Ivan's Childhood

Ivan's Childhood ★★★★½

Fresh out of film school, my man Andrei Tarkovsky hit the ground running: Ivan's Childhood is a deeply felt portrait of a young life ripped apart—psychologically, spiritually, and finally, physically—by the Second World War. It's an endlessly engaging story, but like most great films, what's so impressive about this emerges less from the what than the how. The narrative drifts back and forth between scenes of Ivan in the world, now a wasteland of rubble, filth, and the refuse of combat, and dreamy interludes of another place, somewhere between memory and an alternative present, where the war never arrived and innocence persisted. By sidelining the heroism of battle and focusing on what it leaves in its wake, the scenes of Ivan's military experiences present an unforgiving depiction of conflict. But it's in Ivan's dreamworld, the pastoral sequences that find him playing with his mother, riding on an apple cart, and running on the beach, that Ivan's Childhood articulates its most powerful condemnation. Tarkovsky never stops reminding us that these aren't visions of heaven, or an escape from trauma, or a vestige of Ivan's innocence. Darkness always intrudes: a violent death, a child's glare, a desiccated tree. Rather, he's offering us a glimpse of a childhood that never was.

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