A deep exhaustion bathed my body after watching Andrei Rublev. Too late to have anymore caffeinated tea, a hidden determination scratched my brain enough to seek out another operatic entry in Andrei Tarkovsky’s oeuvre. Offret, or The Sacrifice, was the filmmaker’s ultimate piece.
Maybe because the film is in the Swedish language do I believe this, but it is obvious there was a dialogue of influence Tarkovsky between himself and director Ingmar Bergman. His mastery extends over contemporaneous legends like Terrence Malick, Michael Haneke, and Paul Thomas Anderson.
Tarkovsky’s Offret begins with Alexander and his mute son “Little Man” planting a dead tree, anchored by a ring of stones, on the oceanside. As Alexander’s friends begin to arrive for his birthday celebration, bearing stories and gifts of 16th century European maps, we learn more about him. Alexander is a retired actor, married to an actress, with a teenage daughter and a young son who cannot speak, all of whom reside in their seaside home. It is a sparsely furnished home with creaky wood floors, and windows and cabinet doors that can’t (or won’t) stay shut–you might assume their world is on a tilt.
A thunderous sound permeates Alexander’s contemplative, verbose celebration, and a weary mood sets in. Sitting in front of a dim blue light, the party watches an authoritative, faceless voice address a country on the brink of a devastating nuclear war. Mortality, regret, repentance, and shame dig in. Tarkovsky’s gray and gloomy world becomes grayer and darker. Alexander, at first more introspective, now panicked, prays to God, offering up everything he loves in exchange for God’s deliverance.
After awaking from a dream, Alexander sets his house ablaze. Tarkovsky does not offer any clues on whether or not Alexander has dreamed the entire ordeal. And so, Offret is an enigmatic reverie of sorts. Tarkovsky takes immense joy from watching his characters struggle with the ephemeral under the lens of that which is inexplicable and obscure. Always with an eye towards the omniscient, Alexander never finds a way to cope, neither in a dreamlike state nor in reality, and neither do we, for that matter.