Sacrifice, The (1986)

“The Sacrifice,” filmed in Sweden with Sven Nykvist behind the majestically tracking camera, and unveiled at the 1986 Cannes Film Festival, turned out to be Tarkovsky's last feature; he died of cancer  in December 1986. 

Not unlike his previous film, “Nostalgia” (1983), its restless protagonist Alexander (again played by Erland Josephson) is confronted with the dilemma of just how strongly felt is one man's belief in his ideals.  In other words, is he willing to act on them


When the story begins, Alexander and his six-year-old son are planting a tree along the barren shore of the small island, where the family is vacationing.


During the vacation, a disaster is announced. The onset of a nuclear war, WWIII–not seen but overheard via radio announcements and the sound of planes and rockets overhead–compels him to an act of “sacrifice” that tears at the roots of his considered, almost bucolic daily life, yet also stands as a protestation of faith and hope for its future.  Alexander promises to do anything, give up his property and even separate from his son, if life would return to its normal state.


Like all of Tarkovsky's films, “The Sacrifice,” which received its world premiere at the 1986 Cannes Film festival, is a complex, spiritual film that handles serious existential issues, and like them, it is defined by a poetic vision and a good deal of symbolism.


Aware of his own fatal illness, Tarkovsky imbues the film with a hopeful message for future generations, to live in greater harmony with nature and with one another.   Prophetically, he warns to stop the damage caused by humanity to the plant, before it's too late.  Rather aptly, the movie is dedicated to Tarkovsky's own son.


The casting of one of Bergman's famous actors in the lead and the use of Bergman's brilliant cinematographer, Sven Nykvist, not to mention shooting the film on the Faro Island, made comparisons with the Swedish filmmaker's spiritual work inevitable.


“The Sacrifice” is a brilliant film and a most proper swan song in a career of a director who had made only good movies.


Tarkovsky's seven features and two shorts have each won numerous prizes at international festivals, including the Golden Lion at Venice, the Grand Prize at San Francisco, and at Cannes, the Special Jury Prize (twice) and the Grand Prize for Creative Cinema.


Tarkovsky's Filmography


Sacrifice, The (1986)

Tempo di viaggio (1983) (TV)

Nostalgia (1983) (USA)

Stalker (1979)

Mirror, The (1974)

Solaris (1972)

Andrei Rublev (1966)

Ivan's Childhood (1962)

Steamroller and the Violin, The (1960)

There Will Be No Leave Today (1959)

Extract (1958)

Killers, The (1958)

See Reviews of Ivan's Childhood, Andrei Roublev, and Nostalgia