I tried to post this soon after seeing the film back in January, but because the wifi on the first floor Adams is useless I didn’t realize until recently that the post hadn’t gone through.
This weekend, I went with my roommate to see the most recent adaptation of Anna Karenina at the Carlisle Theater. I’ll make the disclaimer now that I’ve never read the book – I knew the plot line and general ending already, but I’ve never made good on my perennial pledge to read the novel over my summer break (the same can be said for The Illiad and Infinite Jest.). I think it goes without saying that literary adaptations are almost always disappointing, but I figured I could still enjoy the film as a stand-alone piece of cinema.
Twenty minutes in, I knew I was wrong. Even just as a film, Anna Karenina was awful. The storyline was unclear, and character development was completely secondary to the film’s art direction. Granted, the film was visually rich, with impressive costuming and scenery. A review from the New York Times described it as a “visual kaleidoscope,” which is an apt metaphor. Even so, conceptual aspects of the art direction were unnecessary and confusing, such as the motif of performing on a stage. There were multiple instances when the camera would zoom out from a shot and the Russian countryside would appear on a stage in a theater, replete with Peter Karenin and his frolicking children. To me, this motif was an unsubtle way of commenting on the superficiality of Russian high society and the way that Anna was forced to act the part of a wife to a man she did not love. However, this, along with the repeated foreshadowing of the following scene, seemed to insult the intelligence of the audience and deny them the opportunity to determine themes or anticipate the climactic ending. I use the word “climactic” because I assume that was how it was supposed to be in the novel, not because the ending was this way in the film. In fact, the character development was so poor that it was hard for me to sympathize with Anna or even care about what happened to her in the final scene.
I left the theater with the feeling that the past two hours would have been better spend reading the first few chapters of Tolstoy’s novel. With no thanks to this adaptation, maybe this summer I’ll finally cross it off my to-do list.