Prior to watching this 2012 film that was directed by English Director, Joe Wright, I knew very little about the plot line. I originally knew that the film was a valentine to Leo Tolstoy’s 1877 novel “Anna Karenina” and that it centered around a toxic love affair between a Russian aristocrat (Kiera Knightly) and Count Vronsky (Aaron Taylor- Johnson).
Immediately, the film’s tone is set, by placing it in a theater. The theater holds great symbolism, because it represents Anna Karenina’s (Kiera Knightly) life. Being a Russian aristocrat, Anna Karenina is center-stage to all functions in life. She is also watched with high intensity and her character is judged off of her behaviors and reactions, much like a character in a play.
There is also a plethora of scenes filmed off stage of the elegant theatre. Many of these scenes take place in the wings of the theatre, in the flies above stage, and even in the back of the theatre behind stage. The creativity of this direction choice is beguiling, because it artistically illustrates and symbolizes how life works. Life is a big production, many things are happening at once, and each person is aided by various ensembles throughout life. Anna Karenina’s world is literally the stage. It is implied that each character is a pawn in the theatrical world of Imperial Russia.
The saturation of scenery changes, depending on the set. On-stage, the colors are bold, vibrant, and demand attention. Behind the stage and along the wings of the theatre, the colors are shady, hushed, and muted. Outside of the theatre, the saturation changes entirely. The feel is of purity and though some colors are vibrant, they are also light. For example, when the Count finds Karenina in a field, their outfits are of pastel colors and flow, while the field is a vibrant, earthy green.
Trains are also reoccurring symbols throughout this film. Joe Wright selectively introduces the trains, in order to illustrate the fast moving escalation to turmoil that Anna Karenina endures, during her scandalous love affair. The first visual of a train is a children’s train set, when Anna Karenina is told “Every sin comes with a price…”. It is after that, that the married aristocrat meets the seductive Count Vrosky at a train station. After their first sensual dance together, Anna Karenina feels panicked and hallucinates a train coming towards her, through a mirror. After the volatile affair is over between the two lovers, Anna Karenina ultimately commits suicide by jumping under a moving train.
One flaw in the film that relentlessly bothered me, was the disregard for accents. The cast members carried consistent British accents, in a film that was based in Russia. This oversight is extremely common in time-period films, but still draws my attention from believing in the authenticity of “Anna Karenina”. Even though the costumes scream Imperial Russia, the accents scream in a different dialect.
In the film “Anna Karenina” there is a particular scene that struck me. When Anna Karenina and Count Vronsky dance together for the first time, they resemble a Russian music box of that time period. They move in exaggerated circular sweeps and the fellow dancers freeze mid-movement, in order to allow all of the attention to the two dancers. It is as if the entire theatre were a music box that had been opened to reveal the beautiful dancing couple in the center.
This film is exquisite and a must see for those that crave artistic adaptations to classical novels. It is an ambiguously bold interpretation to Leo Tolstoys’s novel and demands full attention from its viewers, in order to fully grasp the complexity of the ornate symbolism.
 I own the book
 Google “Russian Music Box Dancers”
Score: 4/5 stars!