Monday, April 13, 2009

Reel People: Christopher Plummer is Leo Tolstoy

The film is The Last Station directed and adapted by Michael Hoffman and based on the novel with the same name by Jay Parini.

Leo Tolstoy

Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy was born in 1828 Yasnaya Polyana in what was then the Russian empire (today it is still in the European portion of Russia, near Tula, Russia). Tolstay came from a wealthy background. He was the fourth of five children.

His mother, Countess Maria Volkonsky, died in childbirth with her fifth child, daughter Mariya, in 1830. Leo Tolstoy's father died in 1837 when he was 9. Leo and his siblings were then raised by relatives, who were able to continue raising the children in the luxurious and cultural history of Russian nobility, surrounded by literature, art, social functions, and a variety of activities. At the same time it certainly was difficult on the children, especially as shortly after the death of the father they also saw their grandmother pass and then in 1941 their guardian "Aunt Aline" also die.

In 1844 Leo went to study law and oriental languages at Kazan State University, where he was relatively unsuccessful, he left school, returned to Yasnaya Polyana, traveled to Moscow and St. Petersberg regularly, and collected some hefty gambling debts.

Leo greatly admired his oldest brother, Nikolay (Koko) and followed him in joining the Russian army in 1851. It was during this time that Leo Tolstoy began writing.

Tolstoy's first works were autobiographical novels that chronicle growing up in Russia and learning about the differences between nobility and peasants. Tolstoy later discredited these three books (Childhood, Boyhood, and Youth) as sentimental.

Tolstoy served in the Crimean war (1853-1856, between Russia and France/United Kingdom/Ottoman Empire/Sardinia) as a second lieutenant in an artillery regiment. This role not only developed an attitude towards pacifism, but it also gave him horrific war experiences which he was able to use to create realistic and powerful scenes in later work.

Tolstoy continued to write, and his writing more and more began to demonstrate his thoughts on pacifism and Russia's war history.

Tolstoy's perspective on the world continues to change after he made a couple trips to Europe. In an 1857 trip to Paris, Tolstoy viewed a public execution, which was said to have horrified him and reinforced many of his changing ideas about pacifism, as well as his shifting religious beliefs that was leading him to a spiritual anarchist trying to reclaim a pacifistic message of the Bible.

A second trip in 1860 gave Tolstoy the opportunity to meet Victor Hugo who had recently completed Les Miserables. Their connection was said to greatly influence Tolstoy prior to his beginning of his greater literary masterpieces.

In 1862 at the age of 34 he married 19 year old Sofia "Sonya" Andreyevna Behrs, together they would have 12 children between 1863 and 1888. Tolstoy wanted Sonya to know him better before they were married and he had her read all of his diaries before marriage, although much of the content was unsettling to her.

Tolstoy began working on War And Peaceshortly after getting married. It was published in 6 volumes between 1863 and 1869. Often refereed to as the greatest novel ever written, with it's complex story with 580 characters, telling the story of five Russian families during the War of 1812 in the Napoleonic Era. Many people credit this work for changing literature, largely in it's wide use of themes and characters.

Despite the success of War And Peace, Tolstoy was said to be quite depressed and disheartened by the world and his life.

In 1875 Tolstoy's second masterpiece Anna Karenina began being published, before being published in it's entirety in 1878. During this time, his depression and self-doubt grew deeper, often suicidal. He was very critical of his own morality, his role as a husband and a father, and his motives in his work.
This depression and ideological frustration led to a variety of non-fiction essays and writing including A Confession (1882) and What I Believe (1884), The Gospel in Brief (1896) as well as other stories and short stories that criticized both the Russian government and the church.

Tolstoy's faith and Christianity became based largely on the Sermon on the Mount and the teachings of Jesus in the Gospel books. Tolstoy also believed that people ought to abide by the Greatest Commandment, loving one's neighbor and God first. He encouraged people to be guided by the words of Jesus rather than the teaching of the church. All this, along with his beliefs in pacifism, and turning the other cheek were largely rooted in these teachings and created great controversy, including his eventual excommunication from the Russian Orthodox Church.

One of the most popular of over a hundred essays Tolstoy wrote was "On Anarchy," which did not encourage anarchist violence, but rather that the individual would live free of the restrictions of political and religious institutions in their efforts to improve the inner man.

Tolstoy also lived a rigorously restrictive life that swore off tobacco, alcohol, the eating of meat, as well as a lifestyle of chastity. Tolstoy developed a number of followers of his teaching, much of what became known as "Tolstoyism" to some.

A wealthy army officer, Vladimir Chertkov became Tolstoy's most deeply devoted follower and close friend and companion.

Despite all of Tolstoy's writing, thoughts, and new realization, he was still very discontented as he wrestled through his ideology, and what it meant for his past and present life, continually trying to reconcile feelings of guilt and life's value.

In 1910, at the age of 82, and days before his death, Tolstoy left his family, wealth, and personal possessions in an effort to wander, discover truth, and apply his beliefs actively in his life. His family did not support this decision as he was not in good health, and less than a month after he left he died of pneumonia at the Astapovo railway station in Russia.

The battle for Tolstoy's diaries and personal writing was a unpleasant battle between Tolstoy's follower Vladimir Chertkov and his wife Sonya. Eventually Chertkov was given access and served as editor to The Complete Works of Lev Tolstoy.

The Last Station

The last station is a German film about the end of Tolstoy's life.

Not only does the talented Christopher Plummer play Tolstoy, but there are other strong cast members in the other roles. Helen Mirren will play the part of Tolstoy's wife Sofia/Sonya/Sofya. Paul Giamatti plays the part of Tolstoy's greatest follower Vladimir Chertkov. James McAvoy plays Valentin Bulgakov, a secretary sent by Chertkov to work for Tolstoy, and McAvoy's wife Anne-Marie Duff will play the role of Tolstoy's daughter Sasha.

Plummer is a talented actor with an active career, but has never received an Academy Award nomination. Will Christopher Plummer's portrayal of Leo Tolstoy earn him critical attention and even an Oscar nomination/win for portraying this
Real (Reel) Person?

1 comment:

Lorna said...

I'm looking forward to this.