Having just finished reading Anna Karenina (over 900 pages long), which took me forever to read, I can honestly say that the movie didn’t do the book any justice. I had watched previous adaptations of books by the same director (Joe Wright) and found them both much better. Even though critics say that his adaptation of Anna Karenina was superior to those of Atonement and Pride & Prejudice (both starring Keira Knightley), because it was more innovative and creative, I would have to disagree. The manner in which it was made is border-line comical. It reminds me of Greek melodramas, which are overly dramatic that it’s funny.
The book is by no means a light read. It discusses Russian society as it is during that era, while keeping the reader intrigued. I will have to admit that it does get overly detailed at times that it becomes boring; however it doesn’t lose its intensity. It is a very deep and complex tale of adultery, passion and journey of finding one’s self intertwined with the rigid rules of late 19th century Russian society. Tolstoy goes overboard when talking about laws and comparing philosophers and stuff of that sort, which is exhausting sometimes.
But when you look at the fraying character of Anna and her tragic affair in comparison to the more virtuous and idealistic Levin, you see they are both on opposite sides of the spectrum. One is destroyed by societal constraints both before and during her affair. Her name is slandered and her reputation tarnished, because she dared to follow her own rules and not bow down to social pressures, which ultimately become the end of her. While the other inwardly questions the society, the culture and his faith, but still remains a part of them; he is thus accepted as a member in the society rather than an outcast. Tolstoy allows the reader to follow the characters’ thoughts, inner doubts and desires, as well as their actions; thus creating complete realistic characters. As a whole the book, even though overwhelming, was incredible.
The movie however strips the book to the bone. It focuses on the main events in the book, which is understandable considering how dense it is. That however isn’t what bothered me. I was bothered by the fact that it was done as if it was play in a movie, with a stage and props and all that. I found the setting as well as the speed of both the scenes and the dialogue, quite distracting. I understand that the director wanted to portray how the character’s lives and society in general at that time was all “staged” (pun intended), but having it so literal was unappealing to me. The beauty of period pieces is also in the décor, the costumes and how they help the actors embody these characters. The costumes were fabulous; however the viewer was robbed of the exquisite décor which is vital in all period pieces, especially those revolving around the aristocracy. The 19th century also happens to be one of my favorite eras portrayed in movies. The movie lost all the depth and the intensity which are characteristic of the book. Turning a tragic masterpiece into what felt more like a satirical adaptation, was insulting and unfair to the high esteem of the work.
PS: I did enjoy Keira Knightely’s acting in it (even though she has done better roles), the rest could have also been better.
*I would recommend reading the book, if you’re up for it.