Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Ivan Denisovich

I chose the 1963 version rather than the 1970 version, even though I think it is less true to the book. You can shortcut by reading about Solzhenitsyn's book, if you don't want to watch the movie. I was ten-and-a-half but allowed to stay up for the movie when it was televised late in 1963. My mother thought it was important. Her boyfriend, who was later the campaign manager for Congressman Louis Wyman, sat with us and enforced the seriousness of the event. I was not to talk during the movie, and I don't think either of them more than murmured either.

I don't remember much of it, other than that the prisoners were keeping themselves going by trying to lay more brick than had been done before.  It was cold, and the guards oppressive, and there was nothing beyond survival in the statements of the prisoners. The film quality is poor and the special effects not very convincing to our eyes now.  They don't look very cold.  Their clothing doesn't look that ragged. My eyes and imagination must have changed, because I nonetheless remembered the haunting atmosphere of isolation and endless cold for years after.

They succeeded in breaking the record, and the head of the guards asked "Who had the honor of laying the last brick?" He berated the man who answered, reminding him that he was still a prisoner in a GULAG camp. That stuck with me as well, the need to kick a man when he was down, an extra punishment to kill the spirit.

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