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Offret (The Sacrifice) | Andrei Tarkovsky

It is important to have faith in something bigger, something that mankind has not been able to explain so far. It can be called anything and have any shape or "ism" attached to it, but in times of crises, humans will most often fall back on a superior force for deliverance. The Sacrifice is the story of such a man, Alexander, a middle-aged stage actor who later becomes a journalist, critic and teacher of aesthetics. An atheist, he expresses vehemently his weariness with technology and the hollowness of words. After an intense conversation with his wife, daughter, and friends, as they turn to the television, they are horrified to learn about the breakout of World War III, a nuclear holocaust. We spend these hours with Alexander as he transforms from a soul in the abyss of cynicism to one that mirrors the son of God. However, there are plenty of pagan references which prevent the film from becoming a straight Christian allegory.

The Sacrifice is not a film that can be watched in parts or with distractions. It is a meditative experience, one meant to stir something deep within its viewers. Does it advocate the existence of God? Not really. It just says that there are forces beyond man's control and that there will be inexplicable experiences which will compel them to submit to these forces for lack of a rational way out. Alexander recognises this concept as God, so that is what he turns to. Like all Tarkovsky films, this film has long takes, surreal sequences, references to childhood and memories, questions about man's role in the universe, the nature of spirituality, and an immersive quality that keeps your eyes glued to the screen even if nothing is moving.

The staging and framing is like a play, just like how Alexander speaks in the beginning about the aesthetics of theatre. The camera movement is sparse but intensely communicative of the goings-on in the characters' minds. The last scene of the film, in particular, is overwhelming because of its visual starkness and the narrative conclusion this story finds.

The Sacrifice is available to stream on Mubi India.

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