Nikolai may be death personified but, with the possible exception of Anna's uncle, all of the Russians in Eastern Promises are walking corpses. Tatiana's diary begins by noting that the people of her village lived as though "buried in the earth." Kirill jokes that a particularly grotesque birthday celebration at the Trans-Siberia is a party for the Angel of Death. Who then will wrest the infant Christina from her clammy birthright?
Deceptively generic, Eastern Promises features Cronenberg's most unambiguous monster and straightforward narrative in years; the movie is a cosmic struggle between good and evil. But it's also an elaborate game that's played out in a fallen world filled with subterfuge and delicately limned with the pain of exile. (It hardly seems coincidental that Nikolai's last name, Luzhin, would be that of the chess-master hero of Vladimir Nabokov's The Defense.)
"I need to know who you are," Anna urgently begs this ambiguous redeemer in the movie's haunting penultimate scene. Is our Nikolai an angel, or has Anna made a deal with the devil? And suppose that amounts to the same thing? As the sardonic Nikolai might say: "What does it matter?"
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