Decalogue: Two (1988) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
13May/100

Decalogue: Two (1988)

My examination of The Decalogue is a full analysis of each film, its themes and visual strategy.  If you have not seen The Decalogue, I would highly advise stopping here and watching it before continuing.

“Thou shalt not take the name
of the Lord thy God in vain.”

While I was at work I was telling a few of my coworkers about The Decalogue and asked what they would do about the central problem in Two.  A doctor (Aleksander Bardini) works in a hospital and lives alone in the apartment complex that houses all of the characters in The Decalogue.  A woman named Dorota (Krystyna Janda) has begun hovering around the locations that the doctor frequents because she needs his advice.  Her husband is very sick, and she needs to know whether he is going to live or die.

The doctor does not like to make such proclamations because he feels that he can only do his job, and the rest is up to fate.  But she is persistent and tells him of her situation, which forms the central moral puzzle to Decalogue : Two.  Dorota has fallen in love with another man, whom she loves equally to her husband (Olgierd Lukaszewicz).  She has gotten pregnant by this man and needs to know whether her husband will live or die so she can decide whether to have the baby or not.  If her husband is going to live she will abort the baby, and if her husband is going to die she is going to have the baby.

This short film deals with the events that have occurred in the doctor’s life that lead to what he tells Dorota, and how Dorota is dealing with the situation she is in now.  Along the way, Kieslowski throws in a few compelling shots that display both his old documentarian stature and his way of conveying the characters inner turmoil in seemingly abstract stationary shots.  Kieslowski will not pass judgment on either the doctor or Dorota, if any judgment will be passed it will be entirely up to us.

But back to my friends and what makes this installment of The Decalogue so noteworthy.  For many Christians (amongst other faiths as well) this would present a fairly interesting dilemma.  By saying that he will live you are implicitly approving an abortion, by saying that he will die you are condemning a man whose fate is uncertain.  Either way puts you in the position of making a decision that is entirely up to God.

Any time I present this dilemma I make sure that they understand that they have no say as to whether she will have the abortion or not as that is entirely Dorota’s choice.  But they have a say as to whether she believes her husband is going to live or die.  What would you do?  You could lie about the situation, make a best guess, or simply remain quiet.  The truth is that not much is known about her husband’s disease, and it is up to fate as much as anything else whether he will live or die.

I admire the first response I received.  He just went blank and said that he did not know what he would do.  That’s a difficult situation to be put in, particularly for someone that has a vested interest in saving lives.  My second friends response I appreciated a bit less so.  He said that it’s not our place to know such things and we should place it all in God’s hands to trust that the situation would be resolved.  This response is directly counter to everything that Kieslowski is trying to do with The Decalogue, and is directly critiqued by this and other installments.

Kieslowski tries again and again to establish that the Ten Commandments have affected our moral thinking in such an extensive way that they need to be removed from any religious framework to be given proper weight in our lives.  It’s only when we see their effect from a purely humanistic standpoint do the full scope of their implications come to light.  As opposed to the object of worship (the computer) in the first Decalogue it would be the doctor playing the role of God - deciding if this man is going to live or die, and by extension if another life will be extinguished or not.

It’s for this reason that the second Decalogue is a bit more interesting than the first.  In the first film we see that it is, more or less, a straightforward parable asking a central question of what we now worship if we don’t worship a traditional God.  In this second film we have to analyze ourselves a bit deeper.  Is your faith so strong that you can go against it to give an honest prognosis?  Do you really care if the baby will be aborted or not?  Is the man so far gone that it’s clear that the baby deserves a chance to live?  What do you do?

I’ve always admired how Kieslowski handles his female characters and Dorota is a good example.  She is strong and independent, not bending to the will of her lover and still choosing to maintain some sense of loyalty to her sick husband.  Her decisions are dictated by her will alone, she is merely reacting to information that she has and will not be a passive witness as events unfold.   The choices that she makes are of direct consequence to not playing as a puppet for the doctor.  She pushes for the information that she needs and, when denied, acts of her own accord.  Dorota is in a long line of excellent female characters that Kieslowski observes through his lens.

The doctor is also an intriguing figure.  His past only comes out in little pieces, and we get a surprisingly full picture of the man with those fragments.  It’s clear that he has some sort of faith.  When he refuses to give Dorota an answer in one of their encounters and is asked if he believes in God he responds, “I have a God.  There’s only enough of him for me.”  This is an interesting response, indicating that he does believe in something but does not expect that belief to be extended beyond his own choices.  But he comes to realize his faith is affecting others and, after telling his cleaning lady how he lost his family in the war, realizes that his decision may be reflective of his own fathers choice to withhold crucial information.

Kieslowski delivers a series of images that serve a dual function.  The first is to visualize the sickness and turbulence that the characters are feeling as they struggle with their decisions.  The second is to criticize the hospital system that is caring for the  husband.  Kieslowski got his start as a documentary filmmaker who crafted films to serve this purpose.  Rather than tell us why we should be angry and have a small series of images to back it up (a la Michael Moore), he instead just shows the system in action and stays away from commenting directly.  This forces the audience to think about the conditions, and in many cases made people  angry about what they saw.

This duality is present in one of the best shots towards the end of the film.  The husband is finally waking up, and in his haze looks to see that a fly is stuck to a spoon in a jar of strawberries, struggling to get out.  This scene can be taken in one of the two ways.  The husband is struggling with the taint in his body and is trying to force it out, as shown with the fly attempting to get out of the jar.  The second, coupled with some previous shots, is to highlight the squalor and treatment that many receive in the hospitals.  Previously, all in shots involving the husband, we see that no one has been changing his bed pan and that the hospital has fallen into such disrepair that water is leaking in through cracks everywhere.  No one can be bothered to attend to the patients or even the general state of the hospital.  Even in his character studies, Kieslowski is able to get a jab or two in against the Polish government.

Decalogue: Two is one of the high points of the film series.  The subtle examination of these two people, coupled with the occasional critiques of the Polish hospital system, ask potent questions about our own morality.  It doesn't have some of the same striking images that accompanied One or some of the other films in the series.  But those that are potent are very powerful and linger in your memory.

Next week will be the third film in the series, dealing with “Remember the Sabbath, and keep it holy.”

The Decalogue:

One "I am the Lord thy God; thou shalt have no other gods before me"
Three “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy”
Four "Honor thy father and thy mother"
Five “Thou shalt not kill.”
Six "Thou shalt not commit adultery."
Seven "Thou shalt not steal."
Eight "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor."
Nine "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbors wife."
Ten "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbors goods."

Decalogue : Two (1988)

Directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski.
Written by Krzysztof Kieslowski and Krzysztof Piesiewicz.
Starring Krystyna Janda, Aleksander Bardini and Olgierd Lukaszewicz.

Posted by Andrew

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