Decalogue: Six (1988) - Can't Stop the Movies
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Decalogue: Six (1988)

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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 commit adultery."

Andrew COMMENTARYIf there’s one thing that The Decalogue does better than anything else it’s questioning the very system morality is based on.  We all like to feel good about ourselves, and moral systems give us the tools and means to feel superior to someone.  Granted, this runs contrary to the very idea of morality in a certain sense.  It’s all supposed to be used as a tool for the betterment of all instead of the gratification of a few select people.  That doesn’t change the fact that it is a fluid and subjective system that shifts what is right and wrong depending on the situation.

That shifting moral core is at the center of Decalogue: Six.  This film serves as the front runner of the best of the series.  The story is unusual, the resolution infinitely complex as we see how moral superiority shifts again and again over the course of the film.  We’re left pondering what it really means to be a good person, particularly in situations as complex as the one presented in Six.  In the end, perhaps it’s just more important to try and do no harm instead of giving yourself the moral superiority to make someone else feel bad.

Six is a story of voyeuristic innocence versus cold experience and the ways that we can hurt with both.  We open on Tomek (Olaf Lubaszenko), a young peeping tom that works at the post office and has developed a crush on Magda (Grazyna Szapolowska), who lives in the next building.  During the day Tomek sends little notices to her for money orders that are waiting for her at the post office.  The money does not exist, and he uses it as an excuse to see her during the day.  At night he spies on her with her lover using a telescope across the street.

This behavior could rightly be considered invasive but is harmful on the level of a prank.  He really loves this woman and doesn’t have a way of showing his love properly.  That doesn’t change the fact that he is consistently invading her privacy and altering the course of her day just so he can get a few fleeting glimpses of her.  Tomek takes things a step further when he gets another job delivering milk so that he can bring her a bottle every day.

The first major moral shift comes when Magda comes into the post office and is confronted by the manager.  She is told correctly that the notes are forgeries and Magda is made to be the source of blame for their creation.  Tomek suddenly realizes what he has been doing is wrong and follows her out to confess that he is the one that has been sending the forgeries.  She realizes that he has been the one spying on her and calling at night.  That night, she begins using his naivete to her advantage.

If we can agree that Tomek’s actions are invasive and creepy, then we can also agree that the steps Magda takes from this point onward are borderline sadistic.  That night Magda begins to toy with Tomek’s voyeurism.  She dresses up in a nice gown and motions for Tomek to call, ordering him to watch what will happen.  Her sometime boyfriend arrives and they begin to make love when she tells him of the peeping tom.  He gets incredibly embarrassed and stands out in the courtyard yelling at Tomek to show himself.

Tomek decides to go out and is promptly beaten up by the embarrassed lover.  This has all of the qualities of sending a hired thug to deliver a message to someone.  Tomek doesn’t know any better, and Magda has played with both Tomek and her boyfriend so that she can see one get embarrassed and the other get hurt.  We see that she gets a giddy little thrill out of all of this and now we’re left to wonder if Tomek really deserved this.  For the moment, I will say yes, but the film continues on.

She arranges to meet with Tomek and we see that he has finally come alive.  The “angel” for once bears witness to joy, not sorrow, as Tomek dances around the square with his milk bottles.  This is all part of a strange plan that Magda has concocted though.  With her experience, she will take him to as giddy a high as possible before pulling him back down.

Magda does this the following night in a drastic moral shift.  After having dinner with him she takes Tomek back to her apartment where she begins to masturbate him.  All of his declarations of love and sacrifice the last couple of days have led to this.  A few moments of awkward pleasure, a mess on his clothes, and the object of his affections telling him “That is all there is to love.”

Does she have the right to do this?  At this point we’ve gone beyond petty revenge and she is simply messing with his idealistic center and toying with his idea of love.  From earlier conversations we see that Tomek has never had a girlfriend, and Magda senses this on some level.  Instead of calling the police or trying to deal out some kind of “standard” punishment she goes for the most ironic and hurtful jab that she can think of.  That night, Tomek goes home and slits his wrist in an attempt to kill himself.  Drastic?  Not really.  He has nothing else and he has been cruelly taken advantage of by someone that knows what they are doing.  Magda realizes this quickly, sees the ambulance arrive, and immediately begins to regret what she has done.

Over the next few days her own behavior becomes as voyeuristic as Tomek’s was.  She stalks his home speaking to his caretaker, waits around at his office, and looks for signs of him everywhere.  Her obsession has managed to match and surpass his, fueled by guilt and grief over what she has done.  Eventually he returns, in the final shot of the film, and delivers one of the most ambiguous lines to close a Kieslowski film.  Magda approaches him at work, and he calmly turns to her and says “I’m not peeping at you anymore.”  Her face slowly forms a frown and the credits fade into view.

What are we to make of this story?  Tomek is clearly at fault for the beginning actions as he is invading her privacy.  But she turns the tables on him so thoroughly that she causes harm to him that may be irreparable.  She realizes the purity of his affection in the end, but may have been rejected by Tomek, leaving her with her own obsession now.  Morality, in this film, has been a tool used for one to feel superior and inflict harm to another.  By feeling right in her actions, Magda assumes the role of a sadistic magistrate, doling out affection and denial as she sees fit.

Part of why this film works so well is it’s use of voyeurism.  Cinema is, at it’s core, incredibly voyeuristic and nothing gives us that guilty thrill we see when we watch someone watching someone that does not know eyes are upon them.  Kieslowski perverts this little thrill and introduces guilt to it.  Magda becomes aware of Tomek’s gaze and, to some extent, implicates us in watching the drama unfold.  When she punishes Tomek we are punished by extension for assuming any sort of superiority over what happens onscreen.  Then when she finally spirals down in the end the playing field is now completely level, and morality has lost a lot of it’s power.

That audience implication makes this possibly the most potent of all the Decalogue films.  It’ll be a tough act to follow, but we’ll see if the remaining films are able to come close.

This Thursday will be “Thou shalt not steal”, featuring an unusual angle on what is stolen.

The Decalogue:

One “I am the Lord thy God; thou shalt have no other gods before me”
Two “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain”
Three “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy”
Four "Honor thy father and thy mother"
Five “Thou shalt not kill.”
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."

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Decalogue : Six (1988)

Directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski.
Written by Krzysztof Kieslowski and Krzysztof Piesiewicz.
Starring Olaf Lubaszenko and Grazyna Szapolowska.

Posted by Andrew

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