Fyodor Dostoyevsky and cinema have a long and complicated history. There have been dozens of adaptations of his work over the years with filmmakers trying to capture the unique sensibility that makes the Russian author so compelling. His rich characters and complex plots have inspired all sorts of filmmakers who have tried to bring his visions to the silver screen. Here are a few of the best adaptations of Dostoyevsky on film, the best examples of how different the same text can be in the hands of different filmmakers.
1. The Double
This fascinating and complex take on Dostoyevsky’s novella analyzes identity and the true nature of self. Jesse Eisenberg portrays a man on the verge of a breakdown due to the appearance of a mysterious doppelgänger. Complicated and uncompromising, this is Dostoyevsky on film at his very best.
2. Crime and Punishment
It’s hard to choose one adaptation of Crime and Punishment, particularly when it’s been adapted more than 30 times, but my money is on the 1970s Russian miniseries. It’s long, with a running time of nearly 4 hours, and the subtitles might turn off some would-be viewers. But if you truly want a cinematic experience that captures the claustrophobia and paranoia of this classic novel, this is the one to see.
3. Notes From The New World
Dostoyevsky on the beach? Notes From The New World takes the classic book Notes From The Underground and transplants it in Los Angeles and it works remarkably well, proving Dostoyevsky on film can go places no one imagined. Although I’m unsure if even the great writer himself could think up the true events that took place in attempting to bring Notes to the screen. Dostoevsky Reimagined: The Making of Notes from the New World shows what happens behind the scenes in film can be at least as wild as what the audiences sees, if not more.
4. The Brothers Karamazov
OK, I have a confession to make: this isn’t exactly a great example of Dostoyevsky on film, in fact, it’s a pretty uneven interpretation. Moments of true genius are wiped out by overblown melodrama. So why is it on this list? This film is a fascinating example of just how hard it can be to bring Dostoyevsky’s work to the silver screen; despite having everything going for it on paper, this movie is only fitfully successful. But it’s intriguing to see how Hollywood tried to take on the work of the Russian master (and yes, that is William Shatner in his cinematic debut).
5. The Idiot
Leave it to Akira Kurasawa to make one of the most densely layered and wonderfully complex adaptations of Dostoyevsky on film. Even though it was made over half a century ago, it still stands as the best version of this classic novel. Taking the action and moving it to post-war Japan only heightens the sense of isolation felt by the naive main character, and proves the timeless themes of Dostoyevsky’s work. It’s a beautiful love letter to the Russian writer, courtesy of the Japanese auteur. Sadly, his original vision will never be seen: originally the film ran over 4 1/2 hours and was deemed too long by the studio. All the prints were subsequently lost, leaving us to wonder what might have been.
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