Alexander, a journalist and former actor and philosopher, tells his little son how worried he is about the lack of spirituality of modern mankind. In the night of his birthday, the third world war breaks out. In his despair Alexander turns himself in a prayer to God, offering him everything to have the war not happen at all.
Offret (The Sacrifice) is a 1986 Swedish film directed by Andrei Tarkovsky. Starring Erland Josephson, it centers on a middle-aged intellectual who attempts to bargain with God to stop an impending nuclear holocaust. The Sacrifice was Tarkovsky’s third film as a Soviet expatriate, after Nostalghia and the documentary Voyage in Time, and was also his last, as he died shortly after its completion. Like 1972’s Solaris, it won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival.
About the Story
The film opens on the birthday of Alexander (Erland Josephson), an actor who gave up the stage to work as a journalist, critic, and lecturer on aesthetics. He lives in a beautiful house with his actress wife Adelaide (Susan Fleetwood), stepdaughter Marta (Filippa Franzén), and young son, “Little Man”, who is temporarily mute due to a throat operation. Alexander and Little Man plant a tree by the seaside, when Alexander’s friend Otto, a part-time postman, delivers a birthday card to him.
When Otto asks, Alexander mentions that his relationship with God is “nonexistent”. After Otto leaves, Adelaide and Victor, a medical doctor and a close family friend who performed Little Man’s operation, arrive at the scene and offer to take Alexander and Little Man home in Victor’s car.
However, Alexander prefers to stay behind and talk to his son. In his monologue, Alexander first recounts how he and Adelaide found this lovely house near the sea by accident, and how they fell in love with the house and surroundings, but then enters a bitter tirade against the state of modern man. As Tarkovsky wrote, Alexander is weary of “the pressures of change, the discord in his family, and his instinctive sense of the threat posed by the relentless march of technology”; in fact, he has “grown to hate the emptiness of human speech”.
The family, as well as Victor and Otto, gather at Alexander’s house for the celebration. Their maid Maria leaves, while nurse-maid Julia stays to help with the dinner. People comment on Maria’s odd appearances and behavior. The guests chat inside the house, where Otto reveals that he is a student of paranormal phenomena, a collector of “inexplicable but true incidences.”
Just when the dinner is almost ready, the rumbling noise of low-flying jet fighters interrupts them, and soon after, as Alexander enters, a news program announces the beginning of what appears to be all-out war, and possibly nuclear holocaust. In despair, he vows to God to sacrifice all he loves, even Little Man, if this may be undone. Otto advises him to slip away and lie with Maria, whom Otto convinces him is a witch, “in the best possible sense”.
Alexander takes his gun, leaves a note in his room, escapes the house, and rides his bike to where she is staying. She is bewildered when he makes his advances, but when he puts his gun to his temple (“Don’t kill us, Maria”), at which point the jet-fighters’ rumblings return, she soothes him and they consummate while floating above her bed, though Alexander’s reaction is ambiguous.
Offret – The Sacrifice (1986)
Directed by: Andrei Tarkovsky
Starring: Erland Josephson, Susan Fleetwood, Allan Edwall, Guðrún Gísladóttir, Sven Wollter, Valérie Mairesse, Filippa Franzén
Screenplay by: Andrei Tarkovsky
Production Design by: Anna Asp
Cinematography by: Sven Nykvist
Film Editing by: Michal Leszczylowski, Andrei Tarkovsky
Costume Design by: Inger Pehrsson
Distributed by: Sandrew (Swedish theatrical)
Release Date: May 9, 1986 (Sweden)