...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.