I found Joe Wright’s adaptation of Anna Karenina to be devastatingly beautiful, emotionally evocative, and, without question, worthy to be viewed again. Never having read the book, I can’t judge how true to Tolstoy Wright remained with the film, but I am certainly now inspired to read the novel and to make a fair comparison.
That which I found particularly striking was the continuing presence of the theater—the constant reminder that the entirety of the plot takes place “on stage,” that all of the characters are mere “actors,” each fulfilling and performing a certain role. While this was an incredibly beautiful and visually stunning set up, I think that the symbolism of the theater holds great significance as well. To me, the implication seemed to be that the stage/theater reflected the artificiality and very specifically set of roles/expectations existing in Russia’s high society of the time period. Everybody is an actor and everybody is, at all times, being watched carefully by a very observant and judgmental audience.
Anna is consumed by the watchful eye and consequent pressures/alienation of such a society and, ultimately, falls prey to her own insecurities (both real and imagined). I thought that Keira Knightley played the role of Karenina extremely well—a strong yet controversial woman, persecuted by those members of upper society who so very often seem to merge into one single being—a mass of eyes and condemnation. I thought that one of the most fascinating and powerful lines of the film (although there were many) was that which a woman in the theater states of Anna: “Anna isn’t a criminal, but she broke the rules.” Ultimately, Anna must pay a greater price than any criminal—alienation, ongoing and mounting inner turmoil, the loss of her son, and, in the end, death. I knew how the story was going to end, but Anna’s death scene (and the scenes that followed) still came as a devastating blow—a powerful and painful reflection of just one instance of a woman’s attempt at liberty and freedom to love only ending in oppression and a final darkness as the curtain comes to a close.