Friday, April 16, 2010

The Decalogue: Six

Sixth Commandment: Thou shalt not commit adultery.

In the sixth film of Krzysztof Kieslowski’s The Decalogue first seems to be about a naïve young man who develops an obsessive attraction to a woman he doesn’t even know. Both he and the woman he admires live in the same apartment complex that serves as a link between the characters in each episode. Tomek is a
shy young man who works in the post office by day and by night spies on his neighbor Magda with a telescope he has stolen specifically for this purpose. As we see Magda through Tomek’s gaze, we learn that she is a bold and confident woman, an artist, who shares her bed with several men who make frequent visits.

In order to get closer to her, Tomek calls her home but says nothing when she answers, sends her fake
money order notices so that she is forced to come into his post office, steals some of her letters and reads them, and even goes so far as to get a job as a milkman just to get close to her apartment. When one of his fake notices causes a confrontation between Magda and his manager, he feels guilty and confesses everything to her. When she asks why he has done all these things, he replies that he loves her.

For Magda, love means the carnal act, the playful banter that has no deeper emotion behind it. There is no such thing as true romantic love. But despite what one might think by merely reading about Tomek’s actions, his love is not carnal at all; instead, he simply loves her. Since he is so shy and innocent, presenting no threat to her, Magda toys
with Tomek, putting on a show for him by positioning her bed in front of the window and seducing a lover when she knows he is watching. When informing her lover that they have been spied upon, he flies into a rage and punches Tomek. Now it is Magda’s turn to feel guilty.

After accepting Tomek’s offer to go to an ice cream parlor, Magda hears him tell all about his love for her. In a truly erotic scene, she tries to entice him into the sort of love she knows, only to have it end disastrously as Tomek runs away in horror. Now the tables are turned as she uses binoculars to try and find out what has happened to him. His innocent ways have awakened something inside of her, yet he has slashed his wrists and is taken to the hosp

The film isn’t about adultery, as neither Tomek nor Magda are married, but instead about adulterated love., love that has become debased. Many of the scenes place the viewer as a gazer, emphasizing the male eye of the camera, yet desensualizes that look to come more into line with the views on love of Tomek rather than those of Magda. Yet he himself has been the subject of a gaze the entire time, that of his godmother, who understands his loneliness as she herself is lonely after her son has left and never really returned home.

This sixth entry is as much Magda’s story as it is Tomek’s, for her concern for him changes the way she conceptualizes love, marking that change as the crux of the narrative. Yet after Tomek returns from the hospital and encounters Magda, he tells her that he doesn’t look at her anymore. She has changed, but now her love is as unfulfilled as his once was. The redemption of love is blunted by the dismissal of one’s affection. Magda is now in the place Tomek inhabited in the first scene, and Kieslowski’s slam cut to end the film is jarring and effective.

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