From an Exploration of Demonism in Early Modern Era to an Awareness of the Political Catastrophes of the 20 th Century: Notes on “Faust” by Alexander Sokurov

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Abstract

The article focuses on Alexander Sokurov’s “Faust”, one of the most outstanding pieces of Russian and world cinema (a Venice Film Festival Award). It comments on the director’s artistic intentions and the affinities with other parts of Sokurov’s film tetralogy about the 20 th century dictators Lenin, Hitler and Hirohito. Contemporary postmodern art practices demonstrate an unprecedented freedom in treating the classical masterpieces; at the same time, this approach cannot be applied to Sokurov’s film. The author comes to the conclusion that Goethe’s intention itself could be analyzed only in comparison with the following historical processes. The 20 th century events allow deeper understanding of Goethe’s prophetic talent. The article raises a question about the origin of such a mental complex as demonism which was significantly growing during the times of religious crisis, and widely expanded nihilism. At the same time, demonism that was discovered during the era of Enlightenment had clashed with an optimistic attitude of Modern as a discourse. Its consequent exploration took place a century later and was associated with Friedrich Nietzsche who had managed to forebode the historical calamities related to the 20 th century revolutions and world wars from his position of a 19 th century philosopher. Nietsche didn’t prognosticate arrival of the dictators, but he defined the barbarian spirit in its new civilized forms. The images of the 20 th century dictators became the embodiment of this spirit, so the phenomenon has attracted Sokurov’s directorial attention. In his “Faust” the director put a spotlight on the early Modern era when the Man began to claim God’s heavenly position. Goethean times with a strong intention to build utopia, as well as an immortal tragedy by Goethe, had attracted Alexander Sokurov who saw it as a harbinger of the 20 th century realities. Goethe’s tragedy is one of the first attempts to understand the inner workings of the constructive, creative and destructive elements that have been invading the world during the early Modern era. Sokurov’s films tell the story of how utopia turned into its opposite, an anti-utopia, i.e. the destructive forms of demonism.

About the authors

Nikolai Andreyevich Khrenov

State Institute of Art Studies; VGIK

Author for correspondence.
Email: editor@vestnik-vgik.com

PhD; Deputy Director; expert in aesthetics and culturology; professor

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