Discussing Kieslowski’s Decalogue VI

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, as soon as Decalogue VI started, I began wishing it had fallen to you to write the discussion-starting post for this film. Why did I wish this? There are two reasons. First, you are on record as naming Hitchcock’s Rear Window as your “go to” choice for the “best film ever made,” and Rear Window is a clear reference for Kieslowski’s film. Second, Decalogue VI swirls around issues related to sexuality and seeing, and your primer on sexuality in cinema and how we ought to view it is one of the most concise and measured articles I’ve read on the subject (and one of the most read articles on our website). However, Decalogue VI has fallen to me.

And maybe that’s okay, because as the film went on and twisted its many twists, I became more and more convinced that while sexuality and seeing are the currency with which the film barters, it values something else entirely – love. One could even call Decalogue VI “a short film about love” if one wanted.

On House of Cards, one of the most cynical shows of our time, Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) tells his patsy and paramour Zoe (Kate Mara), “Everything is about sex except sex, which is about power.” Magda, the much more complex ‘Ms. Torso’ of Kieslowski’s film, would make a good match for Senator Underwood. She believes firmly that love doesn’t exist and sex is nothing more than partnered power plays. So, when she discovers that Tomek has been spying on her, she feels violated—justifiably—and turns the tables on him, using her sexuality and his desire to take revenge. His desire turns out to be something other than either she or we expect, and their conflict becomes not a simple, sex-fueled power struggle, but a negotiation between innocence and cynicism.

We usually save all SPOILERS for the comment section, but I have to spill one here (like so much milk) to take this discussion any further. Reader beware.

Josh, I was more deeply moved by this film than I have been by any of the previous episodes in the series. The scene in which Tomek runs with the milk cart, full of joy after obtaining a date with Magda, made me tear up. When that scene ended with him telling our Watcher that he is sorry—for splashing him with water, yes—but also, I think, for not being aware of the way he was violating Magda by spying on her, for dealing in power instead of love, I was so happy. The Watcher smiles for the first time in the series. It’s the one time this man who “isn’t very happy with us,” as Kieslowski put it, is happy with one of the characters. It’s also one of the only times a character learns something valuable without experiencing tragedy.

This, of course, makes Magda’s manipulation of Tomek all the more despicable, the fall-out of that manipulation more harrowing, her realization (if not repentance) more triumphant, and the ending more optimistic. The ending isn’t as idyllic as the slightly longer short film Kieslowski turned Decalogue VI into, but I’ve never felt more hopeful as one of these episodes closed.

So, my prompt for you, Josh: Do you accept my reading of Decalogue VI as being more of a tug-of-war between innocence and cynicism with love as the rope than it is an expose on sexuality and voyeurism? And do you find it ultimately hopeful and, in that hope, different than the other episodes in the series?