Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Dekalog: God in Man

The word was made flesh and God was made man to celebrate the joys and endure the scourges of human life. In summation, to
show the way and to empathise. However, God is not only present incarnated in Jesus but is said to be immanent in all of us. That is, God suffers with us and through us.

Within the
Dekalog there are gleamings of God within man, experiencing life as Man and alongside Man. In Dekalog VIII (Henceforth I will refer to each episode by their numeral alone) the Professor talks of how her son is "quite simply far away from me". In II the Doctor is asked "Do you understand what it is to have a child?" to which he responds mournfully: "I do". In I, the painful separation of God from his only son is enacted by a wretched Krzysztof on his walkie-talkie: "Pawel...Pawel...it's father...over". When Krzysztof weeps at his son's death and rebels against God (thus acknowledging him for the first time) an icon of the Virgin Mary weeps too with tears of falling wax. Kieslowski echoes God's experience through these characters and brings Creator and created into a cycle of shared living.

V the man murdered by Jacek bleeds as though punctured by a crown of thorns and in VI Tomek cuts his wrists and wears bandages as if healing wounds made by nails. They live his passion.

Characters routinely project what they see as Godly traits onto others. In I Irena invites Pawel to feel God in her loving embrace. In II Dorota sees God's callous disinterest in the attitude of her Doctor. Consider too the recurring phrase "Don't be afraid" or "Do not be afraid", used liberally in the course of these ten hours (especially in VII to pacify the little girl Ania). The motherly/fatherly comfort is God's in miniature. At the conclusion of IX Hanka, upon hearing Roman's voice (whom she feared dead), exclaims: "You are there. God, you are there". This is not for emphasis alone, an inconsequential blasphemy. She sees his survival as evidence of God's working through and for her husband

* * *

The teacher of VIII explains to Elzbieta how, in the way many take God to work, she tries to help her students "discover themselves" rather than tell them "how to live".

What then can be made of the stranger who appears in all Dekalog episodes? He is, I believe, best thought of as an angel. When, in VI, the stranger is seen with a suitcase in hand, perhaps ready to relocate, he is dressed all in white. He no longer needs to blend in. He is a messenger. He is concerned with the decisions we make (present at moments where significant moral choices are taken) but unable to intervene. The eyes of God, perhaps. Or an intermediary. In I he sits on the far side of the lake that separates the housing estate from the church. Waiting.

Where the Dekalog as a whole may pose questions of moral uncertainty, the Angel poses ones on the role of God himself. In I his eyes tell us that he foresees Pawel's death (implied in the flash-forward). This makes us think. Is it predestined and if so is it predestined by God? Did his fire melt the ice? Is there meaningful freedom after all or is this a punishment to awaken a spirituality through brutal lessons? Kieslowski talks of "the God of the Old Testament" who "leaves us a lot of freedom and responsibility, observes how we use it and then rewards or punishes" with "no appeal or forgiveness". It is possible that God is ready and waiting yet it is also possible that he has pushed the father Krzysztof to him.

The Dekalog makes one think of the relationship between Man and God's teaching. More deeply, it elucidates the relationship between Man and God unmediated by institutionalised doctrine.


  1. Fantastic essay, again, Stephen. It clearly illustrates why Dekalog is one of the most spiritual works in cinema ever made.

  2. Well, I'm taken aback by your kind comments, JAFB.

    I wanted to give the Dekalog the attention it deserves.