You Know Nothing, Jon Snow…

“I thought that nothing would change between us…”

– Anka (Anna) Episode 4 of Dekalog


It’s true. I know nothing.

“You really don’t.”

But I’m on the journey of learning many things. I’m living a life so different from what I was living just two years ago, I can’t even begin to describe its multifaceted attributes. I am living a bilingual life, one which I intend, to a certain extent, to share with those who are reading this out there. Like I said in the last post, this is primarily an exercise for me, a sort of healing/purging/growing process. I talk about things I think, things that inspire me, and things I may not agree with. Analysis and introspection are key elements of this blog.

I’ve been watching a lot (and I mean a lot) of art cinema (cine de arte) lately. These varied films from a broad sample of countries, languages, and time periods have had profound effects on my thinking over the last few months…also proving that I really DO know nothing. Furthermore, this practice is greatly improving the Spanish language part of my bilingual life, as I am watching all of these with subtitles not in English, but in Español.

In this entry, I want to discuss the series of short films known as “Dekalog” (The Decalogue), directed by Krysztof Kieslowski (Poland). Disclaimer: I am an anthropologist, and NOT an expert on film critique. I am simply sharing my opinions and reactions.

This series of 10 complexly unique, but mutually intertwined, 1 hour shorts were filmed for broadcast on Polish television in the late 1980s and were inspired by the 10 Commandments of the Old Testament (more or less).


See for more info on the series.

There is a recurring character (The Young Man) that interacts with each primary character in every episode, usually looking at them with highly interested, almost judgmental glances, like this one:

“Every move you make, every claim you stake, I’ll be watching you.”

He pretty much signifies God in my view, though in the first episode I thought he was the adult version of a deceased child character. Oh well. My mistake.

Other characters from other episodes pass each other in hallways and on streets throughout the series, but rarely directly interact with each other.

Watching Dekalog is challenging on several levels. First, it’s in Polish. Second, because these are short, artistic films, the director often begins with a question and leaves you with a question, with many well-shot silences and dramatic moments peppered throughout. The majority of the stories rotate around residents residing in the same Soviet-architecture monstrosity of an apartment building. Greyscale, with more grey, and, more, more grey. However, the characters, and the stories themselves, provide the color, and force you as the audience to question your own beliefs about topics that are as quintessentially human as they are taboo.  Topics such as: incest, parent death, child death, voyeurism, theft, murder, and adultery, to name a few.

I did not like the Decalog at first. Why? Because it forced me to face a basic truth, through film, that I had just dealt with in “real life”:

Life is full of tragedy. It’s not always happy go lucky. Things suck. People get sick and die. Relationships end. Sadness reigns. “But no!” I screamed at the television, “That is NOT how it is ALL THE TIME! You can’t just make tragedy for tragedy’s sake. Life is NOT JUST THIS!” I was upset at the Dekalog and that pensive, omnipotent bastard of a character (The Young Man), just sitting there, not speaking, and “knowing” things all the time. “You know NOTHING, YOUNG MAN!”

"Yes, I do."
“Yes, I do.”

I wanted to cry, because I knew that, at my 30 years, I have begun to have some of these very adult experiences, thoughts, and situations emerge in my own life. And, it’s simply terrifying. And, even though I am not a religious person, I do know that there is always someone, out there, that does have more knowledge and deep understanding of these types of situations than you do. And the best (and worst) part is that, in order to achieve that kind of understanding, YOU must also live through these experiences, even though they make you want to completely disappear from life itself.

Have you seen the Decalog? Let me know what you think in the comments. Discussion is always welcomed.


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