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Ostrov (The Island) — film

16 November 2008

At my daughter’s recommendation my wife bought the DVD of the film Ostrov, and last night we watched it. There’s a description of the film and a plot summary on Wikipedia but you really need to see  the film to appreciate it.

Though the film is fictional, it captures the spirit of Orthodox monasticism better than any other I’ve seen. The protagonist is a clairvoyant spiritual elder, Fr Anatoly, who lives his repentance as a hermit on an island apart from the main monastery. The main action  of the film is in the 1970s, in the Brezhnev years, when monasteries were barely tolerated officially. It has flashbacks to World War II, when Fr Anatoly committed an act of betrayal that haunts him, and spurs him to the repentance that enables him to give spiritual advice to others, and also to see through their desire for a spiritual quick fix.

In the Bolshevik period in Russia, monasteries were poor, but Fr Anatoly’s poverty shows up the life of his monastic brethren as one of relative luxury, where even a pair of boots and a blanket are signs of wealth.

There is much talk nowadays of “new monasticism”, but I would recommend that those interested in new monasticism should also see this film to at least appreciate the spirit of the old monasticism.

Another thing that I find interesting is that nowadays we hear much of the “new atheism”, with much publicity being given to atheist polemicists like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris. The film is set in a place and period when atheism was the official policy of the state, and where the dreams of the new atheists could come true. But in fact those dreams crumbled within fifteen years, and the film shows part of the reason why.

14 Comments leave one →
  1. 16 November 2008 6:40 am

    I found it to be a great movie. It began in such a way as to be a little disorienting – I had no idea where the movie was going and saw it solely based on someone’s mention of it – but it quickly turned into a movie I find myself mentally returning to quite a lot.

  2. 16 November 2008 6:47 am


    Yes, I think it is one of those films one should see several times in order to appreciate fully.

  3. 16 November 2008 8:32 pm

    Thanks for the recommendation. I’ll have to see if Netflix has it. The hermit life appeals to me more and more as I get older. In fact, I just posted on The Vital Role of Hermits, especially the underappreciated hermit-sacristans who attended the many little pilgrimage shrines.

  4. 17 November 2008 5:04 am


    Perhaps someone needs to start documenting the lives of some of those shrine keepers.

  5. 17 November 2008 12:16 pm

    Sounds interesting.

    The trouble with the New Atheism is that it’s just like the old atheism. A lot of them still want to stamp out religion, and don’t seem to realise that this is an irrational aim, or that religion is not only about belief, but also about practice and values.

  6. 17 November 2008 7:33 pm


    I think the difference between the new atheism and the old is that the new atheism is much more “in your face”. Actually one of the links in the post that tells about the film also gives reviews of the film, and you can see some of the negative ones there.

  7. Zacharias permalink
    21 November 2008 1:18 am

    I loved the movie. It was very surprising to me to see how harshly Fr. Anatoly seemed to treat the woman who came for a blessing for an abortion, but when you think about it I’m sure that’s exactly what she needed at that point in time. I loved how the movie showed his humily; he wouldn’t even acknowledge to most of the pilgrims that -he- was Fr. Anatoly. I also enjoyed how it demonstarted that pride could even invade a monestary, even the abbot of that monestary. I wonder what form a Fool for Christ would take today in America?

  8. 21 November 2008 5:41 am


    Yes, one of the good things about the film is that it does not idealise monastic life. A monk from Mount Athos once told me that more people go to hell from monasteries than from anywhere else.

    The film also shows the continuing tension in Orthodox monasticism between “possessors” and “nonpossessors”, even in the Bolshevik period, when the few monasteries allowed to remain were stripped of their possessions.

  9. 21 April 2010 10:01 pm

    Just watched it today. I thought it was very good. Very touching and I could sense the Holy Spirit’s hand in it. Powerful.

  10. keti permalink
    13 July 2010 10:27 am

    mne 3o let ia za vse svoi godi vpervii raz ispitala radost za takoi film.ojen blagodarna vsem kto prinial ujastie v etom filme.nevse mogli bi ispolnit rol eto nastoiashii dar. spasibo vam bolshoe.etot film mojno smotret kajdii den i ispitivat blagodat juvstvovat dushoi vse momenti i voistinu ojujat bojiu blagodat.nevse mogut poniat zato ia ojen vam blagodarna.spasibo vam bolshoe.dai bog zdorovia vsem nam.

    Translation: I’m 30 years old and first time in my life I felt joy because of the movie. I’m very thankful to all those who participated in this movie. Not everyone could play such a role – it’s really a gift. Thank you a lot. This movie can be watched every day and feel grace, feel every moment by soul and truly sense God’s grace. Not everyone can understand but I’m very thankful to you. Thank you a lot. May God grant health to all of us.

  11. keti permalink
    13 July 2010 10:32 am

    net jeloveka kotorii nebil bi greshen inet grexa kotorogo bi neprostil nam otec nash.v kajdoi strane svoia vera no bog odin.da slavitsia imia tvoie.

    Translation: There’s no such a person who is not sinful and there’s no such a sin which wouldn’t be forgiven by Our Father. Every country has it faith but there’s one God. Glory to the name of God.

    Thanks to Vladislav Zarayskiy for translating this and the previous comment.


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