Being perpetually obsessed with the bold, tragic story of Anna Karenina might not be a healthy habit, but my lack of cares was tossed out of the window along with my sanity a long time ago. This gut-wrenching story, complete with perverse lust, the musings of an existential farmer, and volumes of railway shadowing, has been in my thoughts since July, the never-ending novel finally coming to a close this past week. The sentences have harvested their last periods; the minuscule text will no longer strain my poor eyes; and I will stop drooling pathetically every time Vronsky enters a scene. However, I am sure my love of Anna Karenina will never dissipate because I haven’t been this creepily attached to a novel since Lord of the Rings. After hastily gulping down the rather anticlimactic ending (NOBODY CARES ABOUT KOZNYSHEV), I lunged to my computer to pirate the 2012 movie version of Anna Karenina to watch. I had purposely banned myself from seeing the film earlier because I wanted the characters to spiral into faces, bodies, and personalities of their own accord in my imagination; I didn’t want Hollywood telling me what Vronsky or Levin should look like. I was parched with anticipation and obsession, and this two hour long feature was a crystal glass of water drawn from the springs of stardom and drama.
Overall, I would rate the 2012 version of Anna Karenina an 8 out of 10. I was shocked to discover it had only received a 6.6/10 on IMDb and 63% on Rotten Tomatoes—who wasn’t overcome with emotion when Anna first dramatically locked eyes with Vronsky or encountered her son after months of separation! Although some parts were lacking, I thought the style of the film and the delivery of the lines was excellent—also, the actors were spot on, their mannerisms, appearances, and dress perfectly embodying the 19th century characters I had created and loved in my mind’s eye. I built up Vronsky with sexiness and arrogance, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson filled in this mental imaginary sketch with swagger and piercing blue eyes. Kitty was a paper doll of innocence, her white tulle dresses and unknowing brown eyes fulfilling this angelic (and pathetic) vision I had of her. One crucial part of the film—which you will either love or hate to the ends of Dante’s Inferno—is that it is theatrical in nature and different from the usual renditions of this classic. The action takes place literally on a stage, the gestures and facial expressions greatly exaggerated to mimic the immediacy of the theater. Sumptuous backdrops of lacy bedrooms were randomly swapped out for saturated scenes of sweaty corn harvests, the boards creaking across the stage as the actors looked down at the spotlighted wood below. It was whimsical, unreal, forced at times, but fitting to the fundamental nature of the novel: a pure drama, based on heightened encounters and embellished characters. All throughout the film, a certain rhythm could be felt, not one of lust and secretive affairs, but one of subtle dancing, curled eyelashes, lace, and supple hands. The costumes were exquisite and so laden with color that it seemed the heavy, velvet fabrics were soaked in buckets of pigment beforehand. The music was classy to the hilt, the Viennese waltzes and lilting mazurkas contrasting the black fate of the doomed lovers. Speaking of, the movie mostly focused on the love affair between the beautiful Anna and the dapper Count Vronsky. A dash of Levin and Kitty as well as the turbulent relationship of Dolly and Stiva were thrown in as distracting spice, but most of the drama was centered on the Russian scandal. It was strange watching the film after just finishing the book because my mind was teeming with scenes and backstories that were never even hinted at in the movie. What happened to Varenka? Veslovsky? Madame Stahl? However, with around 963 pages of enchanting and heavy text, it’s understandable that considerable chunks had to be cut out and fed to the wolves.
My favorite scene was undoubtedly the dancing one in the beginning; everything was so striking and jewel-toned, the blossoming affair seeming natural under the influence of pearls and chandeliers, shy glances and touches. The waltz was more sinuous than a Mucha painting, Anna and Vronsky’s bodies melting together to form one cohesive, unbreakable unit of sin. Also, the way the background dancers froze and then disappeared as the lovers lost themselves under the fabricated spotlight was very Pride and Prejudice-esque… Vronsky was debonair in his brilliantly white uniform while Anna was the epoch of desire and mystery in a black ball gown. I feasted on their serpentine beauty as this was my favorite part of the whole novel as well.
“Every time he [Vronsky] spoke to Anna the joyful light kindled in her eyes and a smile of pleasure curved her rosy lips.”
I rewatched this captivating tryst at least ten times, but I couldn’t help it. I loathe the word “magical,” but these four minutes were truly that, the extravagant design and heavy breathing creating a damned paradise.
“Suddenly the shadow of the screen began to move and spread over the whole of the cornice, the whole ceiling. Other shadows rushed toward it from another side; for an instant they rushed together, but then again they spread with renewed swiftness, flickered, and all was darkness. ‘Death!’ she thought. And such terror came upon her that it was long before she could realize where she was and with trembling hand could find the matches to light another candle.”
I mourn the loss of creative talent that could’ve been used to construct this image of terror and anxiety. However, besides that, my quibbles were kept at a minimum and everything else I simply adored: Stiva twirling in and out of his state jacket at “work,” the steaminess of Anna and Vronsky in a deserted forest, and the awkwardness of Levin when proposing to Kitty. It reminded me of Les Miserables (2012) without the irksome singing or a Wes Anderson film without humor and Owen Wilson/Bill Murray. Anna Karenina will forever be a fascination of mine, the beautiful tragedy placed on an unrealistic pedestal of ecstasy and sadness.
P.s. Cara Delavigne, the famous supermodel from Paper Towns, was cast as the Princess Sorokina, which I find irrationally hilarious.