Seventh Commandment: Thou shalt not steal.
In recovery, addicts will often refer to their behavior when using as an act of theft. If you are getting drunk rather than spending time with your children, you are stealing the presence of a loving parent from them. If you are ducking out of work early in order to catch happy hour, you are quite literally stealing productivity and the employer’s right o have a worker focused on his or her job. This message is rendered explicitly in the seventh film in Krzysztof Kieslowski’s The Decalogue, an affecting and well produced entry even if it seemed slightly transparent to me.
Majka, a young college senior, lives with her parents in the housing complex that unifies each entry in the series. She has a six-year-old daughter who live with her, Ania, but this daughter is being raised by her parents as Majka’s sister, and her mother, who was never affectionate or supportive with Majka, fawns over Ania and is quite close to her. Majka wants to flee with Ania to Canada, but needs her mother’s permission to obtain a passport for the girl.
Already the theft is obvious. Majka has had her daughter stolen to be raised as someone else’s, just as she has had the support of a parent stolen by her mother who lacked fairness and affection for her. Ania too has had her true mother stolen from her. It is arguable that such thefts were beneficial for some involved: Ania is likely better off in some ways not being raised by a teenager, and the freedom from childrearing responsibilities allows Majka to remain in school, with all the opportunities such advancement allows. Yet Kieslowski isn’t a moralizer; theft is theft, no matter how one may justify it.
As the story progresses, Majka steals Ania from show at the children’s theater and takes her to Wojtek, Ania’ father. The two met when he was hired as a literature professor by Majka’s mother, only to fall in love with the sixteen-year-old Majka and impregnate her. He is initially uncomfortable, yet warms to the young girl as time passes. Majka intends to blackmail her mother for permission to take Ania with her to Canada. Even at this point we can see theft in virtually every action one character takes in relation to another, both literal and figurative. And such actions recur until the narrative’s end and, one can imagine, continues on.
Kieslowski’s narrative is so effective because it allows on to view strained relationships the way those in addiction recovery often do: as acts of theft. While the story provides characters and situations with which to practice such an evaluation, it is in our own lives that such analysis can be the most painful, yet also provide the basis for much healing.