Tsar (2009)




Director:     Pavel Lungin. 

Starring:     Pyotr Mamonov (Ivan The Terrible), Oleg Yankovskiy (Metropolitanate Philipp), Ramilya Iskander (Mariya Temryukovna), Anastasiya Dontsova (Masha), Aleksandr Domogarov (Aleksei Basmanov), Aleksandr Ilin (Fedka Basmanov), Ville Haapasalo (Heinrich Staden), Aleksey Frandetti (Kai-Bulat), Ivan Okhlobystin (Vassian), Yuriy Kuznetsov (Malyuta Skuratov), Aleksey Makarov (General Kolychev).

Ivan the Terrible


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

1565 A.D.  7,073 years since the making of the world.  Russia is dying of starvation and the Livonian War.  Many rumors in Moscow about betrayal of Novgorod's boyars.  For liquidation of unfaithfulness, Tzar Ivan Grozny applies oprichnina.  Oprichniks flood the country with blood.  Being in horror of oprichniks' evil deeds, metropolitan Afanasiy unfrocks himself.  Orthodox Church is decapitated.  Ivan Grozny sees the End of the World in the near future --  the Justice of Heaven."  "his old friend"  (Seems like there is some missing subtitles here because the last part doesn't really make much sense. Patrick L. Cooney.  A Metropolitan is a bishop having authority over the bishops of a province, ranking above archbishop and below patriarch).


Chapter I.  Tzar's Prayer. 

Bodies are hanging from ropes around the necks of the dead along the road.  Eight horsemen come riding fast down the road. 

Ivan reads passages about evil men riddling on horses and bringing death. 

Some bad guys are throwing chickens in the air and chopping their heads off.  Another fellow grabs someone's daughter and forces her outside.  An old man asks:  "Where is the Prince?"  A man is pulled out of the house and hit repeatedly by the ruffians.  The little blonde girl runs through the forest trying to get away from the horsemen. 

The little girl is found alongside a road and is swooped up and put on a sleigh. 

The bad guys put their captive in a cage and it is pulled along by horse and rider.  The bad guys see a convoy of sleighs and stops them.  They search the sleighs.  Mostly what they are carrying is fish.  They find the little girl in the convoy and pick her up again.  A priest comes over and tells the man holding the girl that this is his sleigh and the man is to put the child down.  They ask who is this man and others say he is Father Superior.  The two bad guys take their fur hats off and bow to the priest.  The priest thanks the men for their good deed.  The leader says they are going.  His compatriot complains that the girl belongs to him, but the leader insists that the girl be left behind. 

As the convoy reaches a settlement, the passengers see a man hung up by the neck.  They go inside a palisade fort. 

A woman looks in on Ivan reading passages from a book.  The fellow asks:  "God, when will you come?  What are you waiting for?"  The woman gets on her knees, says "My Lord" and goes over to the man.  She tells him:  "Send them away."   She says she is so tired of hearing them crying every morning.  Ivan gets up and is helped by servants and the woman to get dressed.  He puts on one layer of clothes after another.  Two large necklaces are placed around his neck.  Finally a crown is placed on his head.  He walks out on a porch and looks at hundreds of people bowing with their heads on the ground. 

The Tsar asks the people why are they hanging around his yard?  He denounces them for being greedy and for betraying the Orthodox Church.  The people ask him not to get angry and say that they are sorry.  He keeps talking about the Metropolitan. 

A rug is laid out on the snow.  The Tsar steps on it and then kneels on it.  He asks God:  "Why did you leave us? . . . Come back, Father!"  Four men now grab the edges of the rug and pull the Tsar through the snow.  The rest of the people, on their knees, crawl behind the rug.  The woman with the Tsar stays behind and laughs and laughs at this strange sight. 

Father Superior is amazed at what he sees.  He approaches the Tsar.  The leader of the bad guys blocks his way and asks:  "Why are you always in our way?  Get out!"  The Father Superior pushes the young man out of his way and kneels down in front of Ivan the Terrible.  Ivan recognizes his friend, Philip Kolychev.  He says:  "You came?"  He then says:  "God has has heard me."  He goes on to say that he takes this as a sign.  He then tells Philip:  "You will be Metropolitan." 

Philip goes from Ivan.  He then sees a man he knows, Ivan Kolychev, who is about to run through a black smith with his sword.  Kolychev looks at Philip and says he can't believe what he sees.  He says:  "Father Superior of Solovki came to Moscow."  Philip is Ivan's Uncle Philip.  They haven't seen each other for fifteen years.  Ivan says that temptation must have brought uncle here.  Philip doesn't know what he means.  Ivan says the previous Metropolitan left for the monastery because of Ivan's evil deeds.  Ivan says that he intends to head out to the war where there's a real enemy and everything is easy.  Uncle now asks Ivan if he is mad?  Ivan ignores the question, gets on his horse and leaves. 

The Tsar rings the church bell and men come into the church.  Ivan prays.  His prayers don't make a lot of sense. 

A civil engineer shows the workings of a model water mill to a German man.  The Tsar comes into the room saying that he has brought Philip some presents.  He sees the man with Philip and says:  "I can see my oprichnina German is suited for you."  Ivan speaks to the German, named Andrusha Shtaden.  He asks him why is he hanging back from him and the German says those too close to the Tsar get burned.  Ivan now asks who's that under the table?  Philip says:  "No one."  Ivan quickly takes a look under the table and finds the little blonde girl.  The Tsar pulls her out from under the table and asks who is this?  Philip says she is an orphan, but then asks the Tzar not to frighten her.  Ivan says he's not going to frighten her.  He likes orphans.  Now he opens the chest he had brought in and shows Philip his presents.  He pulls out candle sticks and then a painting of the Virgin Mary.  Ivan gives this to the little girl.  She kisses the Virgin Mary portrait. 

The Tsar wants to have the girl live with him.  He says he has many nuns and pilgrims living with him.  The German takes the girl. 

Now the Tsar pushes Philip down to a sitting position and asks him isn't he going to build mills again?  Philip forces his way up, pushing Ivan back and says:  "Mills are better than gallows, Your Majesty."   The Tsar laughs and asks Philip if he is afraid of his villainous oprichniks?  Philip doesn't want to have anything to do with these agents.  He says:  "Too much blood."  Ivan says that this is not his will, but God's will. 

Ivan takes Philip and the little girl with him on a trip.  He wants to show Philip something.  The little girl slides off the sleigh and goes tumbling down the hill without anyone seeing her.  She then starts running. 

Ivan takes Philip to a torture area.  He asks the main man if the Tsar has enemies and the man answers that the Tsar has many.  All the men here have confessed.  Ivan asks some of the tortured men himself.  He asks one if he is an enemy?  The man, a Prince, says he is an enemy. He asks to be executed.  Ivan just kisses him and leaves.  He asks Philip why is he not talking?  Ivan says he has hundreds of men like this down here.  They were all planning to betray their ruler.  Philip asks for mercy for the men, but Ivan says:  "Who is going to exterminate betrayal in Russia?  No one but me."  Ivan appears to be crazy.  He is certainly paranoid.

Ivan takes Philip outside and they sit down.  The Tsar asks him:  "Do you promise to speak the truth to Your Majesty?"  Philip replies:  "I do."   They stand up.  Ivan says he is alone and rests his head on the priest's shoulder. 

A messenger comes to the dungeon to tell the head man, Malyuta, to show some mercy to the Prince.  So they hang the Prince. 

The Tsar is awake at night.  A woman next to him talks in her sleep.  He gets up and the woman wakes up.  He tells her:  "He came.  Mitya Kurbatov.  He lied to me.  He promised not to visit me."  Now he asks God to have mercy on him.  This Mitya seems to be a ghost for the Tsar because he asks him didn't he have enough time when he was alive to ruin the Tsar?  He had Mitya executed.  Ivan says he's not afraid of Mitya, but he keeps cowering against the walls. 

Summer, 1556.  A document is read aloud that the Tsar has made Father Superior Philip the Metropolitan.   The Father swore that he did not take part in oprichnina.  Nor did he ask the Tsar to live oprichnina.  The Tsar will periodically visit with the Metropolitan. 

Philip goes through a ceremony to become the Metropolitan.  Some of the men watching say that this priest seems to have too much power.  "We have only one ruler here."  Philip, the Tsar and everyone else now leaves the church.  Women now throw coins down to the people as an expression of the generosity of the Tsar.  The people scramble for the coins.  The little girl is among the crowd grabbing coins. 


Chapter 2.  Tzar's War. 

The little blonde girl is sleeping in the woods.  A number of horsemen comes riding by very fast.  As they reach a fortified position, they shout:  "They are coming!" 

Out of the woods comes hundreds of Polish soldiers.  One of the Russians says: "Zhigimont himself is with them."  The enemy pours in on the Russians and a fierce battle begins.  A Russian jumps into the river and starts chopping away at the supports for the bridge.  The little blonde girl is on the other side of the river.  She pushes her portrait of the Virgin Mary out onto the water's surface.  The portrait floats over to where the Russian is chopping down the bridge. When the portrait bangs into a bridge support, a big section of the bridge collapses.  After that other sections of the bridge start collapsing.  The fight continues in the river. 

Ivan has himself carried out to a place covered with spring flowers on the trees.  Father Superior comes over to welcome him.  Ivan tells him:  "I don't feel loneliness, since you came here."  The Father answers:  "You took away your close people yourself, think about your soul.  Forgive everyone and you will be forgiven."  But Ivan doesn't seem interested in forgiveness. 

Ivan is going to move into a new castle.  He has a bevy of young virgins literally whipped in a frenzy of tearing things down in the area around him.  Ivan seems to think there is a Holy city of Jerusalem where the new castle lies.  Father Superior is shocked at what's going on, but has to be careful in approaching Ivan.  A little later Ivan in a carriage is pulled and pushed along by the women, daughters of the Boyars.  Father Superior asks Ivan if he knows where he is going?  He finally says:  "Stop it, my Lord, there will be a revolt."

The women start jumping into the river.  A half-crazy man stirs on ideas of mischief in Ivan.  Father Superior tells Ivan not to listen to the fellow because he is a heretic.  The fellow tells the Tsar to have lightning strike over there.  Ivan asks if it will really strike there?  Yes.  Philip tells his friend Ivan not to do it.  Ivan is going to try to make lightning strike, but is interrupted with the news that Polotsk has fallen to the enemy.  Polotsk had been captured by Ivan in 1563.  Ivan tells the messenger to get out of his sight!  (Polotsk is in northern Belarus.)

Now Ivan repents of having thought he could make lightning strike.  He asks God for forgiveness.  Lightning does strike and the little fellow tells the Tsar that the lightning struck.  Ivan pushes the fellow through the railing and into the river below.  Now he goes to pray.  Philip follows him and tells Ivan that he will feel better if he repents.  Ivan says:  "Too many sins, Philip."  He adds that he is repenting.  A little later he says he will have everyone "who was there": Sotniks (commanders of a hundred men), voevodes (governors of the provinces).  He will have them all impaled and their horses chopped into pieces. No mercy!  He even says the dead at Polotsk share in the guilt of the city yielding to the Poles.  Father Superior asks Ivan to come to his senses.  It's of no use.

Ivan goes to the door and shouts:  "Basmanov, bring all voevodes to Moscow!"  Philip warns him that this is a great sin.  Ivan retorts:  "There is only one sin for me  - to surrender my city!"

The voevodes arrive.  Philip goes out to them and tells them that Ivan has prepared an executioner's block for them for surrendering Polotsk.  The men don't understand.  They drove the Poles back.  Yes, but other Polish forces came in from behind them and took the city.  Philip now says that they better wait here if they want to save their lives.

Ivan Kolychev tells Philip that he should save himself and get out of here.  Philip replies that God won't let him do such a thing.  He stays here.  Ivan Kolychev then tells Father Superior to at least save the little blonde girl, who he has brought with him.  She is in one of the sleighs.

A soldier goes over to Malyuta and tells him that there is a conspiracy afoot.  "Metropolitan gave refuge to the voevodes." 

Malyuta goes to tell Ivan.  He tells him that six of the voevodes who surrendered Polotsk are still alive and living in the yard of the Metropolitan.  One of the voevodes is Philip's nephew, Vanya Kolychev. 

The next day Ivan speaks with Philip and the six men on Philip's turf.  Everyone is afraid of Ivan.  Philip stands up and accepts the blame for this.  The men wanted to come see Ivan, but he convinced them to come with him. 

Four of the voevodes are beaten up by Ivan's men as punishment.  The one who informed on the voevodes is brought to the dungeon.  He is laid out over a table and his hands are nailed to the table. 

Philip and the little girl walk the long steps up to the platform of the castle where Ivan waits for them.  Philip again says this is all his fault.  Ivan seems in a good mood and encourages them to come up. At the top Philip repeats to try him.  Ivan ignores him.  He's only interested in the little girl.  He asks if she still has the portrait of the Virgin Mary?  She pulls it out from underneath her jacket.  Again Philip asks to be tried, but Ivan tells him that he doesn't want to.  He won't try him or offer him mercy.  He tells Philip to go try himself if he is so eager to be tried.  He takes the little girl over to see a caged bear.  She feeds the bear Ivan's apple. 

Malyuta tells the men that they better not argue with the Tsar or else.  He brands the voevodes on their chests. Shuyskiy is chosen to go first. 

Philip is taken inside and put on a throne.  He doesn't want to sit on the throne but two men make him sit there.  They say that the Tsar approved this.  After all, he instructed Philip to try himself, which means Philip will sit in judgment on others.  Two of the voevodes are brought in and they admit to their guilt of surrendering to Zigizmund, who let them go and told them to poison their Lord. 

Ivan still entertains the girl.  He says his new castle has no windows.  The little girl wants to know why?  Because the world will end.  Everything will be destroyed, but the castle will still be here.  But there won't be anything to look at outside the castle, says the girl.  He says to her:  "Here it is.  The rescued city of Jerusalem." 

The voevodes say they were part of the conspiracy with Novgorod's money.  Philip says he has known one of the fellows from his childhood.  He just can't believe the man's story.  Philip asks him why is he saying this?  Because he has to.  The men at court demand that Philip pass judgment on the voevodes, but Philip just keeps saying that he cannot do it.  They almost plead with him to approve it because they are afraid of what the Tsar might do to them.  Philip still says no. 

Philip comes to Ivan and tells him he can't sleep.  Ivan says it's not important because everyone is guilty.  Everyone betrayed him.  Now he tells Philip to go home. 

Ivan comes out carrying the little girl.  He sits down on the throne with her in his lap.  Ivan tells Philip that he couldn't judge.  So now this will be God's judgment.  A voevodes is pushed into an arena and a bear is let out.  Philip says to Ivan:  "Stop this execution."  Ivan tells him not to interfere with God's will.  Philip snaps back:  "This is not God's will.  This is yours."  Ivan tells him not to argue with him.  The bear starts to disembowel the first man.  The little girl puts her hands over her eyes.  A second man is thrown into the ring and the bear starts to kill him.  The little girl grabs her Virgin Mary and runs down the steps and into the arena.  She puts the Virgin Mary before the eyes of the bear and shouts:  "Bear, stop!  Don't do this!"  The bear with his mouth starts to grab the portrait by one side.  The girl continues yelling at him and he seems to get irritated.  He hits her with his paw and that's the end of  her.  The bear calms down after that. 

Philip now walks down the steps to go into the arena.  Ivan orders Philip to come back!  Philip goes into the arena and picks up the Virgin Mary painting.  He takes it with him and leaves the arena and goes outside the wall of the fortress.  As he walks he prays that God will calm the fierce heart of Ivan.  He says:  "The flock You gave me is dying in blood torture. If you need more blood, take my life."    Ivan goes to church to pray. 


Chapter 3.  Tsar's Wrath.


The Metropolitan blesses people in the church.  Ivan comes forward and wants to be blessed.  Philip ignores him.  One of his guards turns Philip around to look at Ivan saying that the Metropolitan is looking in the wrong direction.  Philip looks at Ivan but says he cannot see God here.  "Neither in his clothes or in his deeds."  Ivan tells Philip that he had better come to his senses.  Philip replies:  "We are all mortal, my Lord."  He really gives it to Ivan.  He questions whether Ivan follows God's rules.  He executes innocent people.  Ivan is really getting angry and he warns Philip to keep out of his business or he will feel the wrath of Ivan.  Philip continues:  "You showed everyone that we carry hell in ourselves."  Ivan warns him still again.  Philip answers:  "Christ is with us.  Of whom are we afraid?"

Ivan pulls off Philip's cap, throws it down on the ground and stomps on it, while he says that he has no Metropolitan now.  Now the guards start beating and kicking Philip.  They take off all his religious clothing and leave him laying on the floor.  He is still alive.  People in the church are crying. 

Philip is placed in a wooden cage and a guard slashes at him with a whip.  He tells the people to strike Philip, but they are afraid this would be a sacrilege.  The cage is transported over to the castle.  Philip is taken out of the cage, a rope is placed around his neck and he is thrown onto the wooden platform below Ivan.  A man reads a document accusing Monk Philip of practicing sorcery and magic.  He took part in a conspiracy with the voevodes.  He is guilty of betrayal, treason and an attempt to murder "our Lord Ivan Vasilyevitch".

The nasty little fellow takes great glee in taunting Philip.  They ask a trust up thief if Philip is guilty.  The voevode only says that he himself is not a thief.   So, the man is hoisted into the air with only his two arms to carry the weight of his large body.  He, of course, screams in pain.  The nasty one taunts Philip with the sight.  Philip tells him:  "You're going to be burnt at the stake, heretic."  The torturer puts more weight pulling the man downward.  Philip will still not lie and say he is guilty as charged.  So the man puts his full weight on a log contraption forcing the poor man downward until his upper arms are broken out of their sockets.  And now the dead man is placed on the log in front of Philip and his head is cut off with an axe.  They give the head to Philip.  He kisses, as he says, the lips that did not lie.

Ivan stands up and says the following about Philip:  "I show mercy to him.  Put him in fetters and bring him to the monastery until the end of time."   The order is carried out.  Philip still has the Virgin Mary picture with him.  He prays to her to deliver him from that devil Ivan.


Chapter 4.  Tzar's Joy. 


The Tsar has said he is sad these days.  So his men decide to cheer him up by building ingenious ways in which to torture people to death.  They place a dummy on the ground and spin a wheel covered with spikes.  The spike penetrate through the man on the ground and his body is carried up and around again for further punishment.  They show him other instruments as well that are equally sadistic.  Meanwhile, Ivan cuddles with a rough looking woman in his sleigh.  The little nasty fellow goes too far when he calls the Tsar's girlfriend a whore.  Ivan hits him a couple of times and then has him burned at the stake, as Philip had said so. Ivan watches the man being burned alive.  He tells an aide that he wants to see Philip. 

One of the guards that helps watch Philip keeps asking him if Philip wants a drink of water.  Philip says yes and the guard puts the water just out of his reach.  Is this the guard's duty or is he just another sadist? 

Somehow Philip gets out of his fetters and drinks the water.  The guard comes in and thinks it's a miracle brought about by God.  He goes to his knees before Philip, who now tells him to go get the Father Superior and bring him to the cell.  Father Superior comes into the cell and asks Monk Philip what does he want?  Philip says that he will pass away in three days and the Brothers will carry the sin of his death.  The Brothers will perish.  "Run out of the monastery."  Father Superior says:  "Thank you."

Father Superior talks to the Brothers saying he will stay here and die.  Anyone else that stays with him will die.  He tells them to go in peace.  Some of the brothers leave. 

Ivan comes to the monastery.  He wants to speak with Philip in private. Ivan goes in the cell alone and tells Philip that he wants to repent.  He asks that Philip accept his confession.   He continues:  "Although I live, I am dead in God's eyes for my deeds."  He says the Poles are pressuring him and Novgorod is rebelling.  "The terrible justice is close."  He asks to be forgiven by the father and he wants to be blessed.  Philip tells him:  "Repent your sins.  Stop the blood."

Ivan looks at Philip very strangely and he says:  "You don't love me."  He goes on about who would rule and keep order if he stops the blood?  Philip is tired of him and says:  "Leave me, my Lord.  No blessing from me.  Let God's will come true."  Ivan gives father a kiss and leaves. 

Malyuta now comes in and asks for a miracle for his boy who has a very bad leg.  He also asks a blessing for the Tzar's campaign against Novgorod.  Philip says:  "No blessing for him.  Do what you came here for."

Malyuta comes out and grabs the jailer.  He tells him to tell others that his prisoner died because he was underfed.  Right?  The guard says:  "Right.  Right."  The guard now takes Philip's body to be placed in another place.  In the basement, a grave is dug for Philip.  He is all dressed up with his religious clothing. 

At the castle an aide reads a decree from the Tsar.  All pilgrims and orthodox peasants must come to the city square.  They will watch and cheer the executions of those who betray the Tsar.  If they don't cheer, they will be punished.  The brothers come out of the monastery in a procession.  They sing a chant.  Malyuta asks himself:  "Where is the body?"  So, he and his men on horseback start beating the Brothers with their whips.  The Brothers finally make it to the building where Philip is buried.  The jailer tells Malyuta that he, Satan, can't come inside their sanctuary.  So Mulyuta decides to burn them and the building. 

Smoke fills the room where the Brothers pray.  Flames start burning the room.  The steeple falls from the building with its iron cross. 

Malyuta and his men return to Ivan.  Bells are being rung to call the people out to stand before the Tsar.  No one comes out.  The dogs bark. 

Ivan on his throne asks:  "Where are my people?  God, please have mercy."


Good film about a priest named Philip who actually stands up to Ivan the Terrible to tell him to stop spilling so much blood and repent of his evil deeds.  Ivan doesn't kill the priest because he likes him.  He says he hasn't been so lonely since Philip returned to him.  When he does imprison Philip he soon lets him out again. Philip gives Ivan really good ethical advise, but Ivan is too far gone to accept it.  He is paranoid and has hundreds of prisoners tortured to death.  At times the film seems a bit surreal, but this is the result of portraying Ivan as a crazy man.  Even the best of men at that time could have helped Ivan.  Pyotr Mamonov (as Ivan The Terrible) and Oleg Yankovskiy (as Metropolitanate Philip) both do great jobs of acting. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.



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