The Decalogue

It is rare to see long-form story done so well. We're used to seeing it on TV. Most of those aren't that well done, though. There is an art to being able to tell a long story and wrap it up at some point. To end it. We don't often see things like that anymore, in a world where to be a "good television writer" means to shoot for syndication so you don't have to work anymore. Over the last three days, I watched The Decalogue, a ten-part, made for TV series directed by Krzysztof Kieślowski in 1988. In my mind, 'made for TV' is a dirty phrase. Only the worst things are made for TV, like that horrible remake of The Shining I watched when I was a kid. That defines 'made for TV'. Television is where you can go to commit that sort of blasphemy. This series is nothing like that. I had so many bad feelings going into this, but I came away really surprised.

The Decalogue, named for it's subject matter, deals with the Catholic Ten Commandments. This was a bit off putting to me, not being religious at all. It's ten, one hour movies ("show" is not the right word here), and they each are said to focus on a certain commandment. Some are obvious. Like Roger Ebert writes, "There isn't a one-to-one correlation; some films touch on more than one commandment, and others involve the whole ethical system suggested by the commandments" (The Great Movies, 128-130). Sounds more interesting, yes? Each little movie is it's own encapsulated story arc, even though the stories all take place in the same area, in the same apartment building. It deals with the more human side of these issues - it questions them and supports them at the same time. Even though each film has it's own plot, they are clearly meant to be taken as a whole. I guess that is why I say they are a long story, not just short films, since they all connect in a lot of ways. It's not like a movie where the ideas and feelings you get while watching it end quickly. I'm very sensory, so I connect them because of that. When I ask myself if you could just watch one and not the others, and I felt the answer was "no", I knew they had to be a long story.

It's hard to talk about the issues they raise as a whole. I think you can say, generally, that they are brilliant for how timeless they feel. They don't focus on something that can become dated, like the suffering in Warsaw. It's more about humans. About adults going through difficult things and trying to find their way, religion or not. I think it's why they are so striking as a whole - you aren't watching a biblical story, or an "updated" version. It's, as everyone can relate to. It is not the black and white of the Commandments, but the understanding of all of the shades of gray.

I really enjoyed watching all of these. I was so surprised at how much I liked them. On Saturday when I started watching, I was sort of balking at it, complaining about how many there were and such things. About 40 minutes into the first one, and I was literally crying, my hands over my mouth, sitting at the edge of my couch, unable to turn away. The plots are so great, and there is something touching in all of them. The only thing I didn't enjoy is how quickly I watched them. I wish I had spread them out over ten days. For the purpose of this blog, it would never work, unfortunately. It's clear that these films are meant to be watched and thought about one at a time, savored and thought and talked about.

If you like long stories, and you like TV shows that end, check this out. It's not nearly as religious or preachy as it could be, given it's title. I hope that if you watch these, you take the time to spread them out, and really think about them. Watch them with others and talk about them, it's worth it.

The whole series is rentable from Netflix, and I would imagine Facets, since their label is on it. :) Let me know if you check these out!
Have any of you seen these films? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Ebert's Great Movie Essay on The Decalogue


The Next Three Days...