Discussing Kieslowski’s Decalogue IV

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

Of all the films in this series so far, this is the one that most clearly connects to the Commandment ostensibly in question – the fourth or fifth one (depending on which order you observe) about honoring one’s father and mother. Gone are the murky waters of other gods and more modern graven images, sacred speech, and holy days. Here we have a somewhat straightforward dealing with parents, children, and the honor due each.

Or at least Decalogue IV is candid in theme. The situational ethics of the story are anything but plain. A young woman and her father redefine their relationship in light—candlelight, perhaps—of a revelation long-hidden in a letter left behind by the family’s long-deceased matriarch. Nothing is what it seems, it seems, and this is increasingly true as the plot unfolds.

Decalogue IV features a story that could have been aptly told by either Roman Polanski or Alfred Hitchcock. However, there’s something about Kieslowski’s less polished style that makes the film’s psychosexual plot twists even more quease-inducing than they would have been captured by either of those other masters. Perhaps it’s because there’s no Hollywood gloss here. It’s just two very real-feeling people expressing things that are forbidden in normal father-daughter relationships.

The film hinges on the revelation of hidden things, and the most hidden things aren’t the late mother’s secrets. Rather, they’re the inclinations and suspicions the father and daughter have never before verbalized, flames of passion kept burning under a basket. The events of the story are like a splash of water that both wakes them up and threatens to douse whatever mutual affection is there, positive or not.

Now, I assume Kieslowski is playing with prohibitions as a way of getting us to consider the hidden difficulties in “honoring one’s father and mother.” Sexuality is the spoon that stirs the pot. Honestly, I found it somewhat distracting. I think the questions of familial loyalty in light of the letter’s revelations are provocative enough. What about you, Josh? Do you think the film’s emphasis on sexuality adds or detracts from the underlying questions about what honor parents and children owe each other?