Anastasia and The Importance of a Balanced Beginning

I recently watched the 1956 version of Anastasia with my friend and fellow-blogger, Christina Wehner. I grew up on the 1997 fantasy version and had long been curious to see the movie behind it.

And it was interesting to watch, but I found the ending frustrating. Christina argued that it was designed to emphasize the false reality of the “Russian” society in Paris, and how all their schemes about Anastasia had been designed to further that facade. However, I still felt unprepared to end without some kind of closure between Anna Koreff and General Bounine. Because she’d threatened to run away from him on a number of occasions, and because they’d fought quite a bit through the movie, I felt no certainty that they’d actually made up their differences and admitted their love for each other.

And, the beginning didn’t prepare me properly.

The story starts out with scenes of Anna Koreff (the possible Anastasia). She is furtively watching the procession at a Russian Orthodox Church, then running away to the river, with a scene in the middle involving the general. The entire film is composed of scenes where either she or the general are present, with three exceptions: one, early on, where they both come in at the end; another, near the climax, where neither is present; and the third, at the very end of the film. Of the three, only the last one has anything to do with the great Russian charade happening in Paris.

All this  doesn’t prepare us for an ending without either of the main characters.

If the beginning had shown a very short scene where the Russians are living out their aristocratic dreams, without the General or Anna present, then the ending would have resolved what the beginning initiated. As it was, it felt unbalanced, and I kept expecting one more shot, showing the two main characters together in some form or fashion (even if it was the two of them, running down a street as the camera zoomed out to show all of Paris in the dark).

darkedinburgh by hotblack

Beginnings set up expectations for the entire work. If you begin with certain characters, you expect to end with some of the same characters, or at least see them through to the end of their story–good, bad, or indifferent. Even when the main characters die, there is closure, and we usually get to watch the other characters pick up the pieces afterwards.

There are exceptions, where a story starts with a red herring who seems like the main character, but isn’t, but we still like closure once we finally get around to meeting the main characters. Ambiguous endings have to be set up, or the audience just feels cheated.

And, with Anastasia, I felt definitely cheated. Hours later, I had this vague feeling that there was a lovely Russian story I had to get back to (I had only just finished War and Peace, so that didn’t help). I thought for a moment, trying to recall what I was in the middle of, and then I remembered: I was in the “middle” of Anastasia, but it was over and I couldn’t go back.

Copyright 2015 Andrea Lundgren

Photo by hotblack, Creative Commons

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