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Articles - Open Section

Vol. 8 No. 1 (2022): The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Theoretical and Methodological Challenges in Media Ethics and Religion

Liturgy on the Reel: Ascesis through Film

September 23, 2021


This paper investigates representations of ascesis in film. Ascesis (askesis-ἄσκησις) is an ancient Christian praxis, which remains an integral part of Eastern Orthodox Christianity. Its aim is the restoration of the human being into its wholeness, which in Orthodox theology is referred to as the ‘growing of man from the image to the likeness of God’. Ascesis is bound to the Divine Liturgy: it is a continuation and manifestation of the experience of liturgical life and its aim is the (kenotic) fulfilment of love. Ascesis is a constant metanoia, a pre-condition of reconciliation, a transformative process, artistic creation and the Divine inspiration that leads to salvation. This paper examines the depictions of ascesis in two films: 1. Ostrov (The Island, Pavel Lungin, Russia, 2006) and 2. Man of God (Yelena Popovic, Greece, 2021). The overarching aims of this paper are to show: 1) the ways in which asceticism is conceptualised and expressed in Orthodox Christianity and 2) the ways in which film expresses the inexpressible, moving from the descriptive language to the expression of inner liturgical life by the means of film language. The paper hopes to provide novel perspectives to the field of religion and film in researching asceticism through film. Building upon Andrei Tarkovsky’s thought, this paper finally suggests approaching ascesis in film through the lens of poetic cinema.