The Sacrifice is a much more difficult film than either of Tarkovskys other genre works. All of Andrei Tarkovskys films are portentously slow it is nothing for people in a Tarkovsky film to sit in silence for three or four minutes at a time. Here though Tarkovskys slowness, instead of conveying a haunting beauty, reduces the pace of the film to virtually inert. Hardly anything occurs throughout. The first two shots of the film go on for ten minutes apiece during which time Tarkovsky manages to philosophically discourse upon existentialism and the meaning of science. Perhaps it is that Tarkovsky is working from his own original screenplay rather than adapting other literary works and through doing so his own proclivities end up being magnified. The shadow of Ingmar Bergman hangs over The Sacrifice every step of the way the film is reality one of the gloomy Scandinavian period dinnertable dramas that Bergman specialised in one is reminded very much of Bergmans Shame (1968). Tarkovsky shoots in Sweden, in Swedish language and the film is financed by the Svenska Filminstituet that backed a great many of Bergmans films Tarkovsky even casts regular Bergman actor Erland Josephson and uses his regular cinematographer Sven Nykvist and art director Anna Asp. (He has also wanted to shoot the film on Faro Island, which Bergman made his home for many years and shot many of his films there, but could not obtain permission to shoot there).
Despite the endurance chore that The Sacrifice is, no Andrei Tarkovsky film is ever without moments of great beauty and haunting philosophical contemplation. The dropping of the bomb is shown with remarkably effective economy nothing more than the rattling of a china cabinet and the tv and power going off (although this is scientifically inaccurate EMP would only have made the tv go to hash, unless we are to presume that the local power station has been bombed). The one moment of beauty in the film is the scene where Erland Josephson goes to maid and rumoured witch Gudrun Gisladottir and she accepts him into her arms and they start floating in mid-air as they make love.
The film is a reflection of Tarkovskys own Catholicism. Faith and religion is something that Tarkovsky appears to have approached with a weightily cheerless Kierkegaardian existentialism. Stalker reflected similar views with its end belief in a simple-minded faith held in the invisible things around us. The Sacrifice strips the issue of faith back to a single stark question if your greatest prayer could be answered, would you sacrifice everything for it? Like Stalker, the film ends on a simple moment of surprising hope. Erland Josephson burns his house down. His family, unable to understand why, have him carted away insane. As he is taken, we see his young son watering the tree that Josephson planted at the start of the film, saying that if he did a simple duty each day then he could change the world. The film is then appropriately dedicated to Tarkovskys son Andrjkija.
Scene from the film here:-