Nihilism, rebellion, and the perfect casting for The Brothers Karamazov

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Malkovich ... the perfect Ivan Karamazov?

I’m not familiar with the writings of the Russian philosopher Nikolai Berdyaev, but my friend Artur Rosman posted this on his Facebook page, and I’ve been pondering it now for several days.

Remember the ”Grand Inquisitor” segment of Fyodor Dostoevsky‘s The Brothers Karamazov?  Long story.  Jesus Christ comes to Seville at the time of the Inquisition and is arrested after performing several miracles.  But just before he does, Ivan Karamazov makes a speech to his brother Alyosha on the intolerable suffering of children:

“And if the suffering of children goes to make up the sum of suffering needed to buy truth, then I assert beforehand that the whole of truth is not worth such a price. … I’d rather remain with my unrequited suffering and my unquenched indignation, even if I am wrong. … And therefore I hasten to return my ticket. And it is my duty, if only as an honest man, to return it as far ahead of time as possible. Which is what I am doing. It’s not that I don’t accept God, Alyosha, I just most respectfully return him the ticket.”

Always seemed a bit of a put-up job to me.  Berdyaev finally explained why:

Law ... the perfect Alyosha?

“Ivan Karamazov is a thinker, a metaphysician and psychologist, and he provides a deep philosophic grounding to the troubled experiences of an innumerable number of Russian boys – the Russian nihilists and atheists, socialists and anarchists. At the core of the question of Ivan Karamazov lies a sort of false Russian sensitivity and sentimentality, a false sort of sympathy for mankind, leading to a hatred towards God and the Divine purpose of worldly life. Russians all too readily become nihilistic rebels out of a false moralism. The Russian takes God to task over history because of the tears of the child, returns back the ticket, denies all values and sanctities, he will not tolerate the sufferings, wants not the sacrifices. Yet he however does nothing really, in order to lessen the tears, he adds to the quantity of flowing tears, he makes a revolution, which is all grounded upon uncountable tears and sufferings.”

If you don’t have time for the 800-page book, you might try one of the films based on the book.  Like this one, with John Malkovich as Ivan Karamazov, and Jude Law as his brother Alyosha, and Sean Penn as Dmitri Karamazov, and Gerard Depardieu as their murdered father Fyodor Karamazov … whoops!  Movie was never made. I looked for it in vain.  Apparently, the Bernardo Bertolucci film is someone’s pipe dream of ideal casting.

While looking for a film clip telling me about this all-star film, I found this intriguing Russian miniseries by Pervyi Kanal seems to capture the spirit of the thing.


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2 Responses to “Nihilism, rebellion, and the perfect casting for The Brothers Karamazov

  1. Luke Says:

    I just finished the book, trully impessive!

    I’m kind of afraid of watching any movie-version because I like the characters the way they are now in my mind, and don’t want them to get damaged by an uninspired film-director.

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