The following is one of the entries from my 100 Greatest Films from the Soviet Union, Russia, Ukraine and Eastern Europe list, which I invite you to visit on this site if you haven’t already done so. — Dennis
Ivan Groznyy II: Boyarsky zagovor finds Ivan, back in Moscow, under “the burden of power.” His increased paranoia is not without reason; in his absence the Boyars replaced him, and now their efforts to replace him permanently double. Cinema’s greatest flashback shows that Ivan the boy’s mother, like Ivan the man’s wife, was poisoned by the Boyars, orphaning him. (“I am alone,” he now says, meaning, “I am alone again.”) The Boyars had meant to replace his most trusted advisor with themselves. But even as a child Ivan opposed their schemes to sell Russian lands to foreigners; one day he will reclaim all Russia and unify it. This pact with himself shows his integrity of spirit. However, a brilliant shot underscores the limit that childhood imposes on his will: Archduke Ivan’s feet do not reach their ceremonial cushion. Trust Eisenstein to show politics and sexuality converging.
The immense shadow on the wall, in the first part, of Ivan’s bearded head projected the essence of Tsar Ivan’s power, along with its burden of responsibility and loneliness—humanity beyond humanity. Ivan’s boyhood past dictates his present for the sake of Russian history.
Lonely Ivan befriends a priest, conceding to him a measure of political power. Moreover, his behavior becomes increasingly erratic as the Boyars’ plot expressionistically closes in on him—by a stroke of irony, a plot to replace him with a young idiot, a perpetual child whom the Boyars hope to manipulate as they once tried doing with him. Eisenstein’s one passage in color reflects an insulated waking phantasmagoria.
Stalin, who felt reassured in his own power grab by the first part, now suppressed the second and terminated filming of the third. Eisenstein’s unaccepted pleas contributed to his fatal heart attack at fifty.
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