Ivan's Childhood ★★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

I think this was just the third Russian/Soviet film I've seen, after Aelita: Queen of Mars and The Battleship Potemkin. I'm fascinated by retroactively peeking behind the Iron Curtain through these films. On some superficial level, Ivan's Childhood reinforces the generalization of submission-to-the-state joylessness dominating the daily life of Russian characters and audiences alike. Ivan's unwavering commitment to the war effort certainly spoke to the reigning nationalism of the Cold War 60s.

Yet there is a emphasis on humanity that runs throughout the picture that acknowledges there's more to life than killing and dying for a flag. Every adult character makes an effort to dissuade Ivan from continuing to participate in the war. "Go be a child," they all try to tell him (to no avail). It isn't that they don't want this kid's help; he's celebrated as the MVP of the Soviet forces, really. It's that they don't want the war in his life. There's a palpable sense of resignation to the misery of war, and that Andrei Tarkovsky wanted it known that even the angry youth who feel it incumbent on them to contribute to the war (the Cold War, in the case of his audience), that they should instead focus on something greater, or more innocent, or at the very least, less dangerous.

Dina Iordanova wrote in her essay for Criterion, Ivan's Childhood: Dream Come True, that "the new wave of war films differed from earlier socialist realist efforts, which mostly featured glorious Homo sovieticus fighting the Nazis under Stalin’s bright guidance". Ivan's Childhood was one of that new wave of Soviet films that "focused instead on the individual ordeals and suffering of those whose lives are irretrievably crippled by war".

Of course Ivan dies in the end; to not kill him would be to endorse unflinching devotion to the cause. Some would interpret it as a noble sacrifice, but I read it as a cautionary tale. War is destructive and, at times, unavoidable. But a culture of war should not be allowed to run roughshod over civilization. If Ivan and his generation all become relentless warriors, then just what is it that a war would actually be fought to preserve?

Watching a film like this, removed from my own youth as an American who perceived the U.S.S.R. as soulless drones, and instead as an American who has seen his own country grow fatigued from fighting our longest-ever war, I found myself truly saddened by Ivan's life even more than his death.

How Ivanovo detstvo [Ivan's Childhood] Entered My Flickchart

Ivanovo detstvo > You, Me and Dupree --> #791
I like the cast in You, Me and Dupree and they have nice chemistry together, but I'm partial to surrealistic depictions of children irrevocably traumatized by war.

Ivanovo detstvo < Far and Away --> #791
Ivanovo detstvo is the more affecting film here, but I have a fondness for Nicole Kidman in general, and Far and Away in particular.

Ivanovo detstvo < Blood for Dracula --> #791
Nikolai Burlyaev gave one of the best child actor performances I've ever seen in Ivanovo detstvo, but there's something about the shamelessness of Blood for Dracula that I dig.

Ivanovo detstvo > The Royal Tenenbaums --> #692
The things that The Royal Tenenbaums did well (mood, setting, cast) were done even better in Ivanovo detstvo, plus its story is more compelling.

Ivanovo detstvo > The Shadow --> #643
Oh, The Shadow. How I wanted you to be something you aren't! Ivanovo detstvo gets the nod here.

Ivanovo detstvo < Superman and the Mole Men --> #643
I'd easily pick Ivanovo detstvo over most Superman movies, but Superman and the Mole Men is one of the very few that I really enjoy.

Ivanovo detstvo > Planet of the Apes (2001) --> #629
Unlike a lot of people, I enjoyed Tim Burton's version of Planet of the Apes. Still, Nikolai Burlyaev's performance in Ivanovo detstvo is too captivating to lose here.

Ivanovo detstvo > Stargate --> #623
I liked the premise, the cast and David Arnold's score in Stargate quite a bit, but it wasn't as compelling as Ivanovo detstvo.

Ivanovo detstvo > Cashback --> #620
One could probably make the argument that both of these tried too hard. I wanted to like Cashback more than I did, whereas I was very impressed by Ivanovo detstvo and Nikolai Burlyaev's performance in it.

Ivanovo detstvo < Fahrenheit 9/11 --> #620
I wasn't as impressed by Fahrenheit 9/11 when I revisited it on DVD awhile back, but that theatrical screening looms large enough in my mind to tip the scales here. There's a lot about Ivanovo detstvo to appreciate, though (probably more).

Ivanovo detstvo entered my Flickchart at #620/1581