Discussing Kieslowski’s Decalogue II

This is part of a ten-part dicussion series we did with Think Christian. The other half of the series can be found on the Think Christian website. – Editor

Well, Josh, two weeks and one episode into this four-month conversation, and we’ve already discussed the nature of God’s goodness, the role of the Old Testament Law in guiding human affairs, the Law’s immutability, the purpose of faith and doubt, the worth of religious devotion during tragedy, the Theodicy, Kieslowski’s cinematic subtlety (or lack thereof), his relative stridency as a filmmaker, his overall purpose, the pattern of a spiritual journey, and even the Singularity. So far, the Decalogue has proven to be as rich a vein of spiritual and moral ore as reported.

For this second entry in the series, Kieslowski and Piesiewicz have dropped us into the middle of a story—about a woman who is considering an abortion and a doctor who refuses to make that decision for her—that could be easily included in a medical ethics textbook. As before, we can get into plot specifics and spoilers in the comments.

In one sense, I feel that arguing over the right and wrong in this ethical dilemma distracts from the deeper issue at the heart of this film and the second commandment. Clearly, no one in this story is making a “graven image” to bow down to and worship, but the “because” of the second commandment has to do with the effect of our actions on our children’s lives. That’s where Decalogue II and the second commandment overlap.

So much attention is given in this film to how what one does affects the lives of others. The unborn child is the prime example, of course, but consider also the many plants and small animals under the doctor’s care, the plant the woman destroys, the dog hit by a car two years ago whose death still affects relationships between neighbors, the doctor’s family taken by war, the bee, the rabbit, and even the woman’s cigarette smoke which becomes a kind of haze that includes anyone near her. Cinematographically, Kieslowski and cinematographer Edward Klosinski emphasize these connections most notably in one of the film’s final shots in which they use a telephoto lens and an editing trick to include the film’s three principal characters in one shot even though they are in different locations.

Through our discussion of Decalogue I, I began to see the film not as Kieslowski’s lifting of Christ over other, lesser gods, but rather as Kieslowski’s affirming of spiritual faith over humanistic certainty. To me, Decalogue I seems less about God punishing someone for not obeying the the first commandment and more about a man being awakened to a reality greater than one he can measure. In Decalogue II, by focusing on the ways one’s choices affect the lives of others instead of on “graven images,” Kieslowski seems once again to be shifting our focus away from debates about God’s agency in administrating these Laws and toward the general societal order expressed in the Commandments.

So, Josh, my question is two-fold. One, do you think this is a fair reading of this film and of Kieslowski’s hermeneutic method thus far in the series, and two, if so, do you think Kieslowski and his collaborators are rendering the Commandments faithfully?