Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

Ivan's Longest Day Is Torture

Cleveland Press November 26, 1971

"One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" by Nobel Prize-winning Alexander Solzhenitsyn has been turned into a movie, and while there is much to admire in the film there is little to like or enjoy.

Man's will to survive is indomitable, even under the cruelest of hardships. The message was clear enough in the slim novel.

But in the movie it is the cruel hardships that are clearest, not the message. The trouble with making a movie about tedium and hopelessness is that it runs into the danger of being itself tedious. This one is.

Both novel and movie examine a single day in the 10-year sentence of a prisoner in a Siberian prison camp. If the temperature falls to 40 below zero the men do not have to go out and work. But this day it is a mere 27 below.

Morning comes, even though Ivan doesn't want it to. This morning he feels ill, is sure he cannot get up. The bureaucrat in the infirmary will not excuse him from work because he has already excused his quota of two, and besides, he already has drawn a line through his report for the day.

During that day he works outdoors in the bitter cold and eats the slop that passes for food. But when the day ends he is happy, for happiness is a relative thing.

He is happy because he is satisfied with the work he did -- building a wall. He stole an extra bowl of porridge, found a fragment of a hack saw blade which was not found in a search and he was not confined to the cold punishment cells.

In short, he made it through the day.

The movie is very faithful to its source but it fails to grip, to emotionally involve its audience. In the end it is a pictorial version rather than a dramatic one. Without the narration on the soundtrack at beginning and end Solzhenitsyn's theme would have remained obscure.

Tom Courtenay as Ivan is excellent. A mixed English and Norwegian company of actors works well but their mixture of accents is occasionally annoying. The movie was filmed in Norway, which undoubtedly worked a hardship on the performers.