Reflections from Seminary Students

Film Review: The Last Station

November 29th, 2010 § 0 Comments

The Last Station directed by Michael Hoffman (Egoli Tossell Film and Zephyr Films, R for strong sexual content, 112 minutes)

Starring Helen Mirren, James McAvoy, and Christopher Plummer.

The Last Station documents the final years of Leo Tolstoy (Christopher Plummer) and his wife, Sofya Tolstoy (Helen Mirren). The plot centers on Tolstoy’s later-life philosophies such as nonviolent resistance and social justice. Most of Tolstoy’s closest advisors are pressuring the old author to redraft his will in order to give his publications to public domain. Sofya, however, becomes paranoid concerning these idealistic philosophies and worries that losing copyrights to her husband’s work would equal a return to poverty. Tolstoy’s closest confidant, Vladimir Chertkov (Paul Giamatti) hires a Tolstoyan – one who follows the teachings of Tolstoy – named Valentin Bulgakov (James McAvoy) to assist Leo and keep a close watch on Sofya.

As the biopic unfolds, Bulgakov befriends both Leo and Sofya Tolstoy. He learns that Leo is not a very good Tolstoyan and that Sofya’s criminal sin against the Tolstoyan movement is loving her family. The contentious moments in Leo and Sofya’s marriage center around money and the security it brings. This concept raises a big question: How much should one generously give to the poor of society? Clearly, it is morally reprehensible to give nothing and succumb to self-righteous greed. However, is it also a morally questionable position to give everything away? What responsibility does one have to his or her family?

The Last Station vividly portrays the turmoil of people trying to live at extremes on both ends. It seems both Leo and Sofya have elements of truth in their positions. On Leo’s side, he comprehends the Gospel truth of giving to the poor. On Sofya’s side, she sees the ludicrousness of giving all the assets away so that the Tolstoy family becomes the very thing that it is trying to correct.

For me, truth lies somewhere in the middle. Giving to the poor ought to result in some sort of sacrifice. In other words, generous giving needs to be felt in the pocketbook. If the end of the month comes and you give 10% without an afterthought, perhaps you are not giving sacrificially. However, if you give all that you have every month and allow debt to cascade down on you in such a way that you can ill-afford basic needs, perhaps you are giving too much. It seems, however, that most of us reside in the first category giving less than 10%. Perhaps we all could become better Tolstoyans.

The Last Station is beautifully filmed, well-written, and marvelously acted. It’s a slow paced drama with an immense subject matter. If you are interested in Leo Tolstoy, the Tolstoyan movement, or the difficulties of monetary generosity, I recommend that you watch this movie.

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