A cockroach running ‘round a plate fancies that he’s moving forward

– Come here and give me a hand, my boy! Once upon a time, long ago… an old monk lived in an orthodox monastery. His name was Pamve. And once he planted a barren tree on a mountainside just like this. Then he told his young pupil, a monk named Ioann Kolov, that he should water the tree each day until it came to life. Put a few stones there, will you? Anyway, early every morning Ioann filled a bucket with water and went out. He climbed up the mountain and watered the withered tree and in the evening when darkness had fallen he returned to the monastery. He did this for three years. And one fine day, he climbed up the mountain and saw that the whole tree was covered with blossoms! Say what you will, but a method, a system, has its virtues. You know, sometimes I say to myself, if every single day, at exactly the same stroke of the clock, one were to perform the same single act, like a ritual, unchanging, systematic, every day at the same time, the world would be changed. Yes, something would change. It would have to. One could wake up in the morning, let’s say, get up at exactly seven, go to the bathroom, pour a glass of water from the tap, and flush it down the toilet. Only that! (…)

– All my life, I’ve been going around waiting for something. All my life, in fact, I’ve felt as if… as if I were waiting in a railway station. And I’ve always felt as if… as if the living I’ve done so far hasn’t actually been real life but a long wait for it… a long wait for something real, something important! (…) Sometimes I get the most peculiar notions. Yes, I mean it. Like that dwarf, for example. That notorious dwarf! (…) That hunchback! Eh? The one Nietzsche mentioned. The one who made Zarathustra faint. (…) Sometimes I get silly things in my head, things like… like this “eternal return”. (…)

– Do you really think that mankind could devise a universal concept, a model, so to speak, of Absolute Law, of Absolute Truth? Because it’d be like trying to create a new universe! To be a demiurge! And you actually believe in your dwarf, do you? In your “return”?

– Yes… Sometimes I do. You understand? If I truly believe, it will be so. (…)

– What are you mumbling about? “In the beginning was the Word. “But you are mute, mute as a fish. A little roach! (…)

– And you, young man, how are you? Isn’t it hard to keep silent? I can well imagine. But it’s good for you. Sociability is a burden. Not all of us can bear it. (…) By the way, did you know that Gandhi had one day in the week when he spoke to no one? It was his system. He was probably tired of people. (…)

– Have I told you how your mother and I found this place? We came here on a trip, once. You weren’t even thought of then. It was the first time we were here. We had no map with us, we forgot to bring one. Besides, we’d run out of petrol. We stopped somewhere near here, then we kept going on foot. Frankly, we were lost. Then it started raining, a cold, ugly drizzle. We came to that bend over there, by that dry, old pine tree and just then, the sun came out. It stopped raining. The light was dazzling! Then we saw the house. Suddenly I was sad that I didn’t… I mean, that we didn’t live there in that house under the pines, so close to the sea. How beautiful it was! I knew that if I lived there, I’d be happy until I died. Hm? What’s wrong? Don’t be afraid. There is no such thing as death. No, there’s the fear of death, and that is an awful fear. Sometimes it even makes people do things they shouldn’t. But how different things would be if only we could stop fearing death! Huh? Oh, I was talking about something else… Ah, yes. As I was saying, we were enchanted as we took in the beauty of it. We couldn’t tear ourselves away. The peace, the stillness… And… it was plain that this house was meant just for us. It turned out to be for sale, too. What a miracle! And you were born in this house. Do you like it? Do you like it, your house? Eh, my boy? Man has defended himself, always against other men, against Nature. He has constantly violated Nature. The result is a civilisation built on force, power, fear, dependence. All our “technical progress” has only provided us with comfort, a sort of standard. And instruments of violence to keep power. We are like savages! We use the microscope like a cudgel! No, that’s wrong. Savages are more spiritual than us! As soon as we make a scientific breakthrough, we put it to use in the service of evil. And as for the standard, some wise man once said that sin is that which is unnecessary. If that is so, then our entire civilisation is built on sin, from beginning to end. We have acquired a dreadful disharmony an imbalance, if you will, between our material and our spiritual development. Our culture is defective. I mean, our civilisation. Basically defective, my boy! Perhaps you mean that we ought to study the problem and look for a solution together. Perhaps we could, if it wasn’t so late. Altogether too late. God, how weary I am of this talk! “Words, words, words!” At last, I know what Hamlet meant. He was fed up with charlatans. And so am I. Why do I talk this way? If only someone could stop talking and DO something instead! Or at least try to. Little Man! (…)

– But there is something in all this that I resent. I prepared myself for a life, a higher life, so to speak. I studied philosophy, the history of religion, aesthetics. And I ended up putting myself in chains, of my own free will. (…)

– I got a telegram from my friends. As a joke, they signed it: “Richardians and Idiotists”. Old theatre friends. We played Shakespeare and Dostoyevsky. (…)

– I remember how you dropped that vase from the tray and broke it! And your eyes were full of tears. I remember it well. The vase, too. It was white, with blue flowers.

– That’s right! She does remember! But those tears meant nothing. I had something in my eye. It hurt so, I didn’t think I’d get through the performance.

– Alexander was superb as Prince Myschkin. That role made you! And then you just gave it all up. The theatre, the lot! You threw away everything after Richard III and The Idiot. (…)

– As it happens, theatre isn’t “everything”! I couldn’t take it any more. (…) For some reason, I started feeling embarrassed on stage. I was ashamed to impersonate someone else, to play others’ emotions. But worst of all, I was ashamed of being honest on stage. It was a critic who first saw that. But it wasn’t sudden, not at all.

– So you mean that an actor may not keep his ego intact? That he must lose his identity?

– No, not quite. What I mean is that an actor’s identity dissolves in his roles. I didn’t want my ego dissolved. There was something in it that struck me as sinful, something feminine and weak. (…)

– I know it’s no sacrifice, but…

– And why shouldn’t it be? Of course it’s a sacrifice! Every gift involves a sacrifice. If not, what kind of gift would it be? (…)

– Smoke?

– Once I went to the morgue and saw the autopsied corpse… of a man who had smoked all his life. I saw his lungs. I haven’t smoked since. (…)

– I’ve put everything in order, Mrs Adelaide. Can I go now?

– Yes, yes, Maria. Thank you. Oh, yes! Do you think you might just warm the plates? Julia can do the rest.

– Yes, Mrs Adelaide. I’ll put the plates to warm at once. I’ll warm the plates. Then can I go? Is there anything more?

– No, no! You may go. Julia’s still here. Oh, one more thing! Would you put the candles on the table? Then you may go… You have opened the wine, haven’t you? Well, open it. Then you won’t be needed.

– The plates, the candles, the wine. (…)

– I have a feeling that our maps have nothing to do with truth, either.

– What truth? You keep going on about truth. (…) There’s no such thing! We look, but don’t see. Here comes a cockroach…

– A cockroach!

– Par exemple, madame! Excusez-moi! Here comes a cockroach running ‘round a plate. He fancies that he’s moving forward with a definite purpose.

– How do you know what a cockroach thinks? It could be a ritual. (…)

– Aha. “Could be.” Anything could be. “Could be”! Otherwise, all we’re left with is this “truth”, “truth”. (…)

– I’m sort of a collector.

– Are you?

– What do you mean, “sort of”?

– How shall I put it? I collect incidents. Things that are unexplainable but true. I need a lot of time, though, to gather evidence that they’re true. I need to travel, too, and I need money for it. That’s why I’m a postman… as well. (…)

– Little Man should be here. He loves stories like this. (…)

– What on earth’s that?

– What’s what?

– The picture, there. On the wall. What is it? I can’t see it clearly. It’s behind glass and it’s so dark.

– It’s the Adoration of the Three Kings by Leonardo. A reproduction, of course.

– My God, how sinister it is! I’ve always been terrified of Leonardo.

– …are now being organised nationwide… This is even the duty of all officers in the army. Every responsible citizen… is expected to behave with courage… to keep a cool head…and to help the army… in its efforts to re-establish peace,order, and discipline.The only dangerous enemyin our midst at the moment,is panic.It is contagious,and won’t allow itself to be ruled by common sense.Order and organisation…and nothing less, good Citizens!Only order… order…against this chaos.I beg you, I humbly appealto your courage and…in spite of all… to your common sense. (…) We have here, unfortunately…such a base, with four missile warheads…And it is very likely…that these warheads, tragically enough…… will be used against us. Communications may be broken at any time…but I have told youwhat is most important……my fellow citizens. You are to stay where you are.There is no place in all of Europe…that is safer than where we are now.In this regard,we are all forcedinto the same situation. All districts will beunder the controlof special military units…so that… so that… (…)

– I’ve waited for this all my life. My whole life has been one long wait, for this! (…)

– It’s dead. The telephone’s dead. (…)

– The telephone isn’t working, of course. We could get into the car and drive north, where it’s quieter… But it’s no use. (…)

– Because this war is the ultimate war, a horrible thing. And after it, there will be no victors and no vanquished, no cities or towns, grass or trees, water in the wells, or birds in the sky. I will give Thee all I have. I’ll give up my family, whom I love. I’ll destroy my home, and give up Little Man. I’ll be mute, and never speak another word to anyone. I will relinquish everything that binds me to life… if only Thou dost restore everything as it was before… as it was this morning and yesterday. Just let me be rid of… this deadly… sickening, animal fear! (…)

– What is it? What’s happened?

– There’s still one last chance! A chance? What kind of chance? A chance! One last hope! (…)

– There’s no light any more. How long have I slept?

– You must go to Maria at once!

– Which Maria? Can’t you express yourself more clearly?

– Maria, you know her! One of your servant girls (…) Did you hear? (…)

– I thought it sounded like music.

– In any case, you must go to Maria!

– But why?

– Don’t you want all of this to be over and done with?

– For what to be done with?

– Everything! The whole lot! (…) There is an end to this! (…) And if you only wish for one thing at that moment: that all this will be over, then it will be! There’ll be no more of it!

– But that’s madness, Otto! Good God, Otto!

– You don’t understand a thing! It’s true! It’s a holy truth. She has very special qualities, you know. I’ve gathered evidence. She is a witch!

– In what sense?

– In the best sense!

– Are you joking again? Still having me on with your Nietzschean pranks?

– Is there any other way out? There is no other alternative. None whatsoever! (…) I’ve left the bike for you… down there by the shed. Don’t take the car, they’ll hear you. I’ve put a ladder against the balcony. Go to Maria… but be careful! There are a couple of broken spokes in the front wheel. I once caught my trouser leg in them. I almost fell in the water.

– What trouser leg?

– The right one. (…) Have you finally understood what I told you? (…) No… Never! Anyway, I prefer Piero della Francesca! (…)

– It was only by chance that I heard you knock. The kerosene ran out, so I got up to fill the lamp. (…)

– As a child, I played this prélude. My mother loved it. Years ago, before I was married, I often went to visit my mother… in the country. She was still alive in those days. Her house, a little cottage, was surrounded by a garden… a little garden, dreadfully neglected and overgrown. No one had tended it for many years and I don’t think… anyone had ever been in it. Even then, my mother was very ill. She hardly ever left the house. Still, amidst the ruined garden there was something that was, in its way, beautiful. Yes, now I know what it was. When the weather was fine… she often sat at the window… looking out at the garden. She even had a special chair by the window. Once, though, I decided that I would tidy things up… in the garden, that is. I wanted to mow the grass, burn the weeds, prune the trees. On the whole, I wanted to redo the garden in my own taste… with my own hands. Yes, simply to please my mother. And for two solid weeks… I went at it with shears and a scythe. I dug… and cut… and sawed… and weeded. I kept my nose to the ground, literally. And I took great pains to get it ready as soon as possible. My mother’s condition grew worse, and she kept to her bed. But I wanted her to be able… to sit by the window and see… her new garden. In short, when I was finished and everything was ready… I took a bath… put on fresh underwear, a new jacket, even a tie. Then I sat down in the chair to see what I’d made, through her eyes, as it were. I… I sat there… and looked out through the window. I had prepared myself to enjoy the sight. Anyway, I looked out the window and saw… What did I see? Where had all the beauty gone? All that was natural. It was so disgusting. All that evidence of violence! I remember once, when my sister was young. She went to a barber and had her hair cut. It was the fashion then. Her hair was unbelievably lovely. Golden yellow, like Lady Godiva’s. She came home pleased as punch. Then my father saw her. He began to cry. I think it was the same with the garden. (…)

– It’s three o’clock! We won’t have time… (…)

– Do you want me to go with you? I… I have a bicycle, too. (…)

– You poor man. Don’t be afraid. What’s wrong? Calm down, calm down. I understand, I know… that it concerns your home. I know her, she is wicked. I know her. They’ve hurt you… frightened you. Don’t be afraid of anything. Everything’s going to be all right. Be calm. Don’t be afraid, not of anything. It’s all right now, all right. You poor, poor man! There, there. There’s nothing to fear. Don’t be afraid. Nothing will happen to you here. Don’t cry, don’t cry. Everything will be fine. (…)

“My dears, I’ve slept badly this night. Please don’t wake me. Go and take a little walk. The boy will show you his ‘Japanese tree’ that we planted yesterday. Or was it today? I don’t remember, it matters not. I kiss you all. I’ve taken my pills. Forgive me, even now.
June 19, 1985.
10:07.

Papa A.”

– Shall we take a walk before the weather changes? (…)

– Listen to me, Victor. I’ve got something very impor… No! Silence! Say nothing! Ask nothing! (…)

– Excerpts from the script of “The Sacrifice” (1986) by Tarkovski.

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