Edgar Cochran’s review published on Letterboxd:
#5 out of 6 recommendations by Twitch followers
Recommended by agustin.
"Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap."
This is one of the funniest dark comedies of the decade.
Zvyagintsev has proven seemingly effotlessly in the past that concocting extraordinary cinematography is the easiest task if you have achieved balance between nature and storytelling. Landscapes are not in the background of the story; they are placed in the foreground with equal force than the characters, because this is a story driven by the powers of circumstance, causality and responsibility. Landscapes correlate with the feelings of the characters and the ideological apparatus behind, which I will treat later. A giant skeleton lies in the middle of the whole dramatic scenery, as dead as the past, yet remaining as a silent stalker of the consequences of human influence and free will. Destroyed boats float in absolute stillness and remain there as a foreshadowing of things to come.
An auteur correctly builds a correlation between living and the inert.
Irony is scattered all over the place throughout with a core idea: humanity will never be able to grasp the last branch of possible consequences of its decisions. This is not talking about the Butterfly Effect or the Chaos Theory whose supporters (myself included) toss aside free will as an external variable in a perfectly placed equation where randomness is a big component (which I don't). This is contemplating the causality of deeper roots that convinces us of the following things in our personal lifes:
-Drinking is acceptable, even if it leads to alcoholism, which is, in itself, a drug addiction
-Smoking is acceptable
-Hitting your kids is acceptable upbringing
-Cursing in front of your kids is either seen as funny, circumstancial or even as character-building to face enemies
-Turning to God exclusively when things are going wrong (ironically, because of our own sow) is being "spiritual"
-Gun handling at a family picnic is safe enough
-Chauvinism should be encouraged since it is one of the natural symptoms of the weaker gender (people will never say this in such a cynical form, but their ideas and manners of living end up flourishing this doctrine)
-Infidelity should be a part of a man's/woman's adventure to live life more vividly
The feature stroke me personally for a particular reason; I know in real life a person that is exactly like Kolya: engulfed in vices, prioritizing the "construction of his own hands" over his family and the values he promotes, and keeping a lazy job that doesn't afford what is necessary for sustaining your own resources. The guy is even blonde and has strikingly similar facial mannerisms. Currently, he's about to lose his house at the hand of authorities, leaving his wife and her own minor son homeless. Her wife is a hardly working woman and has been in charge of the Christian upbringing of his son, something that this man disregards. The kid is blind to many things that his father does and doesn't do. I consider this kid as my "cousin", and I love him tremendously. The differenc between my beloved "cousin" and Romka is that the former believes in the fact that God has complete control and never abandons His children, even in the presence of imperfect, troubled parents.
I have faith that the wife, whom I call my "aunt", and her son, will do fine. This doesn't rule out that I am praying for the lives of the three equally.
There are two things that morally strike me even as we speak:
a) From the plot synopsis perspective, this film says that it is the story "about an ordinary family". It isn't; it is fully dysfunctional.
b) Many reviews are stating that the film's good characters are the families involved, and the bad characters are the mayor and his mafia. The only difference between them is how they abuse the power of the proportion of economic and social resources they have at hand.
The latter is normally defined as "power", but power seen as such is an illussion, and an excuse to exert impositions over the less fortunate ones, the ones that have to sweat, stay awake and cut fish everyday in a factory to bring food to their table.
But this is the film only at a superficial level, which has tremendous depth by its own.
Let's dig deeper.
Zvyagintsev's pace handling mimics the medical negligence episodes of the Romanian health care system portrayed in Puiu's The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (2005), a film which comedy genre flew over more than 90% of its Western viewers because such a harsh realistic depiction of institutions makes us lose hope in mankind. Mankind cannot handle its life by its own hands; this is one of the greatest illusions we have ever created: "independence from God" (except when everything is falling apart). The twists and turns the film has are hysterical and the auteur knows this: there is no escaping tragedy when our own social foundations have such ridiculous cornerstones and supplies enough to those in "power", be it political or religious.
Leviathan is the director's structural desecration of institutionalized power through parody eyes. It has the ultimate comedy scenes, such as adults making a shoot practice with their entire families and settling their matters with the same guns immediately afterwards, the ultimate verbal confrontations between drunk people (dogs barking but not biting), the most out-of-the-blue infidelity scene (except it's not if you analyze one of the protagonists), a very young lawyer putting legal threats on a corrupt mayor for then bribing him, a hilarious panic attack of the mayor screaming instructions towards his three strongest arms, an hysterical female coworker acquaintance with a dark sense of humor, etc. It is no coincidence that a dead "leviathan" observes all occurrences, that the kids spend their free time drinking beer (I have written hundreds of words before in this site regarding how behavioral patterns are passed on through generations) right in the middle of burnt church remains (implying that the true evangelical project of Matthew 28:19 entrusted to us by Christ has lost of its true foundations), that a double-crossed character ends up in the same place and beholds a painting of an offering of the head of John the Baptist, or that the story of Job is explained in a scene from an entirely incorrect angle. If these hints were not enough, they are majestically confirmed by a Buñuelian ending which starkness irradiates Mungiu's vibes, also from the perspective of the institutionalized architecture of religion like Beyond the Hills (2012), equally fanatical, but "seemingly" less harmful (it isn't).
Whereas I question the extremely ironic decision of the director being convinced of shooting some scenes 8 or 9 times with the cast entirely drunk so that certain slow physical reactions were believable, Leviathan is a more discrete punch to the face of social authorities whose laws, either legal or ideological (and sometimes being passed on as "spiritual") exert over families all across the globe. The location reminded me of Reygadas' intentions in Japón (2002); the location might be far away from the capital city, but the destruction, both literal and emotional, will always come down slowly as a bulldozer as long as we keep feeding and accepting this kind of system as the "lesser of all evils".