The Sacrifice” is Andrei Tarkovsky’s final masterpiece. It is his last feature film of the total of 7 that he made. Tarkovsky’s film’s had always been known for his spiritual mysticism and “The Sacrifice” is no exception. “The Sacrifice (Offret)” was made in Sweden in 1986. The film dwells into the possibility of an end of the world scenario and also talks about spirituality and atheism. Ironically, Andrei shot this film as he was dying of cancer, which he only found out after the completion of his film. He died shortly after the film was released.


Andrei Tarkovsky Diary published in 1989

Andrei Tarkovsky, a Christian artist (“Martyrolog“,Tarkovsky Diaries 1989)  was intrigued by the spectrum of atheism. This was probably one of the reasons why he made this film. Though “The Sacrifice” is not the most well known of his films, it has won the grand prix in 1986 Cannes film festival and  BAFTA Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1987 and still stands as one of the best films of the 1980’s.


Tracking shot. The fire. Andrei Tarkovsky, Layla Alexander Garrett, Daniel Bergman, Kent Högberg, Sven Nykvist,… Photo: Lars-Olof Löthwall.

This film showcased the respect that he had for the Swedish film director Ingmar Bergman, thus the film situated on the island of Gotland, close to Faro where most of Bergman’s films were shot. The production’s cast and crew hired for the film had worked with Bergman. These people include Bergman’s favorite cinematographer Sven Nykvist, actor Erland Josephson and one of Bergman’s sons, Daniel.


The movie showcased Tarkovsky’s theory of cinema called “Sculpting in time”. He felt unedited movie footages transcribes time in film. Therefore, he sticked to a lot of long takes and few cuts in his film to give viewers a sense of time passing, time lost and the relationship of one moment in time to another.

Tarkovsky had always been known for his visual brilliance. Akira Kurosawa said, “I love all of Tarkovsky’s films. I love his personality and all his works. Every cut from his films is a marvelous image in itself.” The most memorable shot of the film would probably be the 10 minute shot of the house burning.

This was all done in 1 long shot. (FYI) This is actually the second shot that they did as the first shot failed due to the camera jamming. The production crew rebuilt the house in 2 weeks!

Ingmar Bergman was quoted as saying , “Suddenly I have the solution: a tracking shot. A tracking shot round the actors, past the extras, tracking. Tarkovsky is always tracking round in every scene, the camera flying in all directions. I actually think it an objectionable technique, but it solved my problem, time passes…”  (Laterna Magica, page 173)  Having long tracking shots was how Tarkovsky showed “sculpting in time”. Below is an example.

The set direction and actors are carefully and meticulously planned out by Tarkovsky in the scene below. He settles for nothing but perfect-characteristics of an auteur.  Its amazing to see the camera movement is still as smooth as tofu.

During this scene, Tarkovsky uses color brilliantly to show the change from realism to dreams/ hallucination. Also, he uses it to emphasize certain moments.  He does not use colour in a conventional way and even dismissed colour film as a “commercial gimmick” as he felt that contemporary films do not use colour meaningfully.  To him, films in color are too beautiful to be a realistic depiction of life as everyone does not consciously notice colors all the time.

Real world


On the scene below, notice the spectacular use of colours to portray the mood and to enhance the atmosphere of the scene.

Tarkovsky often includes levitation scenes in his films as they possess great power and add photogenic value and magic inexplicability.

Metaphysical theme expressed through dreams.

I am beginning to see why Tarkovsky saw film as an art form. He probably saw a film, like a painting, existing at a level beyond dialogue. Many of his films contain imagery that is inherently ambiguous. It is this that makes his films so fascinating and perhaps why he called film an art.

 Look at the famous last scene below that is used as the poster. Tons of questions arise from this scene. What does the tree represent?-perhaps a biblical representation. Perhaps hope? Why does the boy(the protagonist son) have a bandage on his throat? What does the empty bucket signify? Perhaps it means that the materiality will never spur the growth of spirituality (the barren tree)? An explanation for the first scene where the protagonist talks about the world becoming more materialistic.

Take the scene on top for example. Why does the boy get injured? Could it be to foretell the coming of the disaster ahead of them?-End of the world. Or perhaps to show that he is getting weaker and unable to protect his son.  The endless interpretations that come from this one scene is strangely haunting.

It does feel like an enigmatic line from a poem doesn’t it? Kurosawa said in an interview, “He [Tarkovsky] is a poet, I am not.” To me, Tarkovsky isn’t just a film maker. He is a poet of imagery.

All in all,”The Sacrifice” has left me self-reflecting on the idea of religion and atheism. Ingmar Bergman once said, “Tarkovsky for me is the greatest [director], the one who invented a new language, true to the nature of film, as it captures life as a reflection, life as a dream.” I can’t help but agree with this statement. Tarkovsky created a metaphoric language, translating his thoughts into something palpable but still mysterious and suggestive. I am still wondering what exactly Tarkovsky is trying to tell his audience. As it is up to us to interpret and relate the film back to our lives.


Bielawski, T. 2001. Nostalghia.com – An Andrei Tarkovsky Information Site. [online] Available at: http://people.ucalgary.ca/~tstronds/nostalghia.com/index.html [Accessed: 23 Jun 2013].

Cinelogue. 2011. Reviews : The Sacrifice : Cinelogue. [online] Available at: http://www.cinelogue.com/reviews/the-sacrifice [Accessed: 23 Jun 2013].

En.wikipedia.org. n.d.. Andrei Tarkovsky – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. [online] Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrei_Tarkovsky [Accessed: 23 Jun 2013].

Fandor. 1986. The Sacrifice. [online] Available at: http://www.fandor.com/films/the_sacrifice [Accessed: 19 Jun 2013].

Byline: Wayne is an aspiring actor and film maker that goes miles just to see people smile. He thinks he has a sense of humor and is single and ready to mingle. He also thinks the deadline for Ca should be postponed to a later date.



I think you could have touched more on the significance of the film and probably what it represents. 

With reference to you referring to Andrei as a perfectionist, he even insisted in filming this movie with just one master shot from a single camera. 

This film can be interpreted in two ways, in one where Alexander is an atheist and only recovers his believe in God in dire situations whereas the other interpretation is where Alexander is actually mad and all that warnings he have seen is only seen by himself.  Whatever it is, I still find this movie quite intriguing. 

The most powerful scene, in my opinion is where Alexander is being chased by the paramedics across marshy lands with smoke tearing away in the wind and as Alexander falls into the mud, this brings all the four elements (water, grass, fire and earth) together perfectly in one extended tracking shot. 

Andrei has been a clear influence on many and and his cosmic poetry remains inimitable. While the film stares into the maw of mortality and apocalypse and has a magnificent way of adding it all up, it is far from definitive and not just a simple allegory of Christian atonement and self-sacrifice despite what its title suggest. 

This film is not for everyone and it depends heavily on the ability to empathize with Alexander in the movie and Anderi refuses to reach out to the audience with narrative tricks just to involve them Some movies, just like this, work their magic in the minds of the audience leaving us free to participate only if we want to. 

That is the meaning of a sacrifice, isn’t it? 




One thought on “Andrei Tarkovsky’s – The sacrifice (Offret)

  1. Heyyy! I think you should have described it’s meaning and the significance of the film a bit more, but great job, it’s amazing!

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