Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Volga Boatman

In her movie diary for 1926, Ayn Rand gave the Cecil B. De Mille silent movie The Volga Boatman a rating of 5+, the highest rating on her scale. The story is set during the Russian Revolution, and revolves around a love triangle. The woman is a Princess, who is loved by a Russian noble, and by a revolutionary leader. On that level, the plot is similar to AR's We the Living, and no doubt to many other novels.

As in We the Living, the revolutionary, named Feodor, is idealistic, although not nearly as intellectual as Andrei Taganov. The Russian noble, named Dmitri, is brave and arrogant, like Leo. The Princess, named Vera, does not resemble Kira particularly, but does have similarities with another Ayn Rand creation - Dominique Francon.

One scene that emphasizes this connection occurs near the beginning of the movie. Princess Vera hears some Volga boatmen singing as they pass near her home. The Volga boatmen are peasant laborers who pull boats against the current, up the Volga river, by means of ropes harnessed to their bodies. One of the singers in particular catches her ear, and she goes down with Dmitri to investigate who it is that sounds like "the soul of Russia."

So the wealthy young woman goes to look at the laborers, and sees the man she had heard singing, as he and the other boatmen are taking a rest break and a drink of water. She stares at the man, Feodor, in open admiration - and he stares right back, as openly as she. This recalled to my mind the scene in The Fountainhead in which Dominique went to her father's quarry and stared at Roark, who stopped working and stared back.

Then Dmitri intervened, and ended up giving Feodor two lashes across the face with his whip, leaving nasty cuts each time. Feodor took the blows without flinching. This too recalls the same sequence in The Fountainhead, although there it was Dominique who wielded the whip, and not a rival lover.

I don't know, of course, but it seems likely to me that AR wrote that scene as something of an homage to the similar scene in The Volga Boatman.

The movie itself claims to take no side in the conflict of the Russian Revolution, although it pretty clearly does favor the revolutionary side. Still, the heroes all run afoul of the revolution at one point or another.

I recommend the movie, which is available now on DVD.

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