Watching Night Watch almost makes you feel like an Other. Every object in the film becomes suspect, every character’s movement uncertain. Everything is strange, and different, and almost overwhelming. But that’s good: I was totally drawn into the movie, even though I knew what was going to happen.
In fact, in Night Watch the plot is almost perfunctory. Yes, the story doesn’t go as deep as it does in the book, but it doesn’t need to. Through the movie the viewers are living the story, feeling this strange, dark, frightening world, searching out the rays of Light therein, trying to spread them just like the protagonists.
I said I wouldn’t compare the book and the film too much, and I won’t. I believe that fidelity to a source text is not necessarily an indicator of quality in a movie. Books and film are two separate media, capable of accomplishing different things, and so changes are inevitable and sometimes crucial. I tried to force the book out of my mind as much as possible when watching the movie, but there was one area where I struggled: Svetlana.
She’s still a sorceress whose self-loathing leads her to, without realizing it, cast a curse on herself that could destroy the whole city. Otherwise, however, the movie takes a few steps backward in its characterization of Svetlana. She’s made into a Pandora or Eve archetype: the woman who causes destruction.
Within the world of the film Svetlana is a prophesied figure, a second coming. Her predecessor was a virgin with a curse upon her that birthed the forces of good and evil. Now Svetlana fulfills that role for the modern day; her curse heralds the final struggle.
We’re so used to the archetypes of the chosen one being a man, and of curses centering on women, that I wouldn’t even have made note of them if I hadn’t read the book. I understand that for the movie some of the book’s concepts have to be watered down; its climax is such a slow, internal burn that it just wouldn’t work on the big screen.
But it bugs me that not only is Svetlana relegated to the sidelines (she’s identified as an Other but not as a Great Sorceress), but that the book is changed so that an innocent, pretty, Pandora-figure is foretold to bring destruction. The book doesn’t have that prophesy; Svetlana’s situation just happens that way, and it’s due to her massive power. In the movie it’s just destiny.
Although I’m disappointed that the Night Watch movie sort of turned Svetlana into a negative archetype, I understand why she gets so little focus. The movie is about Anton; he is the protagonist, and a movie about him not actually being the main character might verge into farce. Plus, like I said earlier, Night Watch is doing its own thing, and that’s good. It revels in life’s gray areas. It slices down the middle of their stomachs, shakes them around, and holds up a magnifying glass to what spills out.
Night Watch excels at exploring those gray areas. It gives them creepy life, in some cases actual legs to get up and sneak away. The Gloom shows us that most of life isn’t comprised of Light or Dark, but a mix of both. Struggling too much against one might actually tip the scale in its favor. Anton might seem changed from the man he was before, and he is: on the surface, and a bit inside. But some of the old Anton is still there.
When we meet Anton, he’s not doing very well after his recent divorce. Twelve years later, the actions he took right after it come back into play. He still messes things up, still feels and even processes, things the way he did before. He might be able to see the Gloom now, to move through and manipulate it, but it permeated his life even before. Now that he can see the world for what it truly is, it would be so easy to lose hope.
In spite of that, the Light is still worth fighting for. Anton might have been his, or even the entire world’s, undoing, but we know that even if we don’t see him do so, he won’t give up. Anton Gorodetksy isn’t cool because of how we dresses or does his hair, but because he acknowledges his and the world’s flaws, takes responsibility for them, and will fight for the Light until the end.
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