Released 1948 Rated: NR
Before I left my TCM channel and the wonderful invention that is the DVR behind, I went through a period of searching for old/classic films to brush up on. And they must have been celebrating Vivien Leigh at one point because I recall watching a few of her films; one of which I confused with Anna Karenina as the plot lines were very similar. But in rewatching this film, I’ve found that I like Anna Karenina more than I initially did. It could be that I researched the themes of the story as the second half of the movie rolled on, since, as I’m sure I’ve said before, I’m usually one to take things at face-value, and understanding helps create a deeper enjoyment of something.
This story has a lot going on at once, and I feel this film touches on all of it very well. How society views individuals, one’s duty, adultery, forgiveness, and death, though the main theme seems to be that of family. A happy family equals a happy life, as depicted by the two contrasting love stories taking place at the same time: the Karenin-Anna-Vronsky triangle, and the Constantine-Kitty pairing. Anna disrupts her marriage with Karenin to be with Vronsky, and from the moment they meet, she begins her path in the downwards spiral leading ultimately to her death. Whereas Constantine, while struggling for the affection of a young woman, finds increasing happiness when he finally takes his bride and has a son. I’m torn between which film I like more in that regard. The 1948 version contains additional scenes, definitive characters, and well-rounded story arcs on both sides, but the 2012 version shows more emotion, makes Constantine more relatable, and is more explicit in the love affair.
At first I didn’t care much for Vivien Leigh’s performance. It could have just been because I’d seen multiple movies of hers within a short time, and I basically considered her to be type-casted. Let’s face it, she fit the bill; she was a gorgeous woman who could play snooty, high end just as naturally as she could innocent. And she had a scowl like no other. You know the one. But as I watched it again, I liked her performance. She showed a vulnerable side to the character that I don’t really feel Knightley did. I felt her love for her son, her friendship with Dolly, and her concern for Kitty; I find her portrayal complete.
Released 11/16/2012 Rated: R
I’m sad to say that as much as I love the beautifully colored and creative world of the 2012 version, I wouldn’t have understood half of what was going on had I not seen the film from 1948. I feel an artsy take on a classic story can only be truly appreciated when one understands the plot to begin with, and unfortunately Anna Karenina wasn’t a title I studied in school. I just happened to watch the two movies back to back. Literally. 1948 ended, and I said “What the hell!” and started 2012. Thank heaven they weren’t exactly the same, or I might have lost my mind.
I love the visualization of this world. All of the colors are very royal, and exuberant, and significant. I love the idea of the movie being portrayed in a playhouse; the many long takes associated with that are impressive. But again, my problem with this technique is that without the knowledge of the story, I wouldn’t have had a clear understanding of the world I’m supposed to grasp. I would have picked up on the basic story line, yes, but I would have easily gotten lost among the details, which is what I believe happened to many of the people who didn’t like the film. Someone on Rotten Tomatoes said that this movie is like the filmmakers turned Tolstoy’s story into a Fabergé egg, and I very much agree. All the sparkle and pizazz are there, but they lose a little bit of the story by doing that.
There were a couple of scenes not incorporated in the 2012 film that I believe are important for their corresponding characters. Such as when Kitty is examined by the doctor because she’s depressed after Vronsky runs off to be with Anna. When Karenin is trying to get a divorce and he and Anna talk about duty, and how that’s the only thing in their marriage to each other. And when Anna comes to see Dolly who prompts her to visit Kitty and Constantine after the birth of their son, where Kitty forgives Anna because she’s happy now. But the most important one is Anna’s dream of the old man clanging his hammer against iron. This dream is a foreshadowing of her death, and plagues her throughout the movie. If I remember correctly, it’s only touched on once throughout the 2012 film, and that’s when the railway worker dies in the beginning. She never mentions the dream, and she doesn’t see the old man who terrifies her. The constant reminder of this dream is part of what makes the character lose her mind.
One thing this version does very well is the portrayal of isolation. Anna and Vronsky taking to the dance floor to suddenly find themselves the only two in the room. Anna going to the opera by herself after everything that’s happened, and everyone in the room freezing, staring at her, essentially judging her. When Anna is sitting on the bench at the train station, the rest of the station is frozen in time, but only she can move. I feel complete, cold isolation in those moments, whereas in 1948 it’s more of a disgusted shunning by society.
Surprisingly, I believe I’m leaning more towards 1948.