Ostrov (The Island) — film
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.