It is important to remember that Tarkovsky is not a very accessible film-maker, and his films make great demands on viewer's patience and attention, but if you are willing to make the effort you will be rewarded by an unforgettable experience.
The Sacrifice (1986)
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It is important to remember that Tarkovsky is not a very accessible film-maker, and his films make great demands on viewer's patience and attention, but if you are willing to make the effort you will be rewarded by an unforgettable experience.
A family on a small Swedish island, find out the world is about to end(there's nowhere to hid and nothing that can be done)...planes heard overhead, and television warnings are all anyone knows. So far this doesn't sound too different from Bergamn's "Shame" where a couple try to escape from the world and war, on a similar small Swedish Island. The difference is where Bergman, dissects his characters down to nothingness, Tarkovsky includes mysterious post-men obsessed with miracles, a maid who may be a powerful witch, a man with the chance to re-create the universe, and a love making scene in mid-air?
That Tarkovsky moves with such subtly between psychological study, religious allegory, and science fiction tropes, should'nt be too much of a surprise considering his early philosophical SF films like "Solaris", and "Stalker"(which I may re-watch, cus of this film, though I hated it before). Like Philip K. Dick, end of the world paranoia, reality manipulation, and the religious (specifically Christian) ecstatic vision all merge together in 'The Sacrifice", with a lot more force and clarity(at least for me) than in any of his earlier films.
The lead character seems like a stand in for Tarkovsky himself, his views on nature, art, God, progress, and humanity, seem to match pretty closely with some he gives in the interview section of the DVD.
It's still slow as all hell, but the intensity of the story helps balance out the visual pace. It's not as instantly impressive as some of Tarkovsky's other films, but I think this maybe his strongest movie, all around.
It's the story of a man who saved the world, without anyone ever knowing it, and the trade off, man must make with God, in order to survive. A prayer on film.
This is definitely not a popcorn movie, nor one to see on a first date. I recommend you see it when you're not distracted or impatient - when you can be fully present and mindful as events develop at an unhurried, organic, human pace. The cumulative effect is devastating, yet somehow wonderfully cathartic.
The question of liking or disliking this film is unimportant. Undoubtedly there will be people who will dislike it. But the one thing that is indeed impossible, is to remain indifferent to it.
This film serves as a stark example of the real difference between the work of the European authors and Hollywood. While viewing, keep an eye on the editing. Th film opens on a five minute long shot in which it is extremely difficult to even discern which character is speaking. The scenes are made up of as few shots as possible and the shortest shot of the entire film is about 10 seconds. There are less than a dozen close ups in the entire piece, which may be why American audiences with their limited attention spans, would reject the film. The Sacrifice might not sit well with Tarkovsky purists, but it's themes and philosophy, I feel, surpass in depth, any of the master's other works.
This is my second Tarkovsky film...and now I am hooked. I am not going to be very successful in explaining this movie to anyone -- even to myself, so forgive the sketchiness of these reflections.
THE SACRIFICE is a revelation to me. The level of pathos I feel right now is overwhelming -- something that has occurred too infrequently in my life.
This film regards the human soul as the most precious commodity possible and life as it's most ample celebration. "Time cannot vanish without trace.." Tarkovsky has said. And so the time that Tarkovsky spent on this Earth, has been well spent and he has left more than a trace for future generations to wonder and ponder at.
I adore Tarkovsky's images, so lovingly photographed here by SVEN NIKVIST. Most remarkable of these images are the final settings where everything comes to a point...even THEY have dialogue made up of great silences packed with intensely significant emotions which have come from the protagonist's culmination.
The choice of music here is also deeply personal and wildly original in its contrasts and penetrating meaning. In the final strains, we hear first the modern and timeless Asian sensibilities of Watazumido Shuso. After which a great silence of visual narrative we are offered a spiritual selection from some of the most beautiful music ever written -- Johann Sebastian Bach's St. Matthew Passion.
All of these, combine in one's mind's eye and heart to provide the thoughtful viewer with one of the most spiritually satisfying endings of any movie I have ever witnessed.
The movie seems long but, it really isn't as long as you might imagine. I suppose it is because so much of the narrative is not splashed into our senses -- ready for regurgitation. There is much we must work for. There is much for which we must contribute our own viewpoints and form our own conclusions.
But then life isn't filled with dialogue in the conventional sense...it is more packed with our own thoughts and our own decisions -- as so is this film. It allows you to conclude many things on your own.
Isn't it kind of Tarkovsky to have been so benevolent to us and our panoply of thought-patterns? We come to this movie all with our different characters and personalities...Tarkovsky thought of this.
And he offered us a masterpiece - where we were the mental protagonist who made the endings for each us - our own -- and yet all different -- but the same, after all.
Tarkovsky is one of the five inventors of cinema, and the one most disconnected from the constraints of reality. He is highly intuitive, visually rooted of course and deliberately eschews the necessity of making narrative `sense.' The magic of his earlier masterpieces (`Rublyev,' `Mirror') is precisely in how he sustained a reality with highly folded, irrational causality.
But as he grew older, he became celebrated and ineluctably developed `theories' of his approach. He began speaking and writing about his work and slowly slipped into the safe harbor of making sense. This film -- his last as it turns out -- is the result.
Along the way, he allied himself with Bergman, someone who always was rooted precisely in the simple narrative. Bergman's heritage is the theater. He begins with `real' life, abstracting and staging elements of it. Bergman's whole point is to make the sense of the situation easy to read so that he can intensify and embellish it. Life is real, and because we can enter the reality of a Bergman film, we can emotionally relate to it. Bergman's world is allegorical, real, and causally connected where Tarkovsky's is metaphorical, ultrareal with causal folding.
So it is a strange voyage for Tarkovsky to convince himself of the logic of his theories, and to journey to Bergman's doorstep.
This film has a strongly Tarkovsky-ite beginning (until the map) and end (the last 47 minutes beginning with the visit of the actor to the witch or -- depending on your tolerance -- perhaps a few minutes before with the vision of the small house). In between, there is a muddle of emotional angst that is clumsily inserted. Also, it may be my imagination, but all the cinematography seems different than his earlier work. His early eye was languorously curious, lingering and floating. Here it is Bergmenesque: deliberately fated, smooth with premeditated and goals with foreknowledge of the fate.
To see what I mean: look at the documentary included on the Kino DVD. That documentary is flatly stupid in plumbing the mysteries of Tarkovsky (it elucidates his `theories'), but it does include the remarkable original shot of the transition from the witch's visit to the post-holocaust peace. The original is pure Tarkovsky: a shot of the actor, then panning to a scene with the same actor surrounded, then a continuous movement through visitors, reflections, players in the magic, the world, and a remarkable image of the nude daughter corralling chickens. Only that last image remains in the final version which is reduced to Bergman-like clarity. It is dramatically economical, but Andrei's poetry is lost. It is a dead tree planted with high hopes.
This package: the film, the documentary on the film and the book, are proof that artists are often not the best source of insight into their art. This film, alas, is not "The Tempest," a self-referential perspective on an artist who understands his own magic. It is instead an echo of that artist's misunderstanding of himself.
Must be seen for that alone, preferably after "Prospero's Books."
Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 4: Worth watching.
I will say right off that this movie is not for everyone. Tarkovsky is a fan of long takes, slow character development and awkward silences. Even though this is one of my favourite films, it was a struggle to get through the whole thing...which is, in fact, an effective medium to describe a man who is finding it a struggle to progress with his everyday life. The settings are fittingly dreary and dismal; indeed, his son seems to be the only spark of life in the film.
There is no plot to speak of; the film is an in-depth character study. Tarkovsky has given the main character so many dimensions that one cannot help but wonder if it is semi-autobiographical. Elements of magic realism serve to enhance the character's despair and isolation, but there are finely-crafted human details -- such as a shaking hand that must try twice to light a match properly -- that give the film a very realistic sense. The world Tarkovsky has created is like a vivid dream.
The images in this movie are incredible: watch for his use of fire, wood, earth and water, for all four elements are heavily drawn upon in his shots.
There is a documentary floating around out there that has Tarkovsky discuss this film in depth; it shows the processes he invented to create some of the takes, and the stubbornness he exhibits to get everything to match his vision perfectly. I saw the documentary before the film, and I think it only added to my appreciation. His book, "Sculpting in Time," also offers insights and bits of philosophy that add dimensions to this movie.
Though I regret that Tarkovsky passed before he could produce more works like this, "The Sacrifice" is a fitting epilogue to his collection of films, and perhaps the best eulogy a person could ever hope for.
In one the finest performances ever captured on film, Erland Josephson lives the journalist Alexander, a worried man about mankind's destiny who tells to his little and mute son, called 'Little Man', about how doomed we are, but also tells him good things too, teaches him to plant a tree and all. On the day of Alexander's birthday the Third World War breaks in and this time we and the characters have the feeling that now the world really is gonna end. As last wish, Alexander pray to God wishing to have more time to live and in exchange he'll give up his family, his belongings and his house.
I don't wanna keep wavering about where the plot goes and show the thoughts I have about the film, I'll leave that to you reader. Instead, I'll keep my focus on some of the beautiful things presented here, some of my favorite moments and the physical aspect that I found interesting about "Offret".
As I said earlier, this film looks like more a work from Bergman than a work from Tarkovsky, and for the die hard fans of the Russian director might not be so appealing since he uses the visual to tell his stories in most of his classics but here he depends on dialogs and more dialogs which is quite rare in his filmography. Tarkovsky composes along with Nykvist two worlds in one: a beautiful and colorful island with green trees, a sunny place; and the devastated place with dark tons, shapes, very dreadful, creating an apocalyptical world without any kind of expensive scenarios. He uses the cinematography and a subtle and powerful special effects to destroy the world.
Here are the things I won't forget about this masterpiece: 1) Alfred's prayer, one of the most emotional and heartbreaking moments ever made, filmed in one long shot; 2) the house on fire burning down to the ground, beautifully filmed; 3) The jar of milk smashing on the floor when the planes appear showing us that the war begun; 4) The story described by the postman about his 'collection' of events; 5) Alfred's monologues about art, death, life, fear. Tarkovsky's idea flying in its fullness. 6) Alfred visiting the only one who can help him, Maria the maid of his house. 7) The desperation of Alfred's family when the world's end. 8) The first scene with Little Man and his dad planting the lonely tree (which also ends the film with Little Man's first quote), meaning the creation of life, a hint of hope. 9) the ending, absolutely perfect.
It is art and philosophy at its highest point. And it's sad that this Tarkovsky last film in the way that I really loved his change of style here, I was looking forward for more films like this but it simply didn't happened. Life was taken away from him very early but we're left with interesting and great masterpieces like this, "Stalker" and more. One of the most beautiful pictures ever made and must be included on a list of films that you can't get out of your head. 10/10
As a woman who grew up in a spare, cold climate, I don't find the landscapes bleak. We are watching the middle of summer, with everything (but the one tree) growing and thriving. The rains are relatively gentle compared to the winter snow. The windows are open to the light breezes, and the light never leaves the sky. When it seems that disaster has struck, the fen is not panicked. The dapple of the leaves doesn't stop when the rush of planes has gone by.
By comparison, the interior shots are overly ordered and spare. The inside is Alexander's mother's garden, after Alexander prunes it. Everything is in order, and the beauty is pretty much gone. The moment order is disrupted, things fall apart. The English wife bursts into hysterics and declares she can't stand it "anymore." This is not the wail of someone who has suffered a sudden shock. This is the wail of a woman who has seen her foundation swept from beneath her, and is forced to confront her existential realities.
Otto and Maria are obviously out of place in this orderly, petty world. We know that Maria is the best kind of witch -- but what is Otto? Is he collecting the incident that happens in the house that night? Is he collecting the incident with Maria?
Kierkegaard wrote the answers to most of the questions asked, either in Sickness Unto Death, or in Fear and Loathing. Recommended reading -- if you get through this film, you can certainly get through Kierkegaard. ;)
To me this is a film that pits romanticized fertile nature against the restriction of (Christian) predestination, pits hope against despair. The Japanese found aesthetics in the most despairing circumstances, even where there was not hope. Alexander feels trapped by civilization, by his ordered and cowardly life -- yet he moves to sacrifice himself to save it...or to escape? Does he redeem his family, or remove their chance to transcend their petty patterns?
Resist taking the first part of the film as monologue -- perhaps you have never had a child? Little Man is old enough to think for himself -- he proves that by the end of the film. He has listened to every word his Papa speaks to him. His father is answering questions that the boy can't ask, or doesn't know that he should. Papa Alexander is trying to pass on what he has learned so his son might have a better chance (or, paradoxically, so his son can grow up with comfortably similar delusions?). At the end of the film, we realize that Alexander's son has questions that his Papa will never answer.
Finally, I have to note, on the closing scene -- for those of you who are not familiar with botany -- the dead tree seems to be planted head in the earth, with the dead roots in the air. It is a project out of touch with nature, and like the rest of the film it offers a prayer for a miracle, or the evidence of utter psychosis.
Now, read Kierkegaard, watch the film again, and enjoy!
Whether one engages with a Tarkovsky film depends on whether you identify with whatever spiritual problem his character is wrestling with. Some people are more concerned with nuclear issues than others. Some may see the sacrifice made by Otto as an inspiring spiritual one against his own interests. Certainly Tarkovsky seemed enamoured of the concept of the holy fool, weak and perhaps misguided and foolish individuals who are disenfranchised but in their lowliness somehow admirable and insightful on some matters. Others of a more secular persuasion may see Otto's sacrifice as selfish (his family being affected) and merely the pointless actions of the benighted. I'm sitting on the fence. The final sequence, which for the reasons above had to be re-shot is sadly not one of Tarkovsky's best. He has this need not to edit for the audience and prefers scenes to run to their own inner dynamic. It didn't work for me.
Tarkovsky was dying of cancer during the making of this film and the watering of the withered tree is actually an older myth, ruminated upon in his extraordinary book 'Sculpting In Time'. It is about 'the truth' as he sees it and is a Christian one. Unfortunately, I don't think this film was all it could have been but I see why it means so much to many. In my opinion he was perhaps the greatest film maker of all time and we are unlikely to see his like again. He believed that the gift of friendship was the most natural and important one to give as it is the one most open to us all.
An almost mythic blend of haunting imagery, rich audio cues and astounding performances, this masterwork of introspection spins a sublime poem on the conundrums of faith, unconditional love, the nature of reality and the very meaning of sacrifice. I cannot help but be moved me truly, madly, deeply.
By the time a boy rests by a lonesome tree, I realized few films will come close to injecting me with such revelatory euphoria. The Sacrifice shall be as close a religious epiphany as this "sinner" is ever gonna get. Sigh...
The artistic merits of the film are considerable. The theme is an individual's relationship to God, politics and mankind in general. How can a sensitive and intelligent person come to grips with these huge and sometimes overwhelming parts of life and still keep his own integrity in tact. Just attempting a subject like this is courageous and laudable, but in doing so the director walks dangerous ground. It is so broad that no film can truly encompass it, and wisely Tarkovsky doesn't try. Instead he shows one man's attempt to deal with it - flawed and inadequate as it may be. This is a clever way to approach it, because it stimulates you to start thinking of what your own approach might be.
It begins in color, with Alexander, a very self involved and disconnected man in his later years who is forced by circumstances and a very odd mailman, to confront his relationship to God, and society. This causes Alexander to go through different mental states which are filmed in black and white or muted color. As the day moves forward, Alexander eventually sifts from a passive observer of life to someone who is committed to playing a dramatic but positive and active role in the spiritual and temporal life. With this new reality, the film returns to color. The composition of the sets the framing and the editing of the film all are carefully done to support and emphasize the theme and development of the film. The film takes place on one day, Alexander's birthday (yes, this does have a double meaning).
Throughout the film death is the looming and persistent presence. Near the beginning Alexander rightly observes that fear of death will drive people to do many foolish things. We see some of these foolish things as the characters of the film become unfaithful, hysterical, and even cruel and destructive when threatened by death. Tarkovsky himself was facing death by cancer when he made this film and this was his final film. In the end, however, the film is life affirming, leaving us with a view of hope and even joy.
This is a film I respect but it is not very entertaining. I am glad I watched it, but I wasn't really ready for it when I started. If you are not ready to see a film this serious and deep, then it would be easy to dismiss it as difficult and even painful to watch. But to do so would be a reaction to that same fear of death that seems to be the root of so much evil in the world. Understanding that this is a film about serious topics that effect us all and not a casual bit of entertainment can make the difference between appreciating and valuing this film or not. But even though the film had some difficult and soul searching moments, you will enjoy the end and its message of hope. The final image of the film is a young boy bringing life to a dead tree. It is a truly beautiful image and one that think will stay with me for a long time.
However, it is, as Shakespeare might say, sound and fury signifying nothing.
An insane man becomes delusional and thinks that a nuclear WW III has started, but he can make things revert back to peacetime if he makes a sacrifice.
Actually if we all would kill ourselves there would be no more war. One person's sacrifice is not enough to assuage the gods, however.
If you like nonsensical films, like "Tree of Life" or "Holy Motors", you might like this one.
Too bad a beautiful production was wasted on this film.
And, in a sense, it's close to being, despite its darker intonations and its ambiguous, staggering ending of madness and hope, the director's quintessential work. While Stalker will probably stay as the artistic pinnacle of his career, the Sacrifice brings to a head many of the director's chief concerns while not possibly making them too patched together to make sense (i.e. The Mirror, which is nevertheless also great), as well as in a style that is meditative, calm, harsh, surreal, and always with the heart and mind of what leans toward the poetic. Once we get into the premise of the picture, which takes a little while itself to set up- an old man, Alexander, (Josephsson) and his family are at his home to celebrate his birthday when elsewhere a catastrophic war is going on, with the family left to their own devices out in the middle of the countryside- Tarkovsky explores the spaces that are there to see in the consciousness of men (and, to a degree, women) in a crisis of faith.
In reality, there isn't a whole lot that "happens" in the usual plot-driven sense of the Sacrifice, but within the realm of the scenes depicted and acted, there's a lot more than any other filmmaker would meet at. A visit to Maria, a "witch" in a church nearby, takes up a fairly significant chunk out of the picture, but in it is a story told by Alexander about a garden and his mother, and around this and in this scene are the details that Tarkovsky builds with. It goes without saying his genius also lies with whom he works with, and Nykvist creates such a mood for each particular scene (sometimes the light or look of a scene will fade just a little, and everything will change, however subtly, for an instant), and such a delicate, brooding nature with the camera as it tracks along in Tarkovsky's carefully lined long takes, that it ranks up there with his very best pieces with Bergman.
But at the same time, as the director mixes in black and white footage, slow-motion of a character running down a hall, a tilt up some mud and nature, a sense of time and place and horror is depicted, honestly, without the problems with usually pretentious visionaries. And as it was that Tarkovsky knew that he was dying- unlike other filmmakers who fade out after their last picture or die unexpectedly- there's a sense of self-reflection, as it comes out with Alexander and in those around him, that is sad but ultimately poignant to the highest order. Questions are raised that can hardly be answered, but one of the chief ones has the ring of naiveté until it's known that it's this particular instance it's raised: is there no hope for the spirit? What about the boy, however, might also be another sort of question, as we see the final shot starting on the boy and raising up ever so gently up the tree with the music playing on.
All these and more can be raised from the Sacrifice (not to mention, of course, what does it mean to really sacrifice oneself), but it's besides all of that just a truly rich cinematic experience, one that's so rich that it's hard to take it all in all at once. It has the sustainability of its artistic force to not have the danger of growing 'dated'; to make a more leap with some grandeur perhaps, as with a poem or some renaissance painting (not far off from the Leonardo featured in the film), the Sacrifice asks to be revisited, to have the experience of the thoughts and ideas poised, and for the amazing performances and technical work. It's one of the true masterpieces of the 1980s.
THE SACRIFICE is a hard film for some to figure out. Personally, there is not one film playing in the nearest theater from which I write this review that approaches the relevance that this film conveys. The movie is about a man with a lucrative career that takes some time off with some family and friends to an isolated location. He appears to be pretty well off until he gets message that war is imminent. He prays to God, in one of the most intense moments in film, and promises that if God ends the war then he will disown his family, burn his house down, and stay silent for the rest of his life. The war ends.... That's as far as I'm going to go because I want you to have the opportunity to see a film that rises above cinema. The film, however, does not reveal if God responds to the prayer. Whether he does or not is not what THE SACRIFICE is about. It's about the actions that we perform in order to be closer to God, and some people respond more intensely than others.
Great movies about spirituality are all but gone from today's cinema. Most come off as either to corny, preachy, etc ... Unlike those ridiculous exercises, THE SACRIFICE is a smart film. It's beautifully crafted, the acting is terrific, and the direction is top notch. It is a film that has moved me to reflect on my own spirituality as well, and I can truly tell you that few movies have done that to me. I really appreciate THE SACRIFICE; it is a film that has produced an important effect in my life. Now how many movies can do that?
The biggest reason why this film even gets a "3" for me was the cinematography, which was sweeping and beautiful and not the least bit afraid of absolute concentration. It's so pleasantly different from the rapid jump-cut editing of today's blockbusters here in the United States, and I was glad to look at a tree or a picture longer than most modern movies would allow.
**SPOILER ALERT** My main fault with this movie is the screenplay. It's a contrived mess. The hero, Alexander, just happens to be taking stock in his life and where his life has led him when nuclear war breaks out, and the postman who's read more books and has more whimsy than your local hippie librarian just so happens to know a lonely witch who can undo all that has been done in return for a "favor"? It strains credibility to an absolute fault, and the plot line sounds like the work of a child just beginning to write in cursive.
Then there are the situations and characters that take you absolutely nowhere. Alexander's wife -- what purpose did she serve other than being the obligatory hysteric in a crisis film? And her rambling about loving one man and marrying another? Where does this train of thought go? Nowhere!!!! Do we see her analyze her marriage and seek to do anything about her plight? NO!!! It's a line that makes no sense in the film and has no resolution at all, and yet ENTIRE FILMS have been made about that very feeling! There are so many lines that don't make sense in light of everything going on, and it just feels contrived and meandering.
I understand there might be a cultural difference in storytelling that's at work here. Perhaps I like more concise storytelling and much less contrived plot lines.
First of all I would like to write something about the cinematography.Sven Nykvist is of course one of the best cinematographer´s of all times and this film is so fantastic beautifully filmed.I must say that I got lost in the film sometimes and did not understood what was going on but still I tried.The best in the film is before the "war" has started.A very dark allegory over the society.
I think it´s good-but still very though and hard to understand-and I recommend it but only for people who can see this sort of things.I actually got a bit depressed of this film.
It´s very hard to describe "The Sacrifice" and I have tried my best but you must see it for yourself to understand and maybe appreciate it.
The movie delights in long and emotionally disconnected camera work. Some may see this as artistic, but I just see it as dull and lifeless. Then, when it is combined with interminably long and self-exploratory monologues, it is a recipe for total boredom. The characters rarely interact--they talk at each other or just talk into space. And the surrealistic elements of the film may seem sophisticated to some, but to me they are a giant headache. For a similar effect, read several books by Albert Camus, a couple existential philosophers and then rap yourself in the head with a mallet.
If you like this film--great. I am very happy for you. But you also should realize for the average viewer (and in fact, MOST viewers), this film will be a tedious experience. In other words, this movie definitely is for a very, very selective audience.
FYI--This is the third film I have seen directed by the widely acclaimed Russian director, Andrei Tarkovsky. While many love his films, I have found all three overly long, overly introspective and overly "artsy". He just isn't my taste, though if you have a very high tolerance for these sort of films, you may love them.
Many of my reactions to this film are the common ones: this film is "Bergmanesque", a little different from yet not discontinuous with Tarkovsky's others; the images are striking and almost overwhelmingly powerful; the film is long and slow ("stately" to say it positively), so much so some won't have the patience to even finish watching it.
I think though the story is more complex and subtle than is often stated. Supposedly the topic is a slightly off-kilter person giving up what he loves in exchange for the salvation of others as a reaction to the specter of nuclear war. After all, his life circumstances look pretty attractive to us viewers: wealthy, respected, private, and comfortable. The ominousness of the opening dialog doesn't seem warranted.
But I think it's more than that, or at least more ambiguous than that. The main character isn't just slightly off-kilter, but close to collapsing completely. His life has become unbearable. And his motives are as much about "punishment" (or even "revenge") as "sacrifice".
Why do I think that? For starters, how is it that the only people that will come to Alexander's birthday party are his doctor and his postman? That guest list sounds to me like an act of desperation, an admission that he's hit rock bottom. Alexander's wife is so neurotic even her daughter and her lover chide her. His daughter can't grow up in such an isolated place; she never sees anyone else anywhere near her age. And as far as her obvious age-appropriate interest in boys, there's nothing more than a bad joke about the postman being her beau. She flips between acting like she's ten and acting like she's thirty, with nothing in between. Alexander sleeps on the couch in his office rather than in the marital bed , and everyone acts as though that happens all the time. When he bicycles to his servant's house (or at least dreams he does), along the way he sees the doctor's empty car with his wife's shawl; clearly he's aware that his wife is having an affair with his "best friend". His servant's immediate reaction is "something terrible must have happened at home", and it's apparent this isn't the first time she's seen Alexander's home situation become intolerable. And the doctor's plan to move to Australia is a truly momentous, one-in-a-million attempt to escape forever. The doctor's calm, detached, slightly ironic bearing belies the awfulness of the words he speaks about just how dysfunctional Alexander's household is.