Russia has successfully beaten off invaders from the West time and again, and the epic struggles to preserve the nation’s identity against outside enemies have given rise to many excellent films. One of the greatest, Come andSee (1985), is a visionary depiction of the struggle against Nazism during World War II; another, AlexanderNevsky (1938), influenced Star Wars in its portrayal of Russia’s battle against sinisterly garbed Roman Catholic crusaders in medieval times.
The 2007 film 1612 (out now on DVD) isn’t among the greatest of such films, but is an interesting look into Russia’s sense of itself. The title refers to the year Russia obliterated another Western invasion, this one spurred by Polish political designs and yet another try by Catholics to forcibly convert Russia’s Eastern Orthodox population. After the Western armies were driven out, Mikhail Romanov was elected Tsar. His descendents ruled the Russian Empire until their overthrow in 1917.
The film’s blood-splattered dramatization focuses on the Russian serf Andrei and his Muslim companion, who stir the country’s lords and commoners to fight back after years of turmoil and treason. Gripping battle scenes are juxtaposed with Narnia-like fantasy—a unicorn keeps popping up in key scenes. A lighter touch would have done wonders, yet the story contains messages worth considering in today’s world. Sometimes faith can defeat cynicism and opportunism; often patience is the strongest weapon. As one Russian says of his Catholic foes: “The one who can wait will always win.”