Motion Picture Character of the Week

Tom Hardy as Leo Demidov (in “Child 44”)

How easily can a person become a nation’s most wanted after being their most beloved hero? How easily can a person be seen as a traitor by everyone, a public enemy?

“Child 44” suggests that this could happen quickly in the days of Stalin (especially in the last months of his rule). At every interface, no matter how small, a person (in Nazi Germany they would have been called block warden) was positioned, who was willing to denigrate every subversive, who might potentially dangerous to the Soviet Union – put there by Stalin, who was completely consumed by delusion and his profoundly institutionalized terror machinery.

Leo Demidov is played quite dryly by “Mad Max” Tom Hardy. In 1944 he is a national hero and given the honor to hoist the Soviet flag over the Reichstag building to mark the victory over Nazi Germany. He grew up under hard circumstances as an orphan. But now he has reached the top of his state’s hierarchy. In the subsequent years he is able to second himself there and becomes a sough-after agent and loyal executor of the Stalinist ideology.

When in 1953 the son of a friend dies, Demidov gets into a serious predicament. He suspects that the child was murdered, even though crime wasn’t supposed to exist in the paradisiacal Soviet Union.

Shortly after the whole situation escalates when an innocuous arrest turns two children into orphans. For Demidov this combination manages to unhinge his personal value system and he is not able to conceal this.

The consequence: He gets into the cross-hairs of the investigation, because his superiors can not accept that their best man suddenly displays feelings.

“Child 44” shows how a state of self- denial that has been cultivated for years can be dissolved by a fight for the just cause. While the staging doesn’t go so far as to make Demidov a real opponent of the system, he perceives it as wrong in this situation – for the system this is already too much critical potential. The system is not susceptible for this new sees of justice, which he further cultivates even in face of threats, assaults and a disciplinary transfer.

Unfortunately “Child 44” fails at the genesis of its protagonists sense of justice. Director Daniel Espinoza wanted to create a showpiece on unjust systems. In light of Putin’s recent politics, this is a obvious subject. But you can’t just allegorically compare present day Russia to the former Soviet union and especially not Putin to Stalin. But it is precisely this essential transfer that the movie cannot accomplish. It overstrains itself while trying to depict, in an universally valid manner, modern systems domestical urge to maintain its power. The chosen set-up is too singular for this, the movie and its characters lack the necessary complexity.

Demidov becomes merely a façade. He can barely meet his own expectations and drives himself to the brink of a breakdown. The absurd thing is, that he actually holds all the characteristic needed to seize more power, but his sentiments weaken him to the point where he understands his position, his demeanor and even his private live only as  a byproduct of his absolute loyalty to the system. At least in this wrong conclusion is “Child 44” a realistic reproduction of the circumstances: While the righteous people tend to make the wrong reflections on themselves, the unrighteous people have done with making any reflections for quite some time.

Translation by Denise Oemcke

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