Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Dekalog IX and X - Greed, Mistrust and Acceptance

Dekalog IX
("Thou Shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife") and X ("Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's goods") show people wanting more and guarding jealously what they already have. Perhaps the word greed is too strong but it is the closest there is, nevertheless, to the mot juste.

A husband in IX is terminally ill and unable to continue a sexual relationship with his wife. She assures him, reassures him, that their marriage is strong enough to survive. But she begins an affair and he begins, rightly, to mistrust her (though not certain of anything). He eavesdrops on her phone calls and spies on her. It torments him and threatens to tear them apart as they regard each other through a glass darkly. They ride the elevator and each is alternately lit with the other in oblivion.

A man dies in X and leaves his extensive and extremely valuable philatelic collection to his sons. Worried that it may be stolen, they turn what was already a Fort Knox into something like a prison, with bars and alarms and a vicious dog. They themselves are caught within that trap, both literal and moral. They fret and sweat over their inheritance and covet the one stamp that will unlock yet more riches by completing an extraordinarily rare set. In order to secure it one of the brothers goes so far as to donate a kidney to a dealer's daughter.

* * *

In the end it turns out that the dealer had hoodwinked them and used the brother's stay in hospital as an opportunity to break into the apartment (guarded by a dog that coincidentally is the same breed as his own!) and make off with the stamps. At first the brothers suspect the other committed the crime and thus greed gives birth to mistrust. When the culprit is unmasked the brothers accept the truth. They gladly accept each other and acknowledge that what they have (a new collection begun the very same day) is enough. They count their blessings. They no longer covet but cherish.

The woman (Hanka) in IX wants everything. She wants the loving husband and she wants the lover, regardless of her husband's apparent complicity and regardless of how such actions may nevertheless have hurtful repercussions. Slowly, realising the pain she is causing, she accepts that what she has is enough. No, it is more than enough.

At first Roman does not know of the resolution his wife has come too. Devastated by his wife's infidelity and embittered by mistrust, he attempts to kill himself, riding his bicycle off an unfinished overpass. Fortunately he survives and the two are reconciled. They do not covet any more what they cannot have because it poisons what they do have.

Roman had struck up a friendship with a patient at the hospital where he works - a young woman. She wanted to be a singer but now, due to a heart problem, she cannot pursue her dream. She has joy in her heart and often gently hums along to the music of her favourite composer Van Den Budenmayer (Zbigniew Preisner). She is hopeful and she is thankful. She says "mother wants me to have everything,but all I want is..."


  1. Another nice write-up, Stephen, on the last two episodes. Brilliant that the film never moralizes the events. It's only up to us to derive its implications.

    And a beautiful ending...

  2. Thank you. I wanted to end this piece a little differently.

    "Brilliant that the film never moralizes the events. It's only up to us to derive its implications."

    This is what makes Dekalog special, I think.