In Sergei Eisenstein’s IVAN THE TERRIBLE the characters are less people than architectural motifs with predetermined roles set in stone. Only their eyes — limpid pools with slightest room to maneuver — animate with free will. Consciousness remains suspended between dark depths and preposterous pageantry. In one instance, a man ‘lifts’ his eyelid with his finger. It's as if it takes an act of will to glimpse truth in a world heavily weighed down by power as burden or tyranny.
There is also the metaphor of cavernous spaces to convey the secretive and labyrinthine dimensions of ambition and paranoia. Shadow-lurking byzantine ceilings arch over characters whose body movements complement the distorted dementia of Slavo-gothicism.
We watch figures trying to burrow into themselves; one man shrivels into his collar like a turtle withdrawing into his shell; another recoils into hidden space like an armadillo or porcupine. It’s a veiled world teeming with vampiric forces vying for power but scurrying into darkness like mice or roaches at first sign of light. Just about every component of the film is an exaggerated symbol or twisted metaphor of souls tormented by power as cure and/or poison.
Ivan is a shadowy figure, indeed more like a shadow of a shadow, both in the personal and historical sense. He contends with forces all around him to impose his proto-national vision in an unruly and sprawling world where downfall & disgrace are never more than few steps away from power & glory. He has to maintain his balance amidst ceaseless tremors emanating from both within and without. He cannot just settle down to being a good leader. The bulk of his energies must be committed to the bare-bone-struggle of just keeping the power. Internal intrigues, tensions by region & class, and external threats abound everywhere. The imperial nature of nascent Russia is both its strength and weakness. It is vast and domineering but also under constant threat from competing powers. It is always on war-footing whether it wants to be or not. If Russia is not pressing against others, others are pressing against Russia, eager to carve off its territories and enslave its peoples. Against such seemingly insurmountable odds, the only way to keep the power is to appear and act godlike. The concept of Divine Right of King is insufficient as practice in Ivan's universe. The ruler himself must appear divine, a god-emperor among men. Thus, at times, Ivan the Terrible is more like a Pharaoh or a Mongol Khan than a European king. He isn’t merely blessed by but has the aura of divinity. He must struggle to live and rule as long as possible because Russia cannot survive without a ruler without the will of a god.
Like the mystique of the late lord of KAGEMUSHA, Ivan’s power is a complicated interplay of myths and symbols that amplify yet also threaten to annul one another. Shadows can loom large, making the smallest object seem most ominous. But all said and done, a shadow without substance loses its mystique in the blink of an eye, as with the shadow in THE THIRD MAN that turns to be of a balloon-peddler. In KAGEMUSHA, the Takeda clan maintains its aura of invincibility through a complicated shadow play that fools rival clans into believing that the great lord full of wisdom and experience is still alive.
|KAGEMUSHA - The double(thief) stumbles upon the dead lord whose persona is kept alive by the clan.|
|The deceptively ominous shadow in THE THIRD MAN|
Shadows serve as a striking metaphor for power because the size of a shadow has less to do with the actual size of an object than in its relation to the light source. Then and now, so much of politics is a game of shadows, making small things loom large, making big things seem small. In nature, some animals puff themselves up to look bigger than they actually are. In the US, the shadow-play of the media have convinced so many Americans that homos constitute 25% of the population when they are only 2.5%, if that. The significance of whiteness, so crucial to the creation and development of America, has been diminished by the Jewish favoritism of themselves, blacks, homos, anti-white-male feminists, and ‘immigrants’ who are said to be ‘more American than Americans’.
Of course, cinema too developed essentially as a shadow play. The silver screen is really a shadow-projection of images on strips of celluloid. For so many people, cinema defined hyper-reality in terms of Narratives, Heroes and Villains, Truth and Falsehood. In movies, small figures can loom deceptively large and dwarf larger characters, and few directors exploited this dynamics as well as Eisenstein, especially in IVAN THE TERRIBLE, a work that conveys the illusory versus the actual terms of power. A man without substance cannot gain power by illusions alone, and yet, even the man of substance cannot maintain power without control of illusions. (One might argue George W. Bush and Obama became the ‘most powerful man in the world’ via manipulations of illusions, but they were never anything more than puppets in a shadow-play controlled by Jews and the Deep State.) After all, what were the histories of civilizations but tales of mortals playing gods, never a stable condition — just go ask Hussein and Gaddafi — but a necessary one to pull peoples and territories together into a unity of shared identity and purpose. The final image of part one of IVAN THE TERRIBLE almost literally turns the eponymous ruler into a silhouette over his dominion. Russia is stamped with his will and personality.
Ivan’s sharp-tipped goatee symbolizes power but also fragility. It is knife and feather. At times, his head tilts back, gazing upwards as if summoning consent from the gods. Yet, it also suggests resignation, an image of crucified Christ beseeching His Father, ‘Why?’ Why was Ivan chosen to carry the cross for his people, an unworthy rabble given to dissension and corruption?
Jews understand the game all too well. Many high positions are still filled by gentiles in the US and EU, but they are like chess pieces with latent power only. They are activated into play only when Jews decide to ‘move’ them as Judea has hegemony over Western elites who’ve been bought, blackmailed, or squeezed at every turn.
Sergei Eisenstein immediately entered the cinematic lexicon and pantheon through his experimentation with dialectical montage, a fast-cutting and juxtaposing of loaded images for the achievement of thematic synthesis. IVAN THE TERRIBLE didn’t dispense with montage, but Eisenstein managed to create something more remarkable(surely influenced by gothic expressionism of German cinema and perhaps even Citizen Kane, and, in turn, probably having a key influence on Stone's political shadow-play NIXON). Instead of head-to-head clash of ideologically charged tropes in films like BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN and OCTOBER, the result in IVAN THE TERRIBLE is more oblique, elliptical, and elusive. It’s a world where so many forces prefer to hide and conspire in the shadows than settle accounts in a head-to-head clash and collision. The earlier films are closer in spirit to Flash Gordon, the brash hero who relishes open and honest combat. The mood of IVAN THE TERRIBLE’s is that of ‘orientalist’ Ming the Merciless or Darth Vader. It is about the hidden depths of power both in its political and psychological dimensions, and as such, it probably had an influence on Orson Welles’ OTHELLO.
In part, IVAN THE TERRIBLE is a showcase of classic Russian chauvinism. It presents Russia as the repository of the vital qualities of man, both the primal/natural and noble/spiritual. In Part One, we see Russians as daring defenders of civilization against the barbaric Muslim-Asiatic Tartars. In Part Two, Ivan rallies his manly forces against the preciously effete Polish aristocrats in their cookie cutter palaces. Russians are shown as robust and virile in contrast to the decadent and preening Central Europeans.
Ivan himself embodies this Russian duality as a leader channeling both the boorish but forthright passion of the mob and the refined but devious treachery of the elites. It's a portrait of a man torn between royal refinement and rough reality summoning an awesome will to bridge the two realms. He desires respect and acceptance from the upper-crust, the better kind of people, but they remain disloyal & resentful, seeking Ivan’s destruction with virulence on par with the Rabbis who wanted Jesus punished and killed. (Likewise, no matter how much Putin or Trump tries to compromise and come to terms with ‘Western’ globalist elites and the Deep State controlled by Jews, he will never be accepted as a member because what he represents is anathema to the agenda of globalism.) The more Ivan comes to reflect on power, he decides upon the creation of a private army of loyal followers, but they are uncouth and vulgar, much like the samurai who serve the fallen Hidetora to their tragic end in Kurosawa's RAN. But in the end, they are the only people Ivan can trust. He is alone with the ‘people’. He once reached out for affection and respect among the elites, but his wife died and the aristocratic boyars merely played him for a fool.
The musical sequence also serves a similar function as the incoherent rush of images catalyzing right after Liv Ullmann steps on broken glass in PERSONA(Ingmar Bergman) or the opening dance number in MULHOLLAND DR(David Lynch). It's the false muse between light and darkness, between sense and nonsense. It's as if tensions have reached such a boiling point that some steam has to be let out of the pressure cooker lest it explode.
But inevitably, what then follows is the grim re-emergence of the plot leading to assassination and resolution. The stark contrast between the ruckus of the dance number and the nervous quietude of the assassination scene(back in b/w) makes for a jarring effect, surely intentionally anticlimactic. Likewise in THE GODFATHER, the killing of the heads of the five families seems even more profanely awesome because of its juxtaposition with the baptism of Connie’s baby.
The dance sequence also declares Ivan's final break with his former self that aspired to be someone he wasn't allowed to be. Like Guido at the end of Fellini's 8½, Ivan accepts his condition — endless intrigues, wars, and betrayals — as the circus of power, the way of doing business. He stops worrying and learns to love the power. He has given up hankering for respectability. He has accepted the dark side of power like a vampire has accepted the life of the dark.
The gargoyle-like acting styles in IVAN THE TERRIBLE range from hyperbolic to arch and stilted. Dramatically it grows wearying in moments because of the never-ending parade of iconographic poses and exaggerated gestures, at times almost inching into vaudeville territory, especially as lambasted by Sergei Prokofiev's memorable but circus-like score that seems at once to extol and mock the themes and characters.