Is childhood always a happy affair for everyone? Is it always just an archipelago of happy memories or is it a series of adventures, thrilling the mind and exciting the body? Yes, it is a sea of adventure with a cluster of happy memories scattered around. For some the stars of joy are the constellation of the night sky, but some are lost in the in the infinitely unbound space called childhood. It is a near-death-like experience for them which affect the remains of their life, if any. Andrei Tarkovsky tells us the touching, heart-melting story of a boy whose childhood has turned into a nightmare, when he lost his family to the Axis Powers and he joins the Russian forces for vengeance, in his debut feature film Ivan’s Childhood.
A boy of about twelve crosses a river amidst flares lighting up the sky and its adjoining swamp to reach the Russian barracks. He demands to meet Captain Kholin and to be treated with respect. We learn that he was orphaned by the S.S forces, his sister killed, his parents killed; after which he is sent to a boarding school. He ran away from the orphanage and helps the army as a spy. After returning from a failed mission as the lone survivor, the officials want to send Ivan to the school again. He protests with all his might; even run away for the dread of being locked in the school. Due to his continuous nagging, Kholin agrees to take Ivan to the other side for spying on the Schutzstaffel. At the end of the war, Kholin and Galtsev find his papers of execution among the S.S files.
The film is not only about the cruelty of war, not only about emotions, but also about Ivan’s avarice for retribution and his inner child covered by his rigid outer shell. The film opens with the face of Ivan behind a spider’s web in a tree branch, listening to the cry of a bird. The spider’s web can be viewed as the series of problems he faced before the events of the film occur: the deaths of his parents, the death of his sister, his transfer of to school are all successions of glitches represented by the web. His childhood innocence is slowly lost amidst all these negativities. He slowly moves beyond all these and joins the Russian troops for revenge; he grows mentally, he understands life: this is shown by the next camera movement. The camera rises up along the tree trunk, showing the branches, to the topmost one, through which we see Ivan.
Some sandwiched scenes show what Ivan dreams of, his childhood memories of his mother, his friends, and his sister probably. These serves as stark contrast to the scenes of suffering, the soldiers preparing for battle, the injured, the deceased which in their gray multitudes bring nothing but gloom. The scenes in the swamp with towering trees and Ivan passing through them brings into mind the image of a child playing a man’s game in a man’s world. The young medic, Masha, is the centre of attraction in the soldiers’ somber war life; she is like the lost innocence of the boy.
This is one of the relatively simple films by Tarkovsky, whose most other features have a deep psychology in them. It’s not that this is a poor film, it does have its own philosophy but which can be explained in simple words. The images of the film not only have deep meaning but are very beautiful even if they convey strong emotions. Ivan’s face displays his anger, his sorrow and sometimes sudden glimpses of joy like when he reunites with Kholin. The naked reality of the destruction caused by the war is shown both on a personal and mass level. This is one of the great films by a great director whose almost all films can be considered as masterpieces.
Film Score: 85
Director: Andrei Tarkovsky Screenplay: Vladimir Bgomolov, Mikhail Papava Cinematography: Vadim Yusov Editing: Lyudmila Baskakova Music: Vyacheslav Ovchinnikov Production Design: Evgeniy Chernyaev Cast: Nikolay Burlyaev, Valentin Zubkov