The Mirror (1974) - Plot Summary Poster



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  • Tarkovsky mixes flash-backs, historical footage and original poetry to illustrate the reminiscences of a dying man about his childhood during World War II, adolescence, and a painful divorce in his family. The story interweaves reflections about Russian history and society.

  • A dying man in his forties remembers his past. His childhood, his mother, the war, personal moments and things that tell of the recent history of all the Russian nation.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • This film does not have a storyline, but proceeds in a non-narrative, stream-of-consciousness form. To add to the confusion, several of the characters are played by the same actors. Margarita Terekhova plays the roles of Maria (the mother, also called "Masha" or "Marousia" in some of the pre-war scenes), and of Natalya (the wife of the protagonist as a young woman). Ignat Daniltsev is the protagonist at age 12 (Alyosha/Aleksei), as well as Aleksei's own son at age12 (Ignat).

    A précis to the film will certainly help the viewer through this labyrinth.

    The film takes place in three distinct time periods: Pre-war (1930s), War-time, and Post-war (1960s), and can be divided into fourteen sections, each of which takes place during one or more of these periods. In the following breakdown of sections, I will indicate the time period for the section and a brief description of the section's content.

    1) Post-war. The film opens with Ignat turning on the television set. The program shown is that of a therapist treating an adolescent afflicted with stuttering. The credits follow. The Music: J. S. Bach, Das Orgelbüchlein No. 16, "Das alte Jahr vergangen ist" (The old year now hath pass'd away).

    2) Pre-war. Edge of a field, Maria and a doctor who is passing by (Anatoly Solonitsyn) meet and converse. Voice-over of the narrator (Innokenti Smoktunovsky), who is obviously the protagonist Aleksei (he talks in the first person, plural, "we"). Arseni Tarkovsky's poem, read by the poet. Maria with the children, Alyosha and Marina, inside the dacha. Maria and children go outside to see the barn on fire.

    3) Pre-war. Interior night shots. Maria is washing her hair with her husband's (Oleg Yankovsky) help. Maria young/Maria old [Maria Ivanovna Vishniakova (Tarkovskaya)] looking in the mirror (time ambiguous).

    4) Post-war. Phone conversation between Aleksei and his mother, Maria.

    5) Pre-war. The printing shop incident. (Maria thinks she has made a misprint, "Shralin"-- slang for "excrement" -- for "Stalin"). Lisa (Alla Demidova), Maria's friend, tells her she reminds her of Maria Timofeyevna (Captain Lebyadkin's sister in Dostoevsky's The Devils), which leads to recriminations on Lisa's part.

    6) War-time. Natalya and husband quarrel. Ignat watches the Spanish tenants. Archive footage of the Spanish Civil War. Children being evacuated. A stratospheric balloon journey undertaken by a Kurdish aviator in 1937. Music: Pergolesi, Stabat Mater, No 12: "Quando corpus morietur fac ut animae donetur paradisi glori." (While my body here decays, may my soul Thy goodness praise, safe in Paradise with Thee). Ticker tape parade.

    7) Post-war. Ignat leafs through Leonardo da Vinci book. Natalya drops her purse. Ignat reads Pushkin's letter to Chaadayev (October 19, 1836) to two unknown women, one of whom appears to be modeled after the poet Anna Akhmatova (1898-1966). Ignat answers the door. Ignat and his father talk on the phone.

    8)War-time. Aleksei looks at the redhead girl (Olga Kizilova). Music: Purcell, from The Indian Queen, Act IV, "They tell us that your mighty powers." Instruction at the firing range where a rebellious Asafyev, a war orphan, keeps getting it wrong. War footage of soldiers unloading cargo. Coming from the firing range, Asafyev walks up a snowy hill. War footage of the crossing of Lake Sivash in Crimea. Poem by Arseni Tarkovsky, read by the poet. War footage of Russian tanks at the liberation of Prague, dead soldiers, artillery batteries, Bikini atomic test (1946). Asafyev stops at the top of the hill and a bird lands on his head, after which he takes it in his hand. Chinese crowd scene, the Soviet-Chinese conflict at Damansky Island, in 1969.

    9) War-time. Maria with husband leaving for the war. Children playing outside and quarreling. The father with the children. Music: J.S.Bach: Matthew Passion, Recitative: "Und siehe da! Der Vorhang im Tempel..." (And see there! The veil of the temple...). Cut to a picture of a Maria look-alike, "Genevra de Benci" (c. 1470), by Leonardo da Vinci.

    10) Post-war. Natalya and husband again quarrelling.

    11) Pre-war. The dacha, Maria, the children on a mat, with Aleksei voice-over. Garden scene with the children.

    12) Wartime/Postwar. Maria and Alyosha visit her neighbor, Nadezhda (Larisa Tarkovskaya), to sell her a pair of earrings. Levitation scene. Maria as an old woman with the children (dream). Poem by Arseni Tarkovsky, read by the poet.

    13) Post-war. Aleksei (narrator) on his death bed (although we never see his head), attended by a doctor and the two women from the reading of Pushkin's letter scene (Section 7). Aleksei reaches for and holds a bird in his hand.

    14) Pre-war. Maria and husband. Music fades in, opening number of J.S.Bach's St John Passion: Herr, unser Herrscher, dessen Ruhm in allen Landen herrlich ist! (Lord, our Sovereign, whose glory in every land is magnificent!). Maria old, with young Alyosha and his sister, and Maria young, briefly in the background (dream).

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