The Sacrifice

7.92 h 26 min1986NR
Andrei Tarkovsky's haunting vision of a world threatened with nuclear annihilation.
Andrei Tarkovsky
Sven VollterErland JosephsonAllan Edwall
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Anna-Lena Wibom
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4.5 out of 5 stars

316 global ratings

  1. 76% of reviews have 5 stars
  2. 12% of reviews have 4 stars
  3. 6% of reviews have 3 stars
  4. 2% of reviews have 2 stars
  5. 4% of reviews have 1 stars
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Top reviews from the United States

DustynReviewed in the United States on September 16, 2022
5.0 out of 5 stars
It’s a darn good movie
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Listen, this film makes a man a little less afraid of death. Ain’t that worth something? I think it’s a beautiful thing.
Larry L. LooneyReviewed in the United States on September 26, 2003
5.0 out of 5 stars
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...that seems to be the opinion of some reviewers. This film - Tarkovsky's final work - is certainly more accessible than his others, more straightforward in its storytelling...but there's a lot of wonderful elements involved, and it certainly doesn't deserve to be relegated to the 'minor works' category. Other reviewers have also drawn comparisons between this film and the work of Swedish director Ingmar Bergman - there is some of Bergman's 'look' to the film, perhaps because Tarkovsky chose to work with Sven Nykvist, who worked on several of Bergman's films. Even with this 'Bergmanesque' presence, this is definitely Tarkovsky's film - and if it's more accessible than some of his other works, perhaps it's a good place for someone who is unfamiliar with his work to start.
Several of Tarkovsky's favorite themes are present in SACRIFICE - alienation, an aching emptiness of the spirit, the slighting of nature by mankind. Erland Josephson portrays Alexander, a wealthy, semi-retired writer who lives with his wife, teenage daughter and 'Little Man', his young son, in a lovely house that sits rather isolated on the seaside in Sweden. His young son is obviously his favorite, the center of his soul and existence. We see him with the little boy, planting a tree, telling him a story about devotion to duty involving a young Japanese monk and his master.
Alexander's birthday is at hand, and his family, along with a couple of friends, makes ready to celebrate. As the group awaits dinner to be served, there is a roaring - like a low-flying jet - in the sky, followed by what appears at first to be a mild earthquake. A ceramic milk pitcher vibrates its way off a shelf, shattering on the floor - news broadcasts on the television indicate that World War III has begun. Each of the characters reacts in their own way - Alexander's wife falls to pieces and requires a sedative from their friend Victor, a doctor. Alexander is shaken as well - but he's not sure what to do. He has lost his faith several years before, and yet he finds himself begging God to reverse the horrible events unfolding on the television screen. In one of the film's most poignant moments, we see him drained of strength, falling on his knees, barely able to speak, praying with all his might. He attempts to 'strike a bargain' with God, offering to give up everything - his home, his belongings, his family...even Little Man, his beloved son, if the world can be 'put back like it was before'.
In a conversation with his friend Otto, the postman, Alexander learns of Otto's suspicion that Maria, one of Alexander's servant girls, is a witch - and Otto suggests that if Alexander goes to Maria and sleeps with her, she has the power to reverse the horrible events. In his desperation, Alexander succumbs to Otto's suggestion - he never voices his request to Maria, but she sees the pain in his eyes (and in his actions) and takes him to her bed in an attempt, I think, simply to comfort him. This scene - like lovemaking scenes in all of Tarkovsky's films, when they occur - is photographed beautifully and tastefully. Tarkovsky never stooped to gratuitous or graphic sex or nudity. We see the couple lie down, embrace - and levitate, floating gently into the air, a lovely, tender visual rendition of the healing power of love.
You'll have to see the film in order to find out if Alexander's efforts - in either theatre - are rewarded. I don't want to spoil anything for the potential viewer. Suffice to say that even as the film ends, the viewer is left with as many questions as answers - and that's one of the things I find so stimulating and rewarding about Tarkovsky's work. I can't give anything I've seen by this director less than five stars - and while this might not be quite on the same levels as his other films, it's still head and shoulders above the commercial films coming out of the major studios.
41 people found this helpful
NateReviewed in the United States on January 14, 2010
5.0 out of 5 stars
Is there hope for mankind? Visually stunning and profound meditation on faith, doubt, love, deceit, war, madness and redemption
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On the morning of his birthday, Alexander takes his young son ("little man") for a walk and plants a tree. It is no ordinary tree, but a tall dried out sprawling limb, supported by stones. Alexander tells his son that a single act, repeated daily, can change the world, and tells him the story of a monk who brought a tree to life by his daily watering and devotion. Events that unfold later that evening, raising the specter of a nuclear holocaust, suggest the possibility there won't be time to carry out any such plans. Alexander finds himself faced with a choice. Is he willing to make a leap of faith, a Faustian bargain - with God, perhaps? - to save his family?

Andrei Tarkovksy's final film, completed from his death bed as he died from lung cancer, is perhaps his most philosophically complex, and shows him at the height of his powers as a filmmaker. With cinematographer Sven Nykvist, the Ingmar Bergman favorite, Tarkovsky created some remarkably subtle and beautiful and provocative imagery, that cannot help but unsettle the viewer, and raise questions about the relative merits of intellect and conviction, of individuality and community, of realism and superstition. Like his previous two films, [[ASIN:B000I8OOG0 Stalker]] and [[ASIN:B000ARE400 Nostalghia]], the film focuses on a troubled individual at the crossroads, doubting the moral validity of his life, and then faced with a choice to either act upon faith, where the task appears outwardly absurd but may make all the difference, or to refuse and rest secure in doubt and uncertainty.

The film looks good in this dvd release, though as others have noted the colors seem a bit muted and shadow details are lost, especially inside. I have seen this twice projected from a 35mm print and even where the print I saw was somewhat damaged I remember it to have been more vibrant in the color scenes and more detailed in black and white. I understand there are better dvd transfers of this film available elsewhere (notably the Swedish version), but this is much better than the older VHS version and as good as it is likely to get in the United States unless Criterion is able to take it on (there are rumors), and even in this version it's hard to miss the power of the visuals and the richness of the ideas raised by the film. One nice bonus included with the Kino version (this one) is the very fine documentary "Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky" that reveals a good deal about his filmmaking process as it covers his work making "The Sacrifice" - and includes several of his personal thoughts on cinema as Brian Cox reads passages from Tarkovsky's [[ASIN:0292776241 Sculpting in Time]]. Highly recommended.
14 people found this helpful
RG BoscheReviewed in the United States on November 16, 2011
4.0 out of 5 stars
The Sacrifice (Prime Streaming)
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I'm not a learned film buff, so I'm not going to try to add anything of value here regarding the artistic qualities of Tartovsky's final film. I very much enjoyed it, though some pre-reading to get a background on Tartovsky's intent and motivations may be in order to be able to fully appreciate the film while you are experiencing it. I think Tartovsky assumed his viewers to have a certain baseline of familiarity with certain themes and literary allusions; my caution is that the film does not stand on its own in the same way that many other cerebral art house flicks do. It is probably best appreciated in context, at least from my point of view.

I do want to make a strong recommendation that anyone interested in viewing this film get a DVD copy instead of watching it through streaming. I watched it through Amazon's streaming service and there were several instances throughout this film where the film would jump forward and backward, either skipping sections of the film or going back to previously played sections. What was interesting, though, was that there were significant quality differences in the film stock and sound volume that occurred with at least half of these jumps. I was lead to wonder if somehow multiple archival copies were utilized to make the digital copy, or if this was a reflection of the "unfinished" nature of the film. I have played several films through streaming and never had a problem, so I doubt it was an isolated problem with my connection or computer. With films as complex as Tartovsky's, these distractions can really derail the viewing experience and detract from the art as it was intended to be viewed.
10 people found this helpful
Gabriel RockmanReviewed in the United States on January 11, 2015
3.0 out of 5 stars
Not the best introduction to Tarkovsky
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Andrei Tarkovsky is one of my favorite directors, and his movie Andrei Rublev is probably my favorite movie. I also really like some of his other movies like The Mirror, Solaris, and Stalker. But I don't like The Sacrifice or Nostalghia as much, and the reason is Erland Josefson. I just don't enjoy watching his characters in either movie. The film work by Tarkovsky is excellent, and the movie contains some extremely beautiful scenes, such as the burning of the house. But I just don't enjoy watching Erland Josefson, he comes across as pompous and conceited. I just found his character to be too wearying and tiresome.

In Ingmar Bergman's movie Autumn Sonata (where Josefson also appears, but not in a leading role), Ingrid Bergman does an excellent job portraying a self obsessed main character that I enjoyed watching. But in The Sacrifice, Josefson was not able to achieve this.

I think the epitome of the way he acts is in the scenes where Josefson is talking to his son. His son is temporarily unable to talk because of a medical operation, so the scenes are just a monologue from Josefson. The film work is beautiful in these scenes, and I love the long takes. I think I have to split the blame between both the actor and the writer for these monologues being so frustrating to watch. It's not just the way that the monologues are delivered, the content of the monologues really forces him to be conceited and these lines cannot be delivered in a more humble way. The monologues are very philosophical, and the entire movie is definitely an artistic philosophical movie.

If you're new to Tarkovsky, please pick a different movie as your introduction to this wonderful director. If you're not new to Tarkovsky, then I think this movie is worth a try, and I hope that you're able to appreciate it more than I was.
5 people found this helpful
martinramsayReviewed in the United States on January 16, 2012
5.0 out of 5 stars
the sacrifice
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Tarkovsky's last film is made in Sweden. At the heart of the film is the relationship between a father and his son. The background is the cold war fear of nuclear annhilation. The isolated setting on the coast draws out these fears. As well as Alexander and his son, the cast includes the mother, who is an actress who has left England, and a doctor who carries a pistol in his bag and hypodermic needles which are useful to allay the fears of the women and the boy after a television broadcast announcing the beginning of World War Three. The sound of screaming jets flying low overhead punctuate the film at regular intervals. The postman, who likes to discuss Nietzsche, suggests to Alexander that if he sleeps with his maid, a witch, the world can be saved. Alexander believes in his torment that this is, in fact, the only way to save the world. He dabbles in the arts and philosophy and quotes a Buddhist text as he and his son plant a tree at the start of the film. At the end of the film, Alexander burns down the house and is taken to hospital. His madness is complete. The sense of crisis, however, seems to have passed but their story is offset by black and white images of chaos; streets filled with burning cars and a crowd of people running in random directions. These interludes, filmed by Sven Nykvist, are poetic renditions of desolation and despair that give the film a beautiful but haunting quality.
CyrusReviewed in the United States on May 25, 2015
1.0 out of 5 stars
Mumbo jumbo nonsense
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This movie makes me despise drama majors even more. The people who make such movies are overtly emotional, romantic (detached from reality), rationality-free aging children who meet at Cannes to hook up, cooperate, make movies, make a name, make money and continue their floofy lives on your dime. What an utterly moronic movie, filled with mumbo-jumbo voodoo nonsense mixed with long ass paragraphs recited from the ultimate book of superstitions, namely bible, plus poor acting, meandering plot and poorly dubbed voices and sound effects. The actors can even forget their lines and say anything since the camera is too far most of the time and the whole thing is dubbed later in a studio anyway and whole sentences can be added or changed at will. Add terribly loud sounds of birds in the middle of a conversation to establish an island setting, fighter plane sound bites to cheaply establish a nuclear holocaust and some paper burning to represent a burning house. Read wiki of how idiotic their conception of shooting the burning house with one camera was, how the film got jammed, shot was lost, they had to rebuild the house and failed again 2 weeks later and that is why the shot ends abruptly right when the house collapsing. The house looks like a bunch of two by fours. You can't expect much better from drama types who think you can plant a tall dead tree without a large hole and with the aid of a few rocks around its trunk.

They remind me of children playing mom and dad roles with each other, except these aging fetuses are famous and highly revered by the masses and live pretty comfy lives, I repeat, on your dime. Take their model and make them a hundred times more floofy and wealthier and you get the Hollywood types. People of the world! Stop watching movies and read books. Read world history! The funniest, saddest and yet the most dramatic story ever played out on a massive yet horribly unpleasant stage which is the planet earth.
2 people found this helpful
qwertyReviewed in the United States on February 12, 2013
5.0 out of 5 stars
It's abou why we, ultimately, are not animals
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He gives up everything that is dear to him because he saw (only in his mind) that there is a nuclear war starting. So he promises to God that he sacrifises his dream home, and won't see his beloved son if God stops the war.
Nobody cares, because there is no war. Nobody can expect that he sets his home on fire. He is forcibly taken to the mental health institution. The peace is restored (it was never actually disturbed).
HIs sacrifice worked.
Nobody knows whether or not it was real. Maybe he foresaw this nuclear war coming and his deal with God helped to stip it. Maybe it was just a product of his sick mind's imagination. But for him everything is real.
Those who sacrifised something dear for the loved one will feel a great empathy to the hero. Those who didn't yet will see how it can be done. It might help reassessing the hierarchy of people's treasures.
We, humans, differ form animals by this ability - to sactifise (according to Dawkins). In every other aspect, we are just mammals.
2 people found this helpful
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