…as Phil Rizzuto used to say when Mickey Mantle would knock one clear over the bleachers.
This morning I finally got to watch “Ostrov,” or “The Island,” in English, a Russian film with English subtitles that I have been reading about since last December. I did buy it as far back as February — didn’t know that there were two different formats for watching this baby. The European format is PAL, and it’s supposed to be superior to NTSC, which is the American format — so why aren’t we using NTSC (referred to, by a priest of my acquaintance, as “Never The Same Color”)? Go figure.
Anyway, I am still reeling. Everyone said, “You gotta see this film, it’s a must-see,” and I concur. Absolutely. The only caveat I would add is that it really helps to be Orthodox; otherwise, the protagonist just looks like a nut. But if you’re Orthodox, you understand up front that he’s a Fool-for-Christ, and that his wacko behavior is what makes possible the many miracles that take place in the movie.
It’s also a good reality check for those of us who aspire to the monastic state. In the beginning of the film, during WWII, he’s humping coal on a barge, and 30 years later, at the monastery, he’s still humping coal, keeping the monastery’s fires stoked. This is not an easy thing to do in a Soviet-era monastery; the Soviets made sure that living conditions were, well, unliveable, and there many scenes that show just how difficult this monk’s life is, even by monastic standards.
What I came away with: All of us really are called to this radical way of life. Not to giving up our homes and families, or those things that go along with having homes and families, but those little luxuries we allow ourselves (like that ice cream I had when I got home from shopping because “I needed to make room in the freezer”. Really. Honest to Pete).
I will have to watch this movie a lot more often to internalize it, but on first seeing — it was, to me, a call to monasticism while living in the world. Oh, two other things I got from it: one, you don’t choose the monastery, God places you in it (this monk would never have become a monk if he hadn’t been dragged there by monks who were trying to save his life). And two, from a scene where the monk is reading Psalm 1, “Blessed is the man”: “He shall bring forth his fruit in its season.” In its season: How many of us try to rush this season? I sure do. I want fruit now. I keep forgetting that the same God Who created that peach tree out in my back yard, created me, and it’s entirely possible that I’m no readier to bear fruit than that peach tree is, right this very second. I’ll have to wait till September to slurp up its tiny, perfect peaches. And whatever season it is when I’m ready to bear fruit: that’s not for me to know.
Get this movie, if at all possible.