Andrey Tarkovsky was harassed by Soviet critics but praised by the proletariat. I think his written remarks about masterpieces of art being immune to association or else prone to infinite association, which is the same thing, was an evasive action taken by a misunderstood genius trying to be bullet proof. Who can blame him?
It’s not that I disagree with his enlightened presumption, but I’m pretty sure that analyzing its components in order to discover layers of meaning in art is as natural for audiences as our search for meaning. No masterpiece can elude our need to break it into digestible units. To discourage us from analyzing complex works of art, when the human brain is conditioned to do it, is ludicrous. Great movies are displayed on the high altar of a movie screen, after all, like some blessed sacrament. Absorb as much of their greatness as possible; digest, assimilate, amen!
Surely Tarkovsky is warning us to not get carried away with the sound of our own digestion. Regarding analysis of jazz, Duke Ellington was quoted as having said, “too much of that kind of talk stinks up the place.” In other words, let the art speak for itself. If words could say everything, then we would need nothing else.
Why then, do I analyze films? Not to make definitive pronouncements on their merits. In discussing anybody else’s work, I try to limit myself to specifics that might provoke a common response or well-meaning debate. I don’t write to be quoted, but simply hope that someone reading this might discover the movie for themselves. If they’ve already discovered it, perhaps I will provide them an excuse to look again.
Tarkovsky’s suggestion that infinite associations can be provoked by a single masterpiece, is not entirely relevant, in my opinion, since the likelihood of most humans making identical associations is much greater than us making unique ones. Art reaches us through our imagination and through our senses. Our senses are all going to have a common reaction to certain stimuli. That’s one thing great art understands. It seems to me an artist depends on the fact that essential associations eventually will carve predictable lines through common precincts in our brains.
Getting back to Tarkovsky’s second film, as Act III of “Andre Rublev” unfolds, the narrative line shifts radically and our attention switches from the floundering faith of a monk/painter Rublev to the budding prodigy of an orphaned son of a bell maker Boriska. Rublev shifts to a supporting role, however we are still viewing the action through his eyes, so Tarkovsky really isn’t hanging the narrative out to dry.
How important is it for the audience to experience Boriska’s initiation from Rublev’s point of view? Critical. Rublev, the conflicted monk/artist, gets his religious faith and creative inspiration super-charged by witnessing the unknown craftsman take a quantum leap.
The ringing the enormous bell at the finale becomes an audio/visual talisman to forever remind us a truly great artist works in service to the people. A truly great artist’s and any truly holy mystic’s responsibility are one in the same. Both are pioneers, confronting the fact that whatever any of us does ripples through the culture with consequences.
What worker in the realms of imagination would not relate to their process as a fire burning off superfluous matter; getting out of the way and becoming a conduit for a greater power? Rublev receives a summons from the prince but procrastinates and waits for the juice to come down from God–the artist’s conscience, in other words–he is rewarded with the privilege of witnessing someone else step into their genius. this, in fact, melts the last of Rublev’s resistance. Observing the good vibe that Boriska’s sacrifice generates, Andrei rededicates himself and his talents to a life of service.
In the aftermath of the fiery rite of passage, mud takes the place of blood and coats the crowning shot’s pieta-like design. Borisky remains mired in regret, even though he has greatly succeeded. He gambled with his talent and won, but can scarcely comprehend such luck.
He’d have been beheaded if he’d failed. Instead his bell sends good vibrations out over the land. The royals ride off to party. Common folk take the day off as well, but pitiful Boriski weeps and wails for what he thinks he lacks. Mirrors in Tarkovsky’s movies come in many guises. Rublev looks down at this one, realizes Boriska is his reflection and lifts him out of the mud.
Tarkovsky did his best over the expanse of his short career to call out the best in his fellow artists. He was blessed with some consummate craftsmen with which to collaborate, capturing all the intricately designed and timely processes of his magnum opus. Nevertheless, political censorship bogged down this film after its premiere, dishonoring its great director as well as the top-notch crew that made it. While the Soviet’s government sealed the country’s fate as a failed state, their artists bequeathed us some of the greatest works ever made.
Next month “a summersault into the unknown” beginning with “Nostalghia” (1983)