The Decalogue (1989) Episode 4

The Decalogue 4

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

Anka is 20-years-old and attends drama school. She lost her mother when she was not very old, and has grown up with her father, Michal. She still lives with her father, and the two of them care about each other very much. Her father goes on a trip, and Anka finds a letter, that mustn't be opened until after the father's death. She can't resist the temptation, and opens the envelope. When her father returns, she tells him, that he is not her biological father. She wants to know the truth. The feelings she has towards her father perhaps are more than just a daughter's love. She recalls how she cried on purpose when she was younger in order for him to touch her back, which he did when she was feeling sad. But Anka also thought about her father when she was sleeping with men her own age. Michal admits his jealously was more than fatherly compassion. And what will they gain from revealing such truths? Perhaps they are father and daughter, perhaps not. We can’t be sure. She didn't open her mother's letter, which in the final scenes is burnt.

Analysis and interpretation:
Dekalog 4 is connected to the fourth imperative of the Ten Commandments: "Honor your father and your mother."

The theme is controversial and uncomfortable viewing, and the daughter’s feelings are maybe not as pure as you would expect. Explains the difference between the love for your father and the love for your boyfriend. Anka wondering if he is not her father can start a whole process of rethinking her whole life, her past. Neither the audience nor the two main characters know the truth, and this adds to the ambivalence and tension.

A father's secret love for his daughter could be caused by her resembling his wife at the same age, when he fell in love with his wife. We are told Anka looks like her mother.

Who are you afraid of, yourself, or is it me? Anka asks. His dilemma is troublesome, and reflects the lack of an adult female relationship in his life.

Presumably, the fantasy letter Anka writes to herself contains her thoughts on her mother's letter, and reveals her attachment to her father, as with Michal, adult female presence and guidance is missing in Anka's everyday life. She wants Michal to not be her father, so he is free to be her lover.

Taking what she's learned in acting class and what she has grown to suspect in her life with her father, Anka seems to weave a tale of romantic intrigue to see how her father really feels about her. Does she have feelings for him, or is it all an act? The ambiguous father-daughter relationship is close to being incestuous, you could call it an "Electra complex", a feeling of deep attraction, a child’s psychosexual competition with her mother for possession of her father. Maybe I’m giving Anka too much credit, if she is pretending, she is a lot smarter than her dad. Perhaps it’s a little of both, pretending in order to learn the truth, with an element of truth to her unhealthy affection for Michal.

Burning the mother's letter in the final moments suggests neither the daughter or father wish to know the truth, and prefer to remain in a platonic father and daughter relationship, where he is still the father of Anka. I think they need boundaries, and destroying the letter once and for all does leave uncertainty, but also frees them, and allows Anka and Michal to invent their own future.

The question of Anka's sight has clearly been added for a reason, she goes to the eye doctor and is given glasses to wear, this is probably a metaphor to show the distorted view Anka has of her role as a daughter. She is the explorer in Episode 4, and glasses are a symbol of looking and observing. As blogger andrewsidea writes: "The camera itself moves in and out of focus, oftentimes focusing the foreground while blurring the background and vice versa, suggesting that accurate vision and flawed vision coexist in the same frame of view."

I found it quite interesting Kieslowski would use the same actor that played the dad Michal (Janusz Gajos), to later star in White (1994) as the character Mikolaj. Both men’s names begin with M, are somewhat lost in life, and are hiding secrets from the world, that they reveal to another character during each story. Reminded me of Kieslowski’s The Double Life of Veronique (1991). In the case of Michal and Mikolaj, two identical looking men. It may simply be a casting coincidence, but you never know with Kieslowski.

Emotional tension between the father and daughter is able to constantly build, and possibily the most disturbing of all the ten installments. Comparable to episode 3, in that the fourth also has a twist ending. Maybe this episode was deliberately confusing, especially in terms of letters read or unread.
The Decalogue never gives an answer pretending it's the only and right answer. Having said that, in my opinion the writers are definitely saying incest is wrong.
The dilemma with the fourth Commandment is that you are told to love your father no matter what, but if your father is in love with you in a non-fatherly way, and the daughter maybe feels likewise, it makes matters very tricky to honour the Commandment, because you don't want to destroy the relationship to your family, do you? Sometimes the truth is better left unsaid, because it is too painful to reveal. But should you hide all your feelings? No.
I think Kieslowski is pointing out a flaw with the fourth Commandment. Also, that we should use our common sense and not take each Commandment so literally. Another message could be that learning the truth about everything is not necessarily a good thing.
In real life, if we constantly walked around and spoke our mind about everything like Ricky Gervais movie The Invention of Lying (2009), life would be torture. There is a price to pay, when your feelings are an open book. Once spoken, words cannot be taken back. Anka and Michal's relationship will never be quite the say again.

Next time, I'll look at Episode 5. Readers of this review, any thoughts on Episode 4?

Kieslowski on Kieslowski / Danusia Stok


  1. This is where The Decalogue really starts to hit its stride for me. The run of 4-6 is the strongest sequence, with the next two being more and more compelling than the previous.

    This one was an uncomfortable watch for me, but still mesmerizing and great.

    1. @SJHoneywell: 5 and 6 were actually made into feature length films, probably because those episodes are so strong. I don't know which are best, the extended edits, or one hour versions...

      Yep, Episode 4 is uncomfortable viewing, all the same it does provide food for thought.

  2. Wow. If your connection of Michal and Mikolaj with The Double Life of Veronique was intended by Kieslowski, then that's scary good.

    Great write-up, Chris. This makes me think what fun it would be to take a course on Kieslowski's films. It would be challenging, but very interesting.

    1. @Josh: ha ha, a long shot it was intended, more likely a coincidence I think.

      Thanks. The Decalogue is fun to analyze. I didn't see any other bloggers devoting an entire review to individual episodes, so I guess it was about time.
      If you can't find a course, then there's always my little blog here :) Or interview book Kieslowski on Kieslowski, which is an interesting read.

    2. Haha. I might have to check that book out then.

    3. @Josh: Kieslowski on Kieslowski is worth owning.

      I'll have to take back what I said about no other blogs reviewing episodes of The Decalogue, because I found these sites today, I haven't read them yet:

      Deciphering The Decalogue:

  3. I consider this series a blind spot for me, because although I've actually seen them all before, it was on TV a long time ago, way before I started seriously thinking about film. I'll catch up with it, and your posts, when I finally get around to doing a feature on Polish cinema.

    1. @Bonjour Tristesse: I feel the same way about certain films, I consider them a blind spot, if my attention or mood wasn't right, or, like you, it was so long ago, that a rewatch is in order to determine my current feelings towards the film.
      The Decalogue in my opinion requires a second look to review it(this is my 2nd viewing in 2 years). As with the Three Colors trilogy, there are subtle things going on, that you can miss on first viewing.

  4. The mystery of that letter I think is what kept me engaged throughout the episode. It also makes me wonder if the contents of that letter is true or is it something else. I'm glad the ending was so ambiguous because maybe it's best if we don't know.

    1. @thevoid99: I too am glad the content of the letter was not revealed, to preserve the mystery, and maintain the suspense.

      Perhaps the truth she has read in the letter is too painful to talk about for her. Perhaps there is no truth in the letter, and the mother doesn't know who the father is? It's a complex relationship between Michal and Anka, that's for sure. By burning the letter, it allows Anka and Michal to invent their own future. For better or worse.


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


Related Posts with Thumbnails