Leviathan – Zvyagintsev film 2014 and Hobbes

This is a story of a connection to the land, injustice and the nature of sovereign power. It is a very effective portrayal of a Hobbesian world in the far Russian North.

Andrey Zvyagintsev quotes the story of Job, from the bible, and Hobbes’s Leviathan beautifully in this film. He captures the spirit of Hobbs’s Leviathan in contemporary context. The feeling we are left with is sober and disillusioned.

The beautiful landscape carries the traces of abandoned architecture and machinery, left from the previous Leviathan. A particular importance is placed on the remains of an old church. This is where the youth of the village gather in the evenings. This exploration of the remains of former power reaches the highest point in the scene with the whale skeleton on the beach.

Here is a dead Leviathan, the previous sovereign power dead on the beach. This is the tipping point of the film. And it is balanced beautifully with the scene of the live whale, just before the new Leviathan exerts its own power in practise.

whale in the sea scene

The film ends with a scene in a new church, the sovereign power is alive and well. It is practised in the same way as Hobbes describes- the absolute sovereign power commands the resources and the lives of its subjects as it sees fit. The subjects are in a state of bare life in regards to the sovereign power.

There are parallels with the story of Michael Kohlhaas, a story by
 Heinrich von Kleist (based on a true 16th-century story of Hans Kohlhase) published in 1810 . The behaviour of the powerful and the auto-mechanic’s uncompromising search for justice are very similar. Yet , “Zvyagintsev resorts to a different and, in his words, “more terrifying” ending: a vision of the slow destruction of the protagonist and of everyone who was dear to him, by power. ” ( Vassilieva , 2018)

“”The sovereign power … is as great, as possibly men can be imagined to make it. And though of so unlimited a Power, men may fancy many evil consequences, yet the consequences of the want of it, which is perpetuall warre of every man against his neighbour, are much worse. “(Hobbes 1996,p.144-145)

Hobbes lived through a civil war, he had a first hand experience of this perpetual war of every man against his neighbour.

HOBBES THOMAS, 1996. Leviathan. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
VASSILIEVA JULIA, 2018. Russian Leviathan: Power, Landscape, Memory. FILM CRITICISM volume 42(issue 1)

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Leviathan – Zvyagintsev film 2014 and Hobbes

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