’s embracement of artificial symbolism in a world of realism tells us so. While the material on screen has become more graphic and eventful than that of his future outputs, the poetic risks of it nonetheless feel VERY MUCH “Tarkovsky”.

Faith is tested through a series of trials: the church to God, the denial of God, the “lawful” punishment to God, the disbeliever to the believer, the believer to the disbeliever, the atonement to the purpose, and the art to the purpose. Breaking it down from the start, throughout the movie, Rublev silently questions the actions of the Church. You see it in his repulsion towards how the law kills non-believers, as it makes him wonder what qualifies those of religious power to murder, as it’s a sin. Wouldn’t a loving and understanding God be more concerned that his children didn’t kill than didn’t believe? Does the Church defy God’s wills with misinterpretations, those that Rublev is currently unravelling throughout the film?

This develops Rublev into a more sensitive character. He begins detesting the idea that fear must be implemented to convert others to religious faith. His trust and idea of God becomes varied, as he begins trying to draw himself towards Him more so than being mentally controlled by the immoral acts that he witnesses in societal organizations. Every time he reaches for the heavens, this fixation for religious obligation is usually disrupted by the contradicting occurrences of the material world — like flying a hot air balloon into the sky (escaping to the outer universe!) but, unfortunately, crashing it back down to Earth (our defined reality); reminds me of the opening to this movie!

If God gave Rublev his artistic ability as his purpose, wouldn’t God see fit that he would use it to his fullest ability rather than see him concerned for what the religious institution sees fit for him to do? Hasn’t Rublev’s art (and other’s art) benefited the people? Shouldn’t art therefore be a priority over the self? While this thought process is of reason, there is, nonetheless, a part in this movie where Rublev “gives in” and takes a 15-year atonement (a vow of silence and a pause in his artistic career) to make up for a sin that he had committed in the midst of a social catastrophe. Normally, those who take an atonement are looking for a way to repent their sins in the eyes of the Church, which is then passed onto God and entrance to Heaven. But, again, he does it for “the eyes of the Church”, the very thing the movie has sought to recognize as a contradicting organization, and even subconsciously according to the perspective of Rublev.

Does Rublev’s atonement reward him in the afterlife? Well, like an average Andrei Tarkovsky motif, we in the life of the physical, could never know that. What we do know, and what is to matter before death, is that the art we had created is what rewards. There’s a reason why Tarkovsky dedicates ten whole minutes of this movie to hypnotically slide-show all of Rublev’s survived work because it was the proof that a purpose had been defined through the art he had created, at least, in the physical world, but specifically, a “determined” physical world. The social hardships he experiences in the film that inspires the art is the known pay-off of his existence. What we know in religious contextuality, whether that be where our goodwill or sins guide us to or punish us to after death, can never be weighed confidently from the perspective in our present life, and that’s why art (the will of discovering) seems more favorable to permanently mark into the remainder of humanity than in focus of trying to make it into an eternal afterlife we respectively couldn’t even confess to be 100% real on material ground. 

So in retrospect, this is one elongated movie made just to explain Tarkovsky’s reason for wanting to make movies in the first place: it’s all about enlarging his “definite purpose”. Admittedly, Tarkovsky’s 70s/80s era “contained” and “dream-state” style is definitely more up my alley, but I’d be one hell of a liar if I couldn’t admit that this… this is gold-embedded cinema too. 

Ingmar Bergman, you’ve been officially demoted from being my all-time favorite director now. Andrei Tarkovsky claims the throne for now unless the 50+ (literally) movies I haven’t seen by you can say otherwise down the road. 

Verdict: A

Andrei Tarkovsky Ranked, My All-Time Favorite Movies 

“Andrei Rublev” is now available to stream on The Criterion Channel.

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