May 7, 2015
Movie of the Week: Night Watch/Day Watch
Directed by Timur Bekmambetov, these two 2004 and 2006 really need to be watched back to back, because by themselves neither has a complete story line. Here’s a quick music video preview:
The movies are available through Netflix (including the streaming service), and you can procure a DVD, as both were in general release in the US.
Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find the complete movie on Youtube. You can find the complete versions on other video hosting services, though without subtitles:
Available for download with subtitles (I haven’t tried them, so use at your own risk!):
Update: online viewing with subtitles:
OK, now for the spoilers: There are two sets of protagonists, the Night Watch who are the “good guys” and whose job is to keep tabs on the vampires, and the Day Watch, who are the “bad guys” and whose job is to keep tabs on the forces of light.
However, the “good” and “bad” really should be taken with a grain of salt because, this being post-Soviet Russia, a country with a very recent experience of two very different political regimes (keep in mind when these movies were made–2004 and 2006), it would be too simplistic to regard the Night Watch as an embodiment of Good, and the Day Watch as an embodiment of Evil. It’s not entirely like that, and the movie kinda makes it clear very early on.
Instead, it’s more of a clash between the forces of Order (Night Watch) and the forces of Chaos (Day Watch), to borrow a phrase from role-playing game glossary, as neither side represents an absolute good or evil in this movie. That’s pretty much the Russian experience as of early 21st century–an excess of Order is as bad a thing as an excess of Chaos, and if one side ever takes the upper hand over the other, mayhem shall ensue. Which, of course, does ensue, otherwise how would you fill two movies with action and suspense?
The major clue here is who these people are during their “day jobs” (no pun intended). The Moscow chapter of the Night Watch is the Gorsvet, or the city’s light and power utility, which is what I think a rather transparent reference to Lenin’s famous slogan: “Communism is Soviet power plus the electrification of the whole country.” As if to underscore this point, the thoroughly impressive (and apparently immortal) director of Gorsvet goes by the rather German-sounding name of Geser which brings to mind the old “any German in a Russian movie set in modern times who is not a Nazi is a stand-in for Marxism” (remember “Hoffman the German” in Brother?) movie convention. The Night Watch, on the other hand, are essentially free marketeers, more or less shady businessmen, Goths, people who are in general employed by the private sector, with the head of the Day Watch, an also very impressive and apparently immortal character who goes by the name of Zavulon (a reference to Old Testament character of Zebulon???), running a Moscow hotel-casino. Therefore the movie’s action is an allegory of the current and perennial clash between the two major political philosophies of governance, namely between the adherents of the idea of the strong State, and the liberalizers. That neither side can or, frankly, should, prevail in that clash is suggested already by the initial battle scene, which brings to mind the Soviet era and the 1930s specifically, when the State tried really hard to stamp out private enterprise and replace it all with the order of Five-Year Plans–at great human cost. Note that even as the two sides are clashing in a day-long battle on a bridge over an abyss, it is Geser’s face that becomes covered with blood, not Zavulon’s. That’s the first of the two cataclysms to occur in the two-movie story arc. The second one, which takes place toward the end of the second movie, I believe is meant to represent the collapse of USSR (the fall of Ostankino TV tower is too epic a spectacle to represent anything else), especially since the solution to the problem can be found only through traveling back in time. Plus, the desolation left behind by the second cataclysm looks a lot like the bleak post-Soviet landscape of Brother.
But it’s the analysis of the causes of that second cataclysm that is remarkable for its sophisticated understanding of social psychology and human socialization because, the movie argues, the collapse of USSR and the Chaos of the 1990s which was the result of the temporary victory of the Day Watch, might have been averted had the agents of Order been…better parents.
Because, indeed, many of the anti-Soviet oppositionists in the 1980s and even today did not come from impoverished or even modest circumstances (unlike, for example, Vladimir Putin, who does not come from an elite, privileged Soviet background). However, kids who grow up into privilege, in other words, who grow up with distant, emotionally disengaged, career-obsessed parents, are running the risk of developing an attachment disorder.
Consider the symptoms, as outlined in the link above:
An aversion to touch and physical affection.
Children with reactive attachment disorder often flinch, laugh, or even
say “Ouch” when touched. Rather than producing positive feelings, touch
and affection are perceived as a threat.
Control issues. Most
children with reactive attachment disorder go to great lengths to remain
in control and avoid feeling helpless. They are often disobedient,
defiant, and argumentative.
Anger problems. Anger
may be expressed directly, in tantrums or acting out, or through
manipulative, passive-aggressive behavior. Children with reactive
attachment disorder may hide their anger in socially acceptable actions,
like giving a high five that hurts or hugging someone too hard.
Difficulty showing genuine care and affection.
For example, children with reactive attachment disorder may act
inappropriately affectionate with strangers while displaying little or
no affection towards their parents.
An underdeveloped conscience.
Children with reactive attachment disorder may act like they don’t have
a conscience and fail to show guilt, regret, or remorse after behaving
There are many major historical figures who are believed to have suffered from an attachment disorder, on the basis of their childhood experiences and adult behaviors, including Kaiser Wilhelm II, Tsar Nicholas II, and Adolf Hitler, as well as quite a few recent and contemporary Western leaders–for example, Barack Obama (just read up on the guy’s youth and you’ll see what I mean) and George W. Bush (ditto). And, if you consider the amazingly hurtful and destructive policies embraced by Russia’s “liberals”, both in the 1980s and today (which includes their utterly astonishing support for the Kiev regime), policies embraced without a hint of concern about the human costs associated with them, one has to wonder about the consciences of the policies’ proponents. At the same time, the movie suggests they are a literally a “necessary evil”, provided they are kept away from levers of state power and in the private sector, where they belong, under close supervision.
Therefore the moral of the story is: spend time with your kids. Don’t let them grow up to be conscience-free monsters. And, whatever happens, don’t allow a political family or two to dominate the political process for generations… Because the fate of the world depends on it.