The Decalogue (1989) Episode 2

The Decalogue 2

Spoilers occur about the ending, this review is intended for those who have already watched the film.

The head doctor can sense that the younger woman in the block of flats they both reside in is troubled and wants to speak with him. He asks her what's the matter. It turns out her husband is hospitalized with cancer, and she is tormented about his survival. There is always a glimmer of hope, the doctor hopes to brush her off with that platitude. However, that is not enough for her, and she explains she's likely pregnant with another man, and it could be her only opportunity to fulfill her lifelong ambition of having a child. It is probable she can’t have kids with her husband. She puts the doctor in a morally ambiguous dilemma where the doctor is the judge of the survival of her husband and her child.

If the doctor tells her that her husband will survive, she will immediately have the baby removed. The doctor is placed in an awkward situation, where he is in control over life and death of the unborn child. A child's life can be saved, and the husband's situation looks hopeless. There is no way out, the doctor must act as if he is God, even though he doesn't want to, because he himself lost a wife and child during the war.

Analysis and interpretation:

Conversation With Kieslowski (1991): “I realized how many areas of life a documentary can’t cover. And then I started to move from social and political issues, that a documentary can easily deal with, to stories about interactions between people. And lately, it seems to me I make films about people’s innermost thoughts and emotions. About what they do not show to anyone. (...) All the films I make are about the need to open up. About the need to communicate on another level, rather than just talking about the quality of wine, car prices, etc. You have to break through the barrier of shame, and the feeling that you mustn’t be weak. That’s what I think”

Episode 2 deals with the commandment: You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.

We witness a doctor who is in an impossible position where he must act as God, his recommendation could cost the life of an unborn child. What right does he have to decide who lives and dies? Should the doctor claim the power of God and pronounce the husband dead? The doctor, having apparently lost his entire family, knows what it is like to lose a child, so he knowingly lies to Dorota, influencing her to keep the baby regardless.

Episode 2 is, similar to Episode 1, about the unpredictability of future events. The blasphemy is in predicting the future, if a sick man will die, or a miracle will occur and he will survive. Only the future will tell us.

A feeling of a community runs through the entire series. For example the story of the second film is referenced in the eighth. The characters live in the same block of flats in Warsaw.

Dorota wants an abortion, as she loves dying husband. The doctor can't judge the patient, and conceivably believes more in intuition than rational knowledge from his training. The old doctor is calm, humble, and has a private God he listens to. Dorota on the other hand is a restless chain-smoker, she often stands at the window, staring into space, plagued by a choice she can't handle. She loves her husband, but also maybe the lover whom has impregnated her, and whom Dorota claims she has a special relationship with. Smoking when pregnant suggests she is not very considerate towards the baby’s well being, and it's up in the air, if she would be a good mother.

But does the doctor know about the illness and if it's fatal? As with other episodes in the series, Kieslowski creates an uncertainty around the characters motives. Perhaps the final scene is only going on inside her mind, which would not be a surprise, as Kieslowski cuts from a thoughtful looking Dorota, when she is sitting in the orchestra, directly to the scene at the head doctor's office.

Of course, Dorota may not want the lover’s child out of shame, and would rather start afresh from a clean slate, should the husband die.

On first glance, the doctor seems quite cold and wanting to maintain a strictly professional distance towards Dorota and her questions. As the story unfolds, it is Dorota's behavior that appears to an outsider as remarkably cold, she doesn't apologize for running over doctor’s dog, and she doesn't really care about her lover, if her husband should survive.

The timeline of the pregnancy and the cancer diagnosis suggests Dorota was leading a double life. The husband accepts the child at the end, even though they had trouble becoming pregnant before the health scare. Does the husband pretend to sleep and ignore his wife when she visits, or is it a coincidence he wakes up when she leaves his side? Has he forgiven her for her transgression? Does he know of the lover? Or does he not see any other way of moving forward than to take the child under his wing. We will never really know. Perhaps overcoming cancer is the most important battle of his life, and everything else is a bonus. In the film, the husband has taken a liking to the bee, which is fighting for its life in the glass, the survival of the insect is a good omen. Is the glass half full, or half empty? This is ambiguous.

The film is a comment on the choice between life and death, doctors maintaining their professional integrity, or if bending the rules is a positive. In my opinion Kieslowski is saying we should bend the commandment if the situation calls for it.
Maybe if the woman or doctor had been more likeable, I would have liked this episode more. The dilemma and motivations were interesting, but this episode lacks warmth. Especially the use of metaphors are noteworthy, and foreshadow Kieslowski’s Three Colors Trilogy. As SJHoneywell points out at 1001plus: “each episode has its merits, and each is worth not just watching, but pondering over.”

Next time, I'll look at Episode 3. Readers of this review, any thoughts on Episode 2?

Kieslowski on Kieslowski / Danusia Stok

I Can Count To Ten - 1001plus

Conversation With Kieslowski (1991)

Krzysztof Kieslowski: I'm So-So (1998)


  1. Thanks for the mention at the end.

    I get what you're saying about the likability of the characters, but for me, that's secondary to the story itself here. The question is such an interesting one that I never really considered how much I do or don't like the characters.

    1. @SJHoneywell: You're welcome

      The likability issue, I just don't think I would care to hang out with the characters in real life, I'm fine looking at them from a distance. Episode 1 had so much warmth, that E2 is quite jarring to me how lacking in warmth it is.

  2. I expect if more people would give Kieslowski a try, they'd be blown away by the subtleties of his films. Many, if not all, of his stories are deceptively simple, and Episode 2 is a great example of this.

    1. @Josh: Yes, The The Decalogue(and Kieslowski's work in general) is all about the little details and metaphors. I agree, more people ought to give Kieslowski a try.

  3. The dilemma in the second episode is intriguing where it does involve lives at stake. That element of suspense is what kept me engrossed in the segment where you don't know if the doctor is doing the right thing or not. I love the ambiguity of it as it plays into something that can't be explained.

    1. @thevoid99: I'm glad I'm not in that doctor's shoes, although watching this episode I almost felt like Kieslowski was forcing me to be in that situation myself! I guess a character builder for all involved, audience included.

  4. I realize that I've come very late to this party. I think that everything that's been said about it here and in all the other places I've seen are insightful and correct. However, I haven't seen in any of the analyses of the movie that I've read how, specifically, the story illustrates breaking the second commandment about taking the Lord's name in vain. For me, this happens when the woman asks the doctor "Do you swear (that her husband is going to die) and he answers, "I swear."

    1. @Anonymous: Thanks for reading! You're right, I didn’t address that particular quote in my post. For me, the episode is about a doctor ‘s professional integrity, and I guess in that specific moment you refer to, he breaks the 2nd Commandment.
      However I do think the doctor is trying to do the best thing for the sake of the child and the happiness of the mother. He knowingly lies to Dorota that her husband will die, influencing her to keep the baby. The doctor is quite old and likely has many years of experience, but even so, he acts unprofessionally. His judgment is too personal, because of his own history of losing a family.


What do you think about the post? I look forward to hearing from you. Rest assured I will reply soon.


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