The film-festival season — which, let's face it, is mainly Oscar-bait season —
has been dominated by adaptations of the highest of high-art literary material.
Having run out of Jane Austens, movies have turned to weirder sources. In
Toronto alone, there's been Deepa Mehta's version of Salman Rushdie's Midnight's
Children, Tom Hanks in Cloud Atlas, the 3-D Life of Pi, Julianne Moore in What
Maisie Knew, and virtually every other A-list actress in America in On the Road.
Ironically, the most relevant and most contemporary of all these may well be the
oldest: Anna Karenina, starring Keira Knightley. The century-old character is
completely of the moment.
Tolstoy's novel has been adapted at least a dozen times, never completely
successfully. This is the best adaptation. It is not the best because of its
screenplay, even though it was written by Tom Stoppard. It certainly isn't the
best because of the direction, which operates on a hackneyed play-within-a-play
conceit that is theater-school production stuff. It's the best because of Keira
Not only does she have the perfect facial structure for Anna — the easy
aristocracy, the letter-opener cheekbones, the neck so delicate that it appears
breathing would cause it to bruise. She exudes the hunger of Anna Karenina. I
don't think she even has to work at it. It's the same hunger she exudes all the
time, in her ads for perfume or when she does that pouty thing with her lips on
the cover of magazines. It is the hunger for more, to be ineffable, glorious.
It's exactly that ineffable hunger that makes the novel and Knightley's
performance of its main character so totally relevant to the moment.
Keira Knightley, I assume, shares little in common with the material
conditions of Anna Karenina. She doesn't live in pre-Imperial Russia; she isn't
the legal property of a husband or a lover; she doesn't have kids. But she
clearly shares Anna's hunger. The question of the novel is why a woman married
to a good and decent man with a beautiful son would abandon all the love and all
the privileges of her regular life for Vronsky, who, other than being handsome,
has little going for him, and whom she has to know will move on. Elif
Batuman's mother's theory, contained in her excellent book on a modern-day
obsession with Russian literature, The Possessed, is that her husband is the
kind of man who doesn't like women, and Vronsky is the kind of man who does like
women. And any self-loving woman would want to be with a man who likes women.
Which sounds sensible but only goes so far.
When the novel begins, Anna has it all — everything a woman of standing could
desire. But all the world has isn't enough for her. In short, what she wants is
to live in fiction, to be a character. And of course that's what she becomes.
Keira Knightley's eyes, even in other movies, do this thing where they shift
back and forth, like she can't tell whether she's in fiction or in real life.
It's perfect for Anna.
She doesn't just want to have more things, more sex, more fun, more beautiful
objects. She wants to be more. She wants the world to be more than it is. Anna
Karenina is so contemporary because she craves glamour — and that's what Keira
Knightley gives her. You can't place bets on the Oscars yet, at least not on the
best actress category. But it's hard to imagine, even at this early date, that
she won't be high up in the running. I mean, if you're looking for Oscar bait,
Anna Karenina is a bucket of chum for circling members of the academy. In
Knightley, we finally have an Anna Karenina for our times.
so happy for this flawless angel<345 as a lover of tolstoy & this novel (and of
course of keira) i am super pist i have to wait til november to see this.
keira haters and their weak jaws can have a seat in the crybaby corner over on
the side please