Sergei Eisenstein is one of the most remarkable and famous Soviet film directors. His Ivan the Terrible (1945) was ordered and supported by Joseph Stalin who was interested in depicting the figure of Ivan the Terrible as the Tsar of all the Russias in the film. Thus, Ivan the Terrible was created by Eisenstein as a historical epic work to demonstrate how the Tsar succeeded in uniting the Russians during his rule. From this perspective, Ivan the Terrible can be discussed as promoting a nationalistic idea through the representation of historical events. The fact that the film was commissioned by Stalin influences the representation of the Tsar, but Eisenstein’s work is also outstanding in terms of using close-ups, shapes, light, and a unique portrayal of characters.
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In Ivan the Terrible, the key figure is the Tsar, and the plot is organised to represent the major events in the Tsar’s life. They include the coronation of Ivan, his marriage, the siege of Kazan, Ivan’s illness, and the death of his wife Anastasia Romanovna. All these events are presented through the perspective of Ivan’s struggle with his opponents: the boyars and Efrosinia Staritskaya with her son Vladimir (All soviet movies on RVISION, 2016). In this film, Eisenstein depicted the struggle of one powerful political figure oriented towards uniting the nation against both external and internal enemies. As a result, in the character of Ivan, it is possible to observe references to Stalin and his political course.
In his film, Eisenstein is focused on demonstrating what psychological and social obstacles Ivan needs to overcome in order to develop as the great ruler to oppose the boyars and unite Oprichniki around his figure. Thus, the director’s approach to using dramatic close-ups of characters’ faces, the focus on their eyes to demonstrate hidden intentions, and exaggerated shadows of figures are used to accentuate psychologism in the film. Additionally, there are also grotesque and caricature figures of Ivan’s opponents and foreigners that emphasise the greatness of Ivan the Terrible using the approach of contrasting (All soviet movies on RVISION, 2016). Thus, light is used in the film as a tool for accentuating certain details to create a full picture.
While referring to the film, one should note that Eisenstein has achieved his goal to portray Ivan as not only “terrible” but also as a powerful leader interested in uniting the nation to oppose enemies. In this context, the figure of the Tsar was attractive to Stalin, and the events depicted in the film can also be discussed with reference to the situation in the Soviet Union in the 1930s-1940s. Furthermore, Ivan is also represented as a person who can rely on and trust only a few people, and to protect his interests, he has to be decisive and cruel.
It is possible to state that Eisenstein created the film that can be discussed as not only expressionistic in its style but also as convincing while referring to the figure of Ivan. It seems that it was important for the director to demonstrate Ivan the Terrible from a new perspective as it was required by Stalin. While watching this film, the audience can empathise with the Tsar because of the image created by the director with a focus on techniques to accentuate the psychological tension in Ivan’s personal and political life.
All soviet movies on RVISION. (2016). Ivan the Terrible (1945) movie [Video file]. Web.