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Discussing Kieslowski’s Decalogue I

Josh Larsen

This is part of a joint series with Elijah Davidson of Reel Spirituality, in which we’re considering each installment of The Decalogue. Krzysztof Kieslowski's landmark collection of short films was first released on Polish television in 1989 and is based on each of the Ten Commandments. Please join our conversation in the comments.

I want to begin, Elijah, by pointing out that this was your idea. Not only because we’re about to embark on a project that will take us well into December, but also because Decalogue I was an emotionally punishing experience. Do we really have to proceed with this?

Of course we do. Because Decalogue I is also a remarkable consideration of what the First Commandment - “I am the Lord thy God. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” – might mean in our contemporary age. The small-g god here is technology - or, more broadly, the empirical reason that technology supposedly provides. The story centers on a father and son in a Warsaw apartment complex (where most of The Decalogue is set) who bond over a pair of computers they have in their living room. They’re proof of the father’s belief that “measurement could be applied to everything.”

The boy, however, wonders if there might be more, and one of the things I liked about Decalogue I is the way director Krzysztof Kieslowski subtly visualizes the boy’s dissatisfaction with his father’s atheistic certainty. Watching his father give a college lecture at one point, for instance, he stands behind a slide projector, purposely obscuring his dad’s authoritative image.

Such touches would seem to put Decalogue I on the “side” of faith, and indeed the tragic events of the final 15 minutes can certainly be read as punishment for breaking the First Commandment (we can get into spoilers in the comments). But I’m not sure that Kieslowski, who co-wrote the series with Krzysztof Piesiewicz, is that strident of a filmmaker. Where did you fall on this, Elijah? Would you say Decalogue I is punishing of the father character, or in an oblique way might it actually be seeking to punish God?

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