On the Watching of Old Films

Anna Karenina

It was a lazy Sunday afternoon at the Schoenleber household today and my bride and I took the time to watch the 1948 version of Anna KareninaWhich led me to the following discovery. There have been . . .

  • at least 18 different movie versions
  • two theater productions
  • nine operas
  • four ballets
  • and one radio production.

Amazing.

But if you have ever read the book you know that that is not amazing at all.

The book is extraordinary, more extraordinary than any movie, theater, opera, ballet or radio production can convey. What it really deserves is a director who loves literature with a big budget and the ability to carry off a ROOTS-LIKE mini-series. The 1948 version is true to the book with the exception of making Anna’s husband worse and less admirable than the book. It (the book) is perhaps the best book ever written depicting the destructive power and tragedy of infidelity. 

When writers and readers are quizzed as to the best books, Tolstoy’s classic is usually at the top of the list. And it deserves it. Translators have made their careers on it and have gone at their task with love and devotion trying to give full weight to the texture of Tolstoy’s Russian. It is so good in its English translations that I can only imagine how magnificent it must be in its original.

The last time I read the book I wrote this summary saturated with my Christian worldview on the fly leaf.

“Its about an age in a turmoil of values without value, of trivial pursuits and eternal consequences. It is about men and women destroying themselves with adultery and betrayal. It is about grasping at a retreating happiness and being bitten by an emense sorrow.

And it is about a simple, small man, an inconsequential, insignificant man, who finds happiness despite a sorrow, who find contentment in the midst of longing. It is about the idols of our hearts and how what we worship destroys or exalts us. And it is about the odd and dangerous path of our thoughts when sentiment and passions rather than righteousness is allowed to light the way.”

The 1948 movie version was true to the book but far too short to do the book justice. But if you want hours of reading enjoyment with deep insight into the human condition Tolstoy’s classic is one of the best novels ever written. Maybe I’ll read it again this summer. 


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