Leviathan, the new film by Andrey Zvyagintsev, is about political corruption in northern Russia. But unlike many other political films, it is not a thriller. Instead, it is a film that takes a philosophical, almost contemplative attitude, toward social decay and political corruption. The film tells the story of a working class couple whose house, which is overlooking a beach, has attracted the eye of the mayor.
The mayor abuses his authority and employs all kinds of pressure, including the police and his own mafia-like thugs, to ruin the couple in order to take their land. Whether he wants to build a magnificent villa for himself on this land or it is just part of a larger development project is not clear.
Unlike Hollywood films, the couple are doomed and have no chance against the brutal political machine that, in the film’s final scene, materializes in a symbolic fashion as excavator that demolishes the couple’s house. From this perspective, Leviathan is a critique of the corrupt and tyrannical character of Russian society in which those who have power exploit and crush those who have nopower.
But Zvyagintsev goes beyond the mere critique of Russian society. His outlook is quite pessimistic as he views human nature as intrinsically selfish and criminal. All his characters exploit, steal and dispossess one another in one form or another, and this is an entangling web from which no one can escape. In fact, escape is possible only in death. This bleak condition of life, like the Leviathan of the title, a monster which in the Bible is the source of all sin and degeneration, has contaminated all humanity and reduced the world to a desolate and barren landscape.