"…he drove a cab for two weeks. He had just won an Oscar for The Godfather Part II. One evening, an actor got into his cab and recognized him. The guy, who couldn’t believe his eyes, exclaimed, “Do you have to drive a cab? Are times as bad as that? Hasn’t the Oscar helped you?” One night, I got into Bobby’s cab myself; I sat up front, next to him. We drove up and down 8th Avenue, a bad neighborhood. The impression I had was that anything could happen. You have no control over what could happen. Your life doesn’t belong to you anymore. That was exactly what the character had to feel. Believe me, anyone who drives a cab in New York at night will be like Travis Bickle sooner or later.”
—Martin Scorsese, on how Robert Deniro prepared for his role in Taxi Driver
Krzysztof Kieślowski was a force to be reckoned with. This 10 part mini-series, originally airing on Polish Television in 1988, showcases a filmmaker at the height of his powers.
If anything can be described as ‘classic Kieślowski’, it was his unccany ability to examine ambitious, eminent subjects with amazing subtly. And for the Commandments especially, a form of ambiguity that isn’t meant to perplex as much as it’s constructed to avoid judgment. What’s key here is that each imperative is presented without explicit reference.
One of the best things about this series is that each chapter, after quietly ending, will somehow find its way back into your thoughts, even if days later, perhaps weeks. I guess this is what any great work of art does.
But if hesitant to dive into a 10-hour Polish-language emotional saga, keep in mind that Stanley Kubrick labeled The Decalogue as “the only film masterpiece” he could think of in his lifetime.
More from Kubrick:
"I am always reluctant to single out some particular feature of the work of a major filmmaker because it tends inevitably to simplify and reduce the work. But in this book of screenplays by Krzysztof Kieslowski and his co-author, Krzysztof Piesiewicz, it should not be out of place to observe that they have the very rare ability to dramatize their ideas rather than just talking about them.”
"By making their points through the dramatic action of the story they gain the added power of allowing the audience to discover what’s really going on rather than being told. They do this with such dazzling skill, you never see the ideas coming and don’t realize until much later how profoundly they have reached your heart.”
The Decalogue I
Connected to the 1st imperative of the Ten Commandments, “I am the Lord your God; you shall have no other gods before me.”
The Decalogue II
Connected to the 2nd imperative of The Ten Commandments:"Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain."
The Decalogue III
Connected to the 3rd imperative of The Ten Commandements: "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy."
The Decalogue IV
Connected to the 4th imperative of The Ten Commandments: "Honor thy father and thy mother".
The Decalogue V
Connected to the 5th imperative of The Ten Commandments: "Thou shalt not kill".
The Decalogue VI
Connected to the 6th imperative of The Ten Commandments: "Thou shalt not commit adultery."
The Decalogue VII
Connected to the 7th imperative of The Ten Commandments: "Thou shalt not steal".
The Decalogue VIII
Connected to the 8th imperative of The Ten Commandments: "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor."
The Decalogue IX
Connected to the 9th imperative of The Ten Commandments: "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife".
The Decalogue X
Connected to the 10th imperative of The Ten Commandments: "Thou shalt not covet."
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
Silky, morning dewey Vera Lynn voice plus apocalyptic mushroom footage leaves us feeling happy about the end of the world. Sweet.
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
The Monolinth of universal life projects human kind into the vertex of evolutional advancement: from mere conscious beings to encroaching God-status. Feel the Timpani.
A Clockwork Orange (1971)
Reverse-soundtrack-inclusion-psychology. Play something so ill-fitting that it is actually perfect. Gene Kelly’s ultra-happy good boy croonery mixed with audiences’ lingering thoughts of WTF=smiling Kubrick.
Barry Lyndon (1975)
Monster movie ending with monster piece of music. King Stanley.
The Shining (1980)
Spooky, yesh, but also mind tingling in the way this song catapults, very sneakily, The Shining into a realm not just fixated on supernatural madness, but also the metaphysical journey of the human spirit. Perfectly haunting.
Full Metal Jacket (1987)
Stan The Man’s most criticized track, but that’s just like, your opinion, man. Wonder if Kubrick actually dug the Stones or was just going off his gut on this one? Either way, this song + credit sequence keeps the meat in the seats.
Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
The word “Fuck”, Nicole Kidman’s face, then a quick cut to this. Kubrick going out on top.