Tuesday, February 08, 2011

The Brothers Karamozov

Cheri and I have both tried reading Dostoevsky's classic novel, The Brothers Karamozov, a couple of times in the distant past without success. So when we heard great things about a Russian-made mini-series (twelve episodes - almost nine hours of viewing), we thought it might make for some good winter entertainment. Maybe it would even inspire us to take another try at reading the book.

We were right about winter being a great time to watch the series, especially this winter in Minnesota, with snow depths and temperatures quite similar to Siberia. The setting for much of the series was filmed in frozen and snow covered Russian villages and landscapes, so before putting the DVD in the player, we would grab a blanket and a mug of something hot to drink. Perfect.

All in all we enjoyed the series. The cinematography was good, the sets and locations were beautiful and believable, and the acting was generally very good. The subtitles were amusing at times, with the syntax reading a bit more like a Russian learning to speak English ("How my English sound to you? Do you think I'm saying is it good?"). The result was more charming than distracting.

Many of the reviews about the series say it was very true to the book. If that's true, that's not such great news to me. I will have to confess that I found the story to be tedious and ultimately unsatisfying. When I finished the last episode, I was more disappointed than satisfied. I most certainly wasn't motivated to give the book another try, at least not any time soon. Maybe some other long dark winter.

The plot line was much more a vehicle for Dostoevsky's exploration of political, moral, philosophical, and religious ideas, than a captivating story with moral and philosophical implications. It wasn't a gripping narrative that brought with it the need to wrestle with moral issues, but rather a lot of philosophical/theological discussions and dialogues strung together by a less than compelling story.

That being said, I'm sure I would enjoy reading the book simply for the philosophical/theological explorations which are surely the reason for the book's masterpiece status. The story and the characters, on the other hand, seem a bit flat. The brothers seem more like two-dimensional figures representing worldviews in an allegory (the secular atheist, the religious mystic, the passionate hedonist, the selfish survivalist) than the complicated and messy people a reader comes to accept as real. When all was said and done, I didn't like or care about any of the main characters. The more I got to know them, the less real and more caricatured they became.

Do you have thoughts about the book? Let me know. I'd love to hear what you have to say. Encourage and convince me to read it!

Do you live in the Twin Cities? Would you like to borrow my DVDs and watch the series (there's still plenty of snow on the ground and it's 11 below zero today), let me know and I'll get the discs to you.

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