A truly inspired creation taken from Leo Tolstoy’s monumental classic by the same name, "Anna Karenina" breathes new life into a timeless story which transcends from the stringent expectations of Russian society and instead embarks on a journey to understand the true meaning of love and sacrifice.
Keira Knightley shines onscreen once again as she takes on the complex role of Anna Karenina, the tragic, headstrong, and beautiful young woman who is willing to cast aside the rules of society and her husband and give up everything she has for a man who is not her husband in the name of love. Her choice ultimately leads not to love but to her destruction.
The elegant world of Russian Aristocracy is governed by a stringent code of honor and expectation. The “rules” impress that no one is allowed to step beyond the boundary of societal expectation. The irony of this tragic story is, despite the beauty of their world and the precise code which governs them, the citizenry of high society Russia is a beautiful tapestry which hides within a world riven with decay and broken love. The stylistic choice of creating St. Petersburg and Moscow as elegantly designed theatrical sets reflects the tone of Russian society perfectly.
Keira Knightley’s interpretation of what is quite possibly one of the most tragic love triangles in the history of romantic period films is intriguing because of the multiple layers of personality which make up her character, Anna. When the audience is introduced to Anna, she is initially a likeable character. She cares deeply for her young son and the well-being of her brother, although her relationship with her husband, Alexei Karenin, (Jude Law) tends to be lukewarm at best. When she encounters Vronksy (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) at a party, she at first shies away from his advances but eventually becomes entranced with him and they fall into a passionate affair. The irony which makes Anna’s story so tragic is after she has sacrificed everything in order to be with Vronsky, instead of being happy with her choice, she falls into a deeper melancholy than when she was with her original husband and eventually she is so overcome with pain and insecurity that it destroys her.
The psychological personas of the two masculine characters in Anna Karenina portray extreme opposites in the fabric of the storyline. Women may actually tend to appreciate Alexei Karenin (Jude Law) more as a masculine character rather than his counterpart, Vronsky. While Alexei comes off as being cold and withdrawn towards his young wife, in reality, his actions are dictated by his adherence to the expectations of societal law and he is bound by his stringent code of honor not to diverge from the “rules” of society. Ironically, even when Anna betrays Alexei, he forgives her, and then he shows her compassion, not once but twice. Finally, even after Anna’s tragic demise, Alexei is seen watching over not only the child he had with Anna, but the daughter Anna had in her ill-fated love affair as well. This allows the audience a brief glimpse into the softer side of Alexei’s character and leaves them with the impression that underneath his stern exterior, Alexei is truly an honorable man.
Vronsky, on the other hand, is the epitome of a selfish, shallow and immature aristo-brat with an insatiable lust for beautiful women who can never find happiness or peace of mind with just one. He is originally promised to a young princess named Kitty, but quickly abandons her when he encounters Anna at a ball. Even after Vronsky woos Anna with his licentious charms and destroys her marriage to boot, he soon tires of her and latches on to yet another woman. He lacks the spine or the honor to remain faithful to the women he claims to love and simply manipulates them with no more consideration or respect for their feelings than a hunter has for his prey.
While there are some elements, such as the theatrical setting and distorted imagery which may repel viewers who do not fully appreciate Leo Tolstoy’s masterpiece, there are other elements which do this movie justice. The casting is exceptional, the musical score created by Dario Marianelli is flawless, and the story, while sometimes difficult to understand, creates a believable account of a tragic love affair and the consequences which resulted in the wake of the lover’s ignorance. If you enjoy romantic period films and beautiful artistry, "Anna Karenina" is definitely worth two hours of your time.