The Decalogue (1989) Episode 5

The Decalogue 5

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

Takes place during a day in Warszawa. Piotr, a lawyer fresh out of school has just finished his studies and is just starting out his career. A taxi driver washes his car. A young man named Jacek from the provinces is aimlessly drifting around the streets. Under strange circumstances, all three of them will get to know each other. The young man is restless and sullen, and it seems like he easily gets in a bad mood. At one point he takes a taxi, requests to be driven to a remote area, and murders the driver for no apparent reason. It seems Jacek is almost asking to be caught, because he leaves his finger prints all over the crime scene.
Piotr takes on the job as Jacek's attorney and becomes aware that the young lad never recovered from his sister's death, and that Jacek feels partly responsible for her passing. He is not yet 20-years-old, but the judge shows no mercy and sentences Jacek to the death penalty. A pardon is refused, the young man is to be hanged. The lawyer believes a new crime is being added to the first crime by killing Jacek. Piotr is convinced that crimes are not prevented by using the death penalty.

Analysis and interpretation:
Favorite quote: “Since the days of Cain, no punishment has proved to be an adequate deterrent”

The main theme is the death penalty, and whether it should be used. Initially I thought the lawyer was the older version of the younger man, turns out I was wrong about that. The scenes of the lawyer are intercut with Jacek’s journey, so there is a feeling of a consequence to everything Jacek does.

Jacek is alone in the city and seems alienated from his surroundings, the sad classical music adds to this feeling. He appears to have not had enough love during his childhood, he loved his little sister, and Jacek was her favorite too. Perhaps the parents were uncaring. We notice that Jacek's mother did not have a kind word to say to him before the hanging. She indirectly acknowledges that he should be hanged, and hanging is the price he must pay.

As blogger Deciphering The Decalogue writes: Jacek is a person who has been emotionally stunted possibly from abandonment, and was likely not taught during his upbringing how to control the evil inside him.
This however does not excuse what he has done, but merely is a factor in his behavior. We can empathize with his isolation and possible lack of parental guidance.

Piotr, the defense lawyer, in a way steps in and becomes a father figure for Jacek in the absence of his parents. Jacek senses the warmth Piotr is offering, and wholeheartedly accepts it with open arms. Perhaps it’s the first time the boy has ever felt a father's love.

The commandment, you shall not murder, was originally an attempt to reduce acts of revenge. But what is the death penalty, is it just a modern day revenge action?

Kieslowski: "The film was an accusation against violence. To cause somebody’s death is the highest form of violence, you can imagine; the death penalty is to cause someone’s death. In that way there is a link between violence and the death penalty, and the film is against the death sentence as a kind of violence."

The director makes us feel empathy for the killer, so we are on Piotr's side, and against the executioners. We wonder, as Piotr does, is there not an alternative for Jacek, can he be cured over time? Or is Piotr simply too forgiving and soft?

As SJHoneywell notes in his review, why does the state have rights to murder, that the individual does not?

andrewsidea interprets the final moments of the episode: “a long shot across a beautiful field at the end of which we see an odd light. The beauty we see here juxtaposes both with the scene before it and the frame that follows it when the camera pans left to capture Piotr, sobbing and screaming from his car, “I abhor it!” So far the episodes in The Decalogue have always contained at least an element of hope, which seems to be what the light in the field implies. Earlier, Jacek describes the death of his younger sister as having taken place in a field, perhaps now symbolic of Jacek’s earlier and better life. The steadfast light shining on the opposite side of the field is a distant beauty, but beauty nonetheless. It contrasts with the darkness of the rest of the film and is invisible to the characters but visible to the viewers. Though Kieslowski allows those within the film to despair, he suggests to the audience that despair isn’t the only option.”

Kieslowski: "Actually there is not much to say about the story, because we don’t know why he kills the taxi driver."

Kieslowski: "We are in Warszawa. The city and the surrounding are represented in a particular way. The cameraman on this film, Slawek Idziak, utilized specific filters. Green filters, so the films colour is more green than otherwise. Green is presumed to be the colour of spring, the colour of hope, but if you put green filters on the camera, the world seems more brutal, bleak, and empty. Everything was recorded with filters, it was the camera man’s idea."

A powerful and violent episode, that stays with you. The performances are also very good. We feel we are in Jacek’s shoes, like when we followed Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver (1976), or The Jackal in The Day of the Jackal (1973).
The atmosphere and look of episode 5 creates a distorted reality that reflects Jacek’s bleak and empty life. The filters on the camera foreshadow Kieslowski’s The Double Life of Veronique (1991).
The script presents the good and the bad sides of two of the main characters, whom are not simply evil, or only good. There are no easy explanations to what makes these characters do what they do, and we must draw our own conclusions. Unlike artificial and exaggerated violence in big action movies, The Decalogue Episode 5 is very realistic and uncomfortable in its depiction of a crime, and maybe this is why it is more frightening, because it could happen in our neighborhood. Episode 5 was also released in a longer version in cinemas.

Next time, I'll look at Episode 6. Readers of this review, any thoughts on Episode 5?

Kieslowski on Kieslowski / Danusia Stok

I can count to ten / SJHoneywell


Deciphering The Decalogue - Episode 5- Thou Shalt Not Kill


  1. This is where Kieslowski really hits his stride in this series for me. Five and six are both so good and so powerful.

    What I love about this more than anything is that the question gets asked but not really answered. We're left to contemplate and argue instead of being told what we should think.

    1. @SJHoneywell: Even though Kieslowski has taken a standpoint against violence(see above quote), Episode 5 still leaves the question of the death sentence open to debate. Also the matter of why do people kill is open-ended.

  2. Another excellent, thorough write-up here. This is definitely one of my favorite segments of the series. You're so right, this one just stays with you.

    1. @Alex Withrow: Thanks, for atmosphere, Episode 5 was incredible for TV. No surprise they decided to show it in longer version on big screen.

  3. Another insightful piece, Chris. I actually forgot that the Short Films were even in The Decalogue. It's no wonder Kubrick praised it so highly.

    1. @Josh: Thanks for reading! Kubrick set the bar, so for him to praise The Decalogue is significant.

  4. Nice write up Chris. I saw the full length version of this. My understanding is that we get to see a little bit more backstory with the lawyer and the taxi driver (who is a bit of an asshole). Also at the end Piotr doesn't say anything in the field. We just see him crying. I believe that quote that you liked was from Karl Marx. It was a clever little poke at the communist state at the time.

    1. @Mark: Thanks for reading! Agree about the taxi driver. Could indeed be a poke at the communist state, but I think also a universal critique of the death sentence.

      Yes, more back story in the longer version. Also when Jacek drives to see his girlfriend and tries to convince her to take off into the mountains with him, I don't remember that part in the tv-version.(been a while since viewing of cinema version so don't hold me to it)

  5. This and episode VI are my favorites overall as it's tough to choose between the two. I was surprised by the framing of this one as well as the dilemma that occurs about murder. Yeah, what this guy did was horrible but the fact that he had no chance to really serve his punishment is just horrible. I felt for this lawyer who wanted to give this guy a chance to live but has to deal with the cruelties of the world.

    1. @thevoid99: e5 and e6 are visually remarkable, and the point-of-view is so well done. It's almost like we are living inside the mind of these characters. We get to feel their pain and emotions. Which makes the climax of episode 5 even more heartbreaking to watch.


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