In a movie twist his followers, led by Chertkov (Paul Giamatti) seek to institutionalise their Tolstoyism which in turn only leads their followers to follow their puritanical rules and thus continue the cycle of one form of oppression. In one of the film’s best lines, when asked if they believe Tolstoy is the Christ, the answer back is “certainly a prophet : God speaks through him; I recognise the cadence in his voice.”
A personal observation follows : In truth, how can one man-made organisation, no matter how well intentioned, give a collection of people absolute freedom when we all have different views about what is acceptable ? Furthermore, how do we counter our very natures which are strongly inclined to take power over others, hide truths, and seek advantages for ourselves ?
It is the Christian belief that only an absolute, outside authority, which they have in Jesus Christ, can claim what is ‘true’ and what is not. It is these rules and ‘guidelines’ that govern how to live. Furthermore, it is the personal relationship that a Christian has with Jesus that transforms their belief from a distant, inanimate tradition into a life changing and personal journey of growth.
True Christian churches avoid the life-killing-religion-tag by having members who are inwardly transformed and challenged by their saviour God, and demonstrate this change by caring for others, continuing to challenge themselves, and by demonstrating a genuine and interested love in those around them.
The film also involves a naive and virginal James McAvoy who has free-love with (a 1910 Russian-style) hippie Kerry Condon; a conspiracy involving the last Will and Testament of Count Tolstoy; and most enjoyably the 48 year marriage of Tolstoy to Sofya (played by Helen Mirren).
Both Plummer and Mirren were Oscar nominated for their roles, but for mine it is Mirren who throws her all into the role with such energy and rage and passion that it makes this otherwise indifferent historical bio-pic into something worth watching. 3 out of 5.