Anna Karenina: the book + the movie

Movie reviews

Good morning!

Welcome to my first ever book v. movie comparison!

Yesterday I’ve finally finished Anna Karenina by XIX century Russian author Leo Tolstoy. This famous novel has been on my radar for a very long time but only last week I actually found time to read it. (My spring break was last week – the week before Easter). As a fan of classical novels and as a history lover, I’ve really enjoyed the book. Prior to reading it, I had no experience with any Russian authors and was kinda bias towards them but Tolstoy’s work completely changed my point of view. Also, despite the fact that I’ve been studying Russian language for quite some time now, I’m still rubbish at it, so I chose to read the book in English instead, though I prefer reading books in their original languages.

The same night, I’ve finished the book, I’ve watched the movie adaptation of it – I chose the newest version – Joe Wright’s 2012 adaptation with Keira Knightley, Jude Law , Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Matthew Macfadyen, Alicia Vikander and Domhnall Gleeson. I believe that the film did justice to Leo Tolstoy’s story and I’m going to explain why I think that.

The director took an interesting approach on the setting of the film. Wright’s choice to portray the story as a theater production was innovative and modern but, at the same time, maintained the feeling of the original material: the posh-ness, the splendor, and the artsy-ness. To my mind, Tolstoy’s characters were very dramatic and sensitive, sometimes even too sensitive. By turning these characters into theater production’s actors, director allowed them to be over-the-top, permitted them to over-react to anything and overanalyze everything. Also, the novel Anna Karenina is extremely long, so I applaud Wright’s ability to tell this complex and lengthy story in 2 hours.  Plus, because all the scenes were set in a theater, they were all shortened but remained true at their core. Moreover, by shortening all of them, the director did not need to cut something out and I always appreciate when book-to-movie adaptations include as much details as they can . (However, in the film one character didn’t attempt suicide as he did in the book and they really compressed the second part of the book into the last 30 minutes of the motion picture). Lastly, the transitions from scene to scene were splendid and flawless.

The visual appeal of the film is unbelievable: the costumes, the hair and the make-up were amazing, the sets – breathtaking and both magical and realistic at the same time. I loved the musical score too! All the actors were perfect in their roles. The dialogue was also really witty and smart. I liked that they cut out all the political discussions: they are interesting to read but not as fun to listen to. (Also, in order to understand some arguments, I usually had to reread those political discussions a few times and you can’t do that in the film).

A few of my favorite scenes:

Both in the book and in the film: Kitty and Levin playing with blocks (if I remember correctly, they used chalk in the book – either way, I loved both versions).

In the book: the first meeting of Anna and Vronsky and the accidental encounter at the train station.

In the film: the ball, the dancing and especially Vronsky/Anna dance.

Both the book and the film explored the themes of society and its judgement if you break certain rules. It also touched on the differences between men’s and women’s rights. In addition, Anna Karenina focuses a lot on the question of adultery and the differences between genders in that aspect. It seems that women are usually the victims: Dolly was the true victim, Betsy – not so much – she could fool around and get away with it while Anna was a completely different story – her circumstances worked against her. Speaking about the men of the book: Stiva was playing with fire and remained unburnt while Vronsky got an unhappy ending. What I’m trying to stay is that, although at first glance it looks like the woman is always the victim, that is not the case sometimes.

Love is another themes explored in this story. To my mind, the story has this nice contrast between its characters: Kitty and Levin were complete opposite of Anna and Vronsky. While one symbolizes the pureness and sensuality of love, the other portrays the passion and the desires. And I, personally, cannot pick one or the other…There is no reason for love…one cannot explain the causes of it…one can just feel it. Additionally, love and jealousy are two sides of the same coin. One cannot exists without the other. This kind of portrayal of love was humane and, though I love fairy-tales (proof), a realistic approach to love is also pleasing and refreshing.

To sum up, despite the fact that I couldn’t relate to any of the characters on any level both in the book and in the movie, I was still mesmerized and completely taken by them. The book broke my heart but the movie just shattered it to pieces completely. From now, both the film and the movie are on my favorite lists and this doomed from the start love story – always on my mind. I only wish that they would make another movie and would focus more on Kitty and Levin this time.

Rate: 5/5 – both the book and the film

Trailer: Anna Karenina (2012)

Next on my reading list – The Perks of being a Wallflower.      

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12 thoughts on “Anna Karenina: the book + the movie

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