February 08, 2021

Christopher Plummer's Last Station


Christopher Plummer's Last Station
Christopher Plummer in 2007 GDC Graphics (CC)

Sound of Music star Christopher Plummer died last week at 91, and he did not pass unnoticed in Russia. After all, the Canadian actor played one of Russia's best-known novelists, Lev (Leo) Tolstoy, in The Last Station, a German-Russian-British collaboration called The Last Sunday in Russian (Poslednee voskresenie). Tolstoy indeed died on a Sunday – November 7, 1910, on the old calendar. The Russian word for Sunday also means revival or resurrection.

Don't watch The Last Station with your spouse if your marriage is on the rocks; it is a brutal picture of a marriage with no trust left. Only the 2014 Swedish film Force Majeure might be a more awkward choice for date night with an estranged spouse.

Helen Mirren played Tolstoy's wife, Sofya, dramatically capturing a dependent who is about to lose her rights to her husband's complete writings right before his death. The first Tolstoyan, Tolstoy promoted vegetarianism, celibacy even within marriage, and taking nobles like himself down a peg, and he wanted the rights to his work to belong to "the people." Sofya wholeheartedly disagreed with the principles of Tolstoyanism – including that little bit about marriage.

In the film, Plummer as Tolstoy escapes his wife by train, leaving his lifelong estate of Yasnaya Polyana (near Tula) forever and dying at Astapovo Station to the south at age 82.

The film has a few tender moments, like when Mirren as Tolstaya declares: "I am the work of your life, you are the work of mine. That's what love is." But otherwise, it is an emotional slog. One Russian article calls the film a "marathon of love."

If you have the energy for an emotional marathon, you can scratch your Christopher Plummer and Russia itches at the same time and check out The Last Station. And don't forget that all of this was based on a very fine book, by the Vermont author Jay Parini.

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