Well-organized evil and expiring, tormented rest of the soviet times good, intellectual side of the society, is the red thread that passes through Michail Bulgakov’s masterpiece Master and Margaret. My first encounter with the prominent Russian writer was helas! “The Morphist”, one of his short stories, where one can readily recognize the author himself in the young graduate of the medical faculty appointed for his internship into a “glushi” a remote from civilization village, where he tastes “real” life and slips into the morphic oblivion.
The screened version of the Master that appeared in 2005 by the producer Vladimir Bortko I only watched now, the 10 series in two takes. My interest was nonetheless not sporty one or fed by mere curiosity aroused by the mysticism and mystery that enveiled the film. There ran the rumours through the mass media that weird, odd things were all the time accompanying, happening both during the filming process of the film, but also soon thereafter. Three of the protagonists, I mean actors that had played leading roles have prematurely, promptly died Vlad Galkin 39, Alexandr Abdulov 55, and Kiril Lavrov 80; some other actors have suffered loss from among their close relatives. Therefore, the full of mysticism plot was in a way trespassing from the realm of fiction and stepping into reality, filling it with mesmerizing awe.
The Biblical subject is the background story the tartan on which the other subjects run, are embedded and are closely intertwined. The despiritualized people that is forced to reject “the opium”- a reference by the soviet authorities to the religious beliefs and faith, is however very open and very ready to believe in and fall under the dire influence of black magic, or all sorts of manipulations and hypnosis, mind and optical illusions, without requiring many grounds, foundations, basis, proofs, arguments. The Biblical episode emerges from the mist of two thousand years ago, because of the story of the Pilate, the Roman prosecutor in charge on the Biblical lands. He appears still torn apart by the burden of his duty that imposes rigour and rigidity, ruthlessness, on one hand, and his human doubts, incredulity, being dazzled by the obvious power he was confronted with in the person of Jesus. So that he remains our villain forever, the one who returned the verdict and condemned to death our Saviour, together, at the same level almost with Juda the traitor for 30 silver coins. Only that, Juda according to the bible commits suicide (a compromise variant – imposing a punishment for himself), but according to this version he is tempted by a woman in an ambush and killed with a knife by some men (a definitely dishonorable end), his scoop being left on him as an opprobrium for the eternity. So that the guilt of the two – the Roman prosecutor and the inside traitor are leveled, equalized.
Several themes are embedded into the plot, one of them being the glimpse into the soviet intellectuals’ circles, particularly the union of the writers. They are depicted as ready to compromise with their conscience in their works, not very talented, some writing for the state and party’s command, dogmatic and limited, biased and weak, vicious, jealous, corrupted – their party is not much different from Satan’s Spring Full Moon Ball in the 7th film of the series, where from the between the worlds incinerator flowed out all the denizens of the deep hell – criminals and prostitutes, the only difference – the latter were poltergeists.
The Master, the unknown author was very talented according to his lover Margaret. He had the inadvertetness to touch upon a forbidden subject the biblical mythology – his novel was about Pilate. His creation pains have been all along assuaged by his lover and muse who was supporting him tremendously, believed in his talent and ulterior success of the novel that would bring him fame and money. Unfortunately after completing his work the master collided into the wall of bureaucracy, got tangled into the red tape trap – devastating critical reviews that were coming from the union of writers’ members. Finally he got into an asylum for mental illnesses, we do not know exactly how, because the example of another young poet with an evocative name Bezdomnyi (Homeless) suggests us that all the inconvenient intellectuals could readily be forced into asylum as mad, in case they created some problems or refused to obey the official line of the party. Margaret entered into a pact with the dark forces, Woland the devil who paradoxically enough believed unquestionably in Christ, had in person witnessed the Biblical events and happened to be in the city Moscow on the occasion of the annual Ball. He had had numerous occasions to show in superabundance his evil powers and influence. Margaret is plugged into the story because she is selected by the Dark lot as a candidate for being the host, the queen of the Ball (they needed a female with royal descent and by name Margaret, an allusion to the Queen Margot who in France in the 15th century had carried the embalmed head of her lover on the lap, after being executed by her fault).
BulgaKov’s Margaret accepted to become a witch and rule the ball so as to obtain something in return. All her witchery wickedness consists in the grudge and revenge on the offenders of the Master. After the horrendous Ball was over, she asks from Woland to give her back her lover, to return his mind back to him and let them live in the former basement lodging of theirs. The devil certainly cannot fulfill her bright wish unless acting according to his dark nature first – killing them both. He returned them also his manuscript that the Master had burned with the remark that manuscripts cannot be destroyed, they do not get wasted by flames. The revived hopes however were poisoned literally; the final episode displaying two separate pairs walking on the moonrays: Jesus deliberating with Pilate and the Master with his Margaret accomplishing their destiny.
My opinion is that even nowadays it still takes courage to touch upon these deeply controversial, formerly totally prohibited subjects. I would less think of the controversial novel by Bulgacov as anti-ideological and propagandistic, but more in the spirit of Edgar Alan Poe’s horror and mysticism a neo-gothic trend, filled with rich classical subject lines.
The film deserves all the tributes and humble reverence.