The first Commandment is: “I am the Lord thy God. Thou shalt have no other Gods before me.” Decalogue 1, the film associated with it, is about a university professor (Henryk Baranowski) for whom the computer has become the new god. He is constantly making calculations. It is winter. Ice covers the lake near where he and his ten-year-old son (Wojciech Klata) live in a relationship of tender affection. The father asks his son to phone the weather bureau to find what the temperature has been on each of the last few days. He takes the data, makes a calculation on his home computer, and tells the boy that the ice will bear a person three times his weight. The father has just given his son new pair of skates. A surprise thaw occurs and the ice does not support the boy’s weight. With our knowledge and technology, might we over-reach ourselves?
In his introduction to the screenplays of The Decalogue (Kieslowski & Piesiewicz, 1991), Kieslowski said that the mid-1980s, when these films were made, was a difficult time in Poland. Dissatisfaction contributed to the Solidarity movement. Martial law was imposed. Socially, everyone suffered hardships, shortages, constant problems with the bureaucracy. The bleakness of the times comes through, but the writers of these films wanted to treat neither politics nor the daily grind. They wanted something universal: to make films about “extraordinary situations for [their] characters, ones in which they would face difficult choices and make decisions that could not be taken lightly” (pp. xii-xiii).
Fiction generally, I think, can invite us into situations that are both universal and extreme, so that we can imagine ourselves making choices in them. A full review of the first five films of The decalogue can be accessed in the OnFiction Archive of Film Reviews (to the right of the screen, or click here). The best of these films are brilliant, and overall the collection gets four stars on our one-to-five rating scale.
Krzysztof Kieslowski (director). (1988).The Decalogue 1 to 5. Poland.
Krzysztof Kieslowski & Krzysztof Piesiewicz (1991). Decalogue: The Ten Commandments. London: Faber & Faber.