Russian Movie – The Island – Oстров


The Island (in Russian: Остров) is a wonderful Russian biographical film about a fascinating fictional 20th century Eastern Orthodox monk. It proved to be a moderate box-office success and won both the Nika Award and the Golden Eagle Award . This one great film and, despite its length, never really drags, as there are few enough characters that the movie can change focus several times in the course of two hours without veering away from its main point. Be prepared to be moved, touched, and maybe identify with the main character in this film.



During the Second World War, Anatoly was a coal stoker of the boilers on a Russian freighter. When the Germans captured and boarded the boat they confronted Anatoly with a choice: shoot your captain, Tikhon, and have a chance to live or die now. Anatoly reluctantly shoots Captain Tikhon, his captain’s body falls overboard, the Germans leave and he thinks he’s safe but the Germans had set charges on the boat. He later finds himself washed ashore near a Russian Orthodox monastery were the monks find him and nurse him back to health.
Being found by the monks
The movie moves forward three decades to find brother Anatholy continuing to live at the monastery, leading a life more ascetic than that found at the most severe Carthusian Charterhouses. He lives in the monastery’s boiler room, wheeling coal to and fro throughout the day and sleeping on heaps of the mineral by night. Throughout the day he walks the island reciting the Jesus Prayer (Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner) and asking for Tikhon to prayer for his soul. At other times he would row himself out to a small island and do the same. Every morning Anatoly wakes from his bed a coal pile, he then moves to a side room, and, before an icon of Christ, praises the Holy Trinity, the Virgin, and asks for the repose of the “warrior Tikhon.”
Anatoly speaking to Child

Very quickly, we get the impression that Anatoly is a fool, a “fool for God,” much in the vein or St. Francis, St. Philip Neri, and many others helplessly in love with God. Anatoly’s reputation for holiness abounds mainland Russia and everyday many come to seek his counsel, although Anatoly often deflects attention by pretending “Fr Anatoly” is unavailable and that he, a menial coal stoker, might provide a word or two. Our first sighting of Anatoly after the War comes in 1975, when a pregnant Russian girl comes to ask Anatoly what she should do about her delicate condition. She prepares for her visit by bringing a wad of cash in hopes that the monk will give an apodictic blessing for an abortion. Fr Anatoly was unavailable to talk with her, but the stoker, who has stuffed a pillow under his shirt to give a pregnant appearance, scolds her and accuses her of attempting to bribe a monk into condoning murder. She rebukes Anatoly by asking what he would know about her state. He replies that he knows what it is like to kill another person and tells her to “get off [his] island!”

The Island
Like many other “fools for Christ” Anatoly is something of a blissfully ignorant rebel. During the Divine Liturgy and the Divine Office he often prays facing some direction other than the altar, on one occasion towards the house of the prior of the monastery, which Anatoly has secretly set aflame in hopes of teaching the worldly prior detachment.
The Patriarch
Anatoly sees the spiritual reality of things where others might only hope for glimpses. The prior, without a house now, moves into the boiler room with Anatoly, boasting that he might live as a hermit!—although with a luxurious blanket and leather boots lined with wool from the Patriarch. Anatoly “exorcises” the prior’s demons by burning his boots and coat, and filling the room with so much smoke that they comes within a breath of death. The prior later thanks him, realizing that he has not led a penitential life focused on God, but one of earthly attachments.
The Admiral’s Daughter
The climax of the film comes when a prominent admiral comes to the island monastery with his sick daughter. Anatoly learns that the admiral is “Admiral Tikhon Petrovich, his old captain. Anatoly, withholding his own identity, tells the admiral that the angels are rejoicing in the admiral’s visit. Anatholy tells the admiral his daughter is not sick, but demonically possessed by a devil familiar to him. He takes the admiral’s daughter to an island where he implores God to exorcise the girl, which He eventually does. Upon returning to the island Anatoly reveals to Tikhon his identity and implores forgiveness, which Tikhon concedes he granted many years ago, presuming Anatoly dead.
Anatoly’s body being taken to the small Island
Anatoly, whose purpose in life was sanctification and penance, no longer has cause to live and, vested in pure and angelic white, climbs into a wooden box and dies. Our last sight in the film is one of monks, including one who could never quite take a liking to Anatoly, bringing the deceased’s coffin to land for burial under the sign of the Cross.
Praying the Jesus Prayer
The main theme of this movie is not forgiveness or miracles, but penance. Anatoly is often invited to live with the prior and recover his failing health, but he prefers to sleep on coals and pass his time praying the Jesus Prayer. Moreover, he reproaches those unwilling to live a penitential or God-centered life, even his own prior.
As a consequence of his penance
Would God exorcise a demon or tell of the survival in France of a would-be-widow’s husband for any old priest? Probably not. Anatoly’s forgiveness and satisfaction, and presumable entrance into heaven, only come as consequence of his penance, a penance which takes his entire life.
Monk carrying a cross.
No penance, no peace. No suffering, no real love. No Cross, no heaven.


Spiritual message

The film is focused on father Anatoly’s repentance of his sin (therefore the virtually continuous occurrence of the Jesus Prayer); but the transgressions of the depicted character (a fool for Christ) and their impact on the others are the means by which the actual plot develops.

The film’s director Pavel Lungin, speaking of the central character’s self-awareness, said he doesn’t regard him as being clever or spiritual, but blessed “in the sense that he is an exposed nerve, which connects to the pains of this world. His absolute power is a reaction to the pain of those people who come to it;” while “typically, when the miracle happens, the lay people asking for a miracle are always dissatisfied” because “the world does not tolerate domestic miracles.”

Screenwriter Dmitry Sobolev further explains: “When a person ask for something from God, he is often wrong because God has a better understanding of what a person needs at that moment.”[1] Pyotr Mamonov, who plays the lead character, formerly one of the few rock musicians in the USSR, converted to Eastern Orthodoxy in the 1990s and lives now in an isolated village. Pavel Lungin said about him that “to a large extent, he played himself.” Mamonov received a blessing from his confessor for playing the character.[1]

The simplicity, the humbleness, the remoteness, the miracles converge into creating a timeless snapshot of Orthodox spirituality, apart from the historical circumstances. The Patriarch of Moscow, Alexei II, praised Ostrov for its profound depiction of faith and monastic life, calling it a “vivid example of an effort to take a Christian approach to culture.


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