The Last Station

I rented a film called “The Last Station” last night.

It’s the story of the final days of Leo Tolstoy told through the perspective of his personal assistant. So, why is this in my religion blog?

Some of you might not know this, but in addition to his novels, in his last years, Tolstoy had become renowned as a writer on Christianity. As a result of his writings on Christianity, he had groups of people calling themselves Tolstoyans that claimed to follow his philosophy. There were even Tolstoyan communes.

Tolstoy himself kept some distance from the movement, claiming that he didn’t have all of the answers. But that did not dissuade the Tolstoyans.

You can read more about the Tolstoyan movement here.

Tolstoy espoused vegetarianism, chastity, non-violence,  and passive resistance. He based his thoughts on the Sermon on the Mount and taught that kindness, compassion, and love were essential for one to be a Christian. He taught poverty and was against private property. He was against war and in obeying the government, who enforced their laws by guns and violence. He was, essentially, a Christian anarchist.

Tolstoy’s “The Kingdom Of God Is Within You” is, perhaps, the most influential of his writings on Christianity. It influenced Mohandas Gandhi to explore passive resistance as well as helped to inspire Peter Maurer and Dorothy Day to start the Catholic Worker movement (a Catholic anarchist movement devoted to helping the poor and homeless).

The plot of the “The Last Station” is the conflict between Tolstoy’s wife, Sofya, and the leader of the Tolstoyan movement, his friend Vladimir Chertkov. Chertkov is encouraging Tolstoy to put all of his writings in the public domain, so that they’re available to all. Sofya views that as giving away her money and the money of her children. Sofya does not share Tolstoy’s beliefs.

It’s an excellent cast. Christopher Plummer is excellent as Tolstoy as is Helen Mirren as his wife, the Countess Sofya. James McEvoy is decent as the protagonist, Valentin (Tolstoy’s secretary) and, as always, Paul Giamatti is terrific as Chertkov.

Much as I like Tolstoy’s ideas, I enjoyed seeing the conflict of how this was being put into action…as well as the reality behind the cult of personality that Tolstoy’s life had become.

The film could have taken the great Tolstoy’s side. But it didn’t. Instead, we see both sides, with a particular emphasis on Sofya. Chertkov is shown in an unflattering light. Conspiratorial. Petty.

It humanizes the situation, which I think out of all people, Tolstoy would have appreciated it the most.

~ by sacredblasphemies on 12/04/2011.

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