Discussing Kieslowski’s Decalogue X

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

Josh, here we are at the end of both the year and this discussion series. I was looking back over my Letterboxd diary this morning, and I noticed that I watched the first film in this series on August 15, over four months ago. I’ve watched 85 films since then (including the other nine films in this series) and 190 films in 2014 prior to watching Decalogue I. If I was ranking all films I watched for the first time in 2014, The Decalogue would be right near the top of the list (behind the three Tarkovsky films I watched for the first time this year). All that to say, thank you for doing this. It’s been a highlight of my movie-watching year. Thank all of you who have stayed with us through this entire four-month-long discussion series. It’s been wonderful.

As I looked over my Letterboxd diary, I also couldn’t help but note the way the site arranges the posters of the films I’ve watched – like so many stamps carefully collected and pasted in a book. Unlike the stamps that cause the conflicts in Decalogue X, my Letterboxd diary can’t be handed down to my children and grandchildren when I die. Maybe that’s for the better, as Decalogue X shows how if covetousness has any good end, it is only in spite of the coveters.

Overall, I found Decalogue X to be the most absurd of the entire series. I understand why Kieslowski suggested this final film was a kind of comedy. So much here is comically exaggerated – the audacity of the opening song, the foulness of the tank of dead fish, the callousness of the brothers to their father’s death, the appraised value of the stamp collection, the size of their watch dog, the lengths to which they go to “complete their collection.” Other installments in this series made me cry. Decalogue X made me laugh from start to finish, and as it ended, I was delighted to see the film laughing along with me.

Not only did I appreciate the levity in relation to the seriousness of the other episodes in the Decalogue, I also needed it, because I recognized myself in those brothers and the way they forgot themselves, their problems, the rest of their lives as they let greed take them over. I contend with that tendency all the time. When I was a kid, I collected everything—rocks, Happy Meal toys, LEGOs, Sonic the Hedgehog merchandise, book series, magazines, football cards, cds, Pokemon, and yes, even stamps—and though I’ve shed those collections over the years and tried to dampen my possessive urge, I still thrill from time to time at the thought of gathering a collection of something “valuable.” A week ago, I almost spent an irresponsible amount of money on some rare Criterion Collection dvds. My perusing of my Letterboxd diary this morning carried with it some of those same prideful feelings of accomplished ownership that I used to feel as I rearranged my McDonald’s toys.

This week contains Christmas, a holiday that has become as much about obtaining things as anything else. Perhaps Decalogue X will serve as a good reminder to value our relationships with our friends and family over the stuff they give us. If you haven’t been able to tell, in addition to finding Decalogue X to be the most absurd of the series, I also found it to be the most morally simplistic: “Greed is bad. It tears apart families. Everyone dies eventually anyway, so don’t waste your life on things with only momentary value. Love each other instead.” In terms of my Letterboxd diary, instead of placing value in the fact that I watched this entire series (and 266 other films) in 2014, I should value the conversations I’ve had about those films and the relationships that have developed because of them. The lesson seems clear, even if the layers of that lesson in the film are myriad.

What about you, Josh? Did you find Decalogue X’s lesson as unambiguous as I did, or did my near-constant laughter distract me from some deeper ethical complication?