The Italian drama, which premiered this year at the Cannes Film Festival, is a lovely flirt with the much praised Russian novelist.
Let me start with a drop of honesty – I’m a big fan of Fyodor Dostoyevsky.
We’ve been introduced to ourselves when I’ve read “Crime and punishment”, a long time ago. I found Fyodor’s style amusing, pushing me to think critically and question things.
Nowadays, his prose is extremely relatable for more “meta” reasons to me. Even if I have never been in a Siberian gulag (Thank God!), the recollections and experiences he described felt somehow very close.
He saw people as fallible creatures. As a motley called humanity we like to destroy, we like to view things as if they rightfully belong to us. He saw human emotions as the forces that cloud and muss up our sense of morality. In general, Dostoyevsky claimed that our world isn’t a bright place to be. If you’re a pessimist, you will find yourself loving his books.
What Fiodor Dostoyevsky also got right – among all of his to-the-point observations – is that people get used to everything.
The House of the Dead
I have recently read the book “The House of the Dead” where the Russian novelist has opened up about his memories from Siberia. The novel channels the mind of a broken, peaceful man. With a cold, purely observational approach, Dostoyevsky sketches a detailed landscape of living in a desolate prison, far away from home and hope (if you want to read about the book itself, I recommend reading this piece by Max Nelson from The Paris Review).
While Dostoyevsky changes some of the details his story, a vast majority of it are his own thoughts. Contrary to what I imagined when thinking of gulag, Dostoyevsky is not necessarily documenting traumas, humiliation and heart-wrenching pain. His most shocking notion is that people get used to everything. Life inside the gulag seems pretty normal – people trade, people laugh, people fight, people drink. It’s all ordinary to the point when you realize how terrifying it is that we consider it ordinary.
The book, therefore, leaves you in a weird state of questions – do we live in our own, minute prisons? Did we create prisons by enslaving ourselves with smartphones?
Let me stop right there and move to a certain film that sparked the idea of that article.
Around two months ago I watched “Dogman”. A crude, brutal portrait of a man frightened to fight for his own dependence. A story of two people bonded by an invisible leash. A testimony to the fact that Italy is not only a holidays destination.
Matteo Garrone – the director of “Dogman” – has triggered my thinking about Dostoyevsky. Marcelo, the protagonist of the film, is a prisoner in his own, wicked way. His existence is disturbed by Simon, who is a brutal jock and couldn’t give less **** about Marcelo. Simon’s riding like a lightning and he has to crush like a thunder, taking Marcelo along.
It’s the paradox that hits you – Marcelo does something he loves, he has a daughter he loves, but yet happiness and stability are far beyond the horizon.
You see, Marcelo’s relationship with Simon is toxic. But, as I know from my experience and what psychologists often point out too – we like sticking to toxic relationships. Or (more precisely) it’s hard to dig yourself out from a grave that someone else is deepening for you. Even more so, when it’s a close person.
Therefore, a question appears,
Can we get used to the life in prison (both mental and physical)?
Yes and no. By the end of “Dogman”, Marcelo breaks out of the shackles that strangle him. He executes his revenge and – almost unintentionally – kills the monster that kept crushing his dignity for many years.
One would say – it’s totally contradictory to the claim of Dostoyevsky. If Marcelo existed in a Dostoyevskian universe, he would accept his fate. He would patiently wait until Simon kills himself, gets killed or gets them both murdered. He wouldn’t move a finger, because he is not the in control of his life.
While it makes sense, “Crime and Punishment” provides answers. Marcelo commits a crime, which he’s entirely aware of. While he’s been carrying the burden of the humiliation for years, he has finally done something to breathe again.
If you dig deeper you realise that “The House of the Dead” proves it too. Dostoyevsky stated that prisoners – even those, who are to spend 20 years in prison – need something to look for. A dim light at the end of the tunnel. Even those, who will rot inside their cells, need to be given a glimpse of hope. Without it, they would die within weeks. He uses an example of a prisoner who spends years in a private cell, isolated from others. His only possible change is being brought to a room to share with someone else. It constitutes a vision that keeps him alive.
Hence, Marcelo is a Dostoyevskian kind of character – even though he wants to change his future, he accepts the solemnity of his existence.
What could be said about “Dogman” as a film itself?
It blends plenty of intriguing ideas in one pot, but the result isn’t remarkable or groundbreaking. While Garrone could be rightfully called an established director, there just too much resemblance to his previous work in “Dogman”.It’s filled with violence, it’s raw and deeply immersed in the worse side of Italy.
Having said that, by no means is “Dogman” a let-down. The concept to flirt with Dostoyevsky worked out great. The film was filled with a palpable tension, that has been very conscientiously injected. I understand why it left Cannes with very promising reviews.
“Dogman” also proves that the philosophy of Dostoyevsky can be found in between the lines of many other titles. While the Italian thriller is not directly based on any of the novels by the Russian author, his mark is all over it. I would dare to say that if Fyodor had the opportunity to meet Garrone in the afterlife, they would shake their hands.
Do you have any other films that referred to any of Fiodor Dostoyevsky’s works? Share your thoughts in the comments.