- This article is about the 1986 Swedish film. For the 2005 U.S. independent film, see The Sacrifice (2005 film)
The Sacrifice (Swedish: Offret, 1986) is the final film by Russian film director Andrei Tarkovsky, who died shortly after completing it.
Alexander, an aging atheist actor
) with a younger actress wife
, a teenage daughter
, and a young son
(who is referred to as "Little Man" and is mute until the last shots) experiences the opening throes of the end of the world by a nuclear holocaust
. In despair the protagonist
vows to God
to sacrifice all he loves (what this would mean in reality
is not made plain in his prayer, and provides the final surprise of the film) if only this good act of fate
may be undone, and to this end he sleeps with a local woman whom he believes to be a witch
. When he wakes up the next morning everything seems "normal", but whether Alexander dreamt the whole episode is never made explicit. Nevertheless, Alexander sets forth to give up all he loves and possesses, burning his house
and being driven off to an institution. One interpretation of the plot is that Alexander chooses to be insane, so that the earlier scenes of war could be his delusions instead of reality. He thus gives up his own sanity
in order to spare the world from nuclear destruction. Poignantly, the first words the little boy in the film utters, in the final shot, are: "In the beginning was the word
...why is that, papa?"
The camera work is slow and contains all the hallmarks of Tarkovsky and Nykvist. The film's soundtrack includes three distinct pieces: the passionate aria Erbarme dich
from Johann Sebastian Bach
's Mattheus Passion
, soothing Japanese flute music, and eerie traditional chants from the Swedish forests (in the old days farm girls used to call home the livestock from their forest pastures in this way). The film also contains several long closeups of Leonardo da Vinci
's Adoration of the Magi
The film uses long takes more than Tarkovsky's previous films. The opening, post-credits shot (a tracking shot of Alexander, Little Man, and Otto talking and walking) lasts nine minutes and twenty-six seconds, and is the longest take in all of Tarkovsky's work. Shots lasting between six and eight minutes are commonplace in the film, and there are only 115 shots in the entire film.
Most of the film takes place inside or around a house that was specially built for the production. The climactic scene at the end of the film is a long tracking shot in which Alexander burns his house and his possessions. It was done in a single, six minute, fifty second take, often misstated as Tarkovsky's longest shot. The shot was very difficult to achieve. Initially, there was only one camera used, despite Sven Nykvist's protest. While shooting the burning house, the camera jammed, ruining the footage. (This disaster is documented in documentary entitled Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky and the documentary ''One Day in the Life of Andrei Arsenevich'.) The scene had to be reshot, requiring a quick and very costly reconstruction of the house in two weeks. This time two cameras were set up on tracks, running parallel to each other. The footage in the final version of the film is the second take, which lasts for several minutes and ends abruptly because the camera had run through an entire reel in capturing the single shot. The cast and crew broke down in tears after the take was completed.
Relationship with Bergman
The film reflects Tarkovsky's respect for the Swedish director Ingmar Bergman
. It is set in Sweden on the island of Gotland
, where many of Bergman's films had been shot, and features Bergman's favourite cameraman Sven Nykvist
as well as one of Bergman's most well known actors, Erland Josephson
, and the scenographer Anna Asp, who had been responsible for the sumptuous interior décor of Fanny and Alexander
The film won the Grand Prix
at the Cannes Film Festival