Dostoyevsky & Sumin’s Abnormal Preference

In looking into Vitaly Sumin’s projects, including his latest, soon to be released credit, Dostoyevsky Reimagined: The Making of Notes from the New World, I thought it’d be best to read the main literature of which inspired the award winning Notes from the New World (2011), Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novella, Notes from the Underground (1864).

For me, the book highlights the bounties to be had from immersing oneself in mental hardship (the underground) and directs the readers attention to the bland, unquestioning type of human that litters our planet: “the normal man.” Dostoyevsky explains why the normal man is the predominant type of human around, saying that humans always prefer the journey to the destination. Indeed, the prospect of acquiring some superficial product (e.g. a car, piece of clothing, or a house) often strikes the mind more positively than does the actual acquisition of it. For one doesn’t become self-actualized once having acquired it, but simply undergoes a mental readjustment, replacing the newly acquired with a new product to be sought after.

One shouldn’t read this and deem their own aspirations of acquisition redundant believing that their beliefs are simply a part of some endless spiral of discontent. For, of course, after having worked hard for a new, environmentally friendly, sustainable, and practical car, one should allow pride to penetrate ones mind. As naturally deserving of this sensation s/he is however, what Dostoyevsky seems to highlight as unfortunate is the unconstructive state humans find themselves in, consciously or not. Humans tend to dwell on a journey over a destination, sure, but a tedious, wasteful one at that. Just recall the amount of conversations you’ve had with a family member or friend of the same nature: “Bleddy politicians, they’re all liars,” your political novice of a stepfather may exclaim, but what purpose does his exclamation bear besides his own expression of disapproval and fear? Little, I say, and so would Dostoyevsky, Vitaly Sumin, and any person steering closer to the camp opposing the normal mans, I believe.

In Vitaly Sumin’s Notes from the New World, Steven the protagonist immerses himself in Dostoyevsky’s work, thereby method acting himself into the 19th century author’s mindset, to ensure he acts accordingly in the improvised play he will shortly perform in. In doing so, however, Steven finds himself scaring his co-stars in rehearsals, one of whom being Irina who is playing a prostitute.  However, as she observes, it’s not that Steven is too much emulating the “antithesis of the normal man” but rather that he’s failing to do so.

If it comes from the heart, then you’ll truly do Dostoyevsky’s conceptions justice in you’re portrayal, Irina says to Steven. This makes one ponder over whether a fiend, of the best acting ability, would measure up to a saint in their everyday existence, where somewhere there may lie the most observable being capable of distinguishing between the two.

Steven's pain & tenacity

Steven’s pain & tenacity

Anyway, once Steven becomes more adept at emulating the philosophical Dostoyevsky, during rehearsals with two co-stars, his frightening of them is no longer due to his performing inaccuracies, but rather the genuine prowess he adopts in his improvised, rehearsing portrayal. They end up running anyway; these men are of the normal kind.

Now, with respect to the upcoming Dostoyevsky Reimagined: The Making of Notes from the New World, a film that depicts the difficulties the crew, including Vitaly Sumin (writer, director & producer), faced in production, one may question whether the difficulties were themselves implanted by external agents for the purpose of stopping the populace from having their philosophical-lacking persons revealed to them.

Deem such a notion conspiracist! But do not deem it normal.


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Henry Palmer

Hello! I'm a Film and Philosophy undergraduate studying at The University of Kent, Canterbury, in the UK. I produce my own films through my non-profit film making company, Henry Palmer Films. I have worked with Channel Four, the BFI, and independent film companies, as an actor, a production assistant, a producer and others too.

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