The Eternal Return and Zarathustra’s Gift.
“-and must we not return down that other lane out before us, down that long, terrible lane – must we not return eternally?” – Nietzsche (1883/1986, p.241).
The final section of this argument refers back to Nietzsche and his writing on the Eternal Return. His work on the subject, both philosophically in The Gay Science and fictionally in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, is of paramount importance to understanding the previous arguments as well as tying together the final knots that bind Scriabin and Tarkovsky. Nietzsche’s influence on both artists is clear even before Mysterium and The Sacrifice; the composer made constant reference to the writer in his music and writing while the filmmaker made films that could easily be argued to be of various Nietszchean quality. Take the following line from Thus Spoke Zarathustra which could describe Scriabin’s potential problem with Mysterium and the character’s problem in The Sacrifice: “‘Behold this gateway, dwarf!’ I went on: “it has two aspects. Two paths come together here: no one has ever reached their end.” (1884/1986, p.251).
The idea that the universe is constantly repeating can turn even the biggest ideas into a tiny fragment lost at sea which is why Scriabin fought to bring people together with his music. Nietzsche also hints at this in his original prose stating: “”Sing and bubble over, o Zarathustra, heal your soul with new songs, so that you may bare the great destiny of any man!”” (1884/1986, 233). The idea was not that of a gestalt but that of a unifying force out to bring humanity’s greatest accomplishments (i.e. creativity) to the fore.
Moliterno points out the alarming fact that “Tarkovsky himself had, at one point, actually considered changing the title of the film from The sacrifice to, in fact, “The Eternal Return”.” (2001). The Sacrifice is a beautifully metaphorical take on the Eternal Return, summarising many relevant sections of Nietzsche’s philosophy. In Thus Spoke Zarathustra, mankind is only considered to be the dividing line, perhaps even the bridge, between the natural world and the Ubermensch – “You higher men, midnight is coming on: so I will say something in your ears, as that old bell says it in my ear…” (1885/1987, p.253). What Nietzsche genuinely thought of as the Ubermensch is debatable but it is of little consequence here as its main goal is to be a step-up from humankind: “You higher men, redeem the graves, awaken the corpses! Alas, why does the worm still burrow? The Hour approaches, it approaches.” (1885/1987, p.254).
Instead it is better to look at what Scriabin would claim to be the Ubermensch; that of the individual whose purpose is to breathe creativity into the world. The invoking of Elemental Chaos is something that in Nietzschean logic can only be achieved by an Ubermensch. Therefore, Scriabin himself must class as an Ubermensch and Mysterium (if finished) would allow humankind to cross into the next stage of development. It seems to be a perfect match, starting with the natural world and then using humanity as the bridge to the next stage of unity. By tying in the ideas of Elemental Chaos and then the Eternal Return, we can see quite clearly the path of Scriabin’s thinking and the philosophical potential in the unfinished Mysterium. There is however even more to link to Tarkovsky and The Sacrifice.
The characters within The Sacrifice are fully aware of Nietzsche’s parable, making their eventual situation somewhat alarming. Tarkovsky was aware of this, though argues that “In overall effect this was to be not only a parable about sacrifice but also a story of how one individual is saved.” (1994, p.220) which seems to contradict some of the Nietzschean arguments. The very first scene after the opening credits suggests this with one character mentioning “the dwarf… the one that sent Zarathustra into a fainting fit!”. This dwarf is an essential reference point to both the film and Nietzsche’s original work. It seems that Tarkovsky is explaining the thinking behind the whole of the narrative by suggesting that Zarathustra’s Gift is almost like a Chekhov’s Shotgun, pre-empting the solution as the Eternal Return allows a personal sacrifice in exchange for the safety of his world. Nietzsche wrote the following in Thus Spoke Zarathustra:
“‘I shall return eternally to this identical and self-same life, in the greatest things and in the smallest, to teach once more the eternal recurrence of all things, to speak once more of the teaching of the great noontide of earth and man, to tell man of the superman once more.'” (1883/1987, p253)
This is the bare bones of the metaphysical narrative of Tarkovsky’s film where even the mention of the dwarf is a personal reference to the pointlessness of the main character’s existence up the to the point of crisis.
Nietzsche’s message in This Spoke Zarathustra can be summed up within the following line: “Behold, we know what you teach: that all things recur eternally and we ourselves with them, and that we have already existed an infinite number of times before and all things with us.” (1883/1987, p.252). This is also the gift within Tarkovsky’s Sacrifice. As suggested, the character appears to have been reborn within Little Man and though following Nietzsche’s logic through implies that a nuclear war will once again repeat, the cyclic nature of Tarkovsky’s world, and potentially our own, suggests that destiny is only a potential exchange for a deep and personal sacrifice. Le Fanu argues that “Still, we have to get back to the question of sacrifice, because the film hinges on it. We may agree, so far, on what it is not: sacrifice, in Tarkovsky’s film, is not the simple Christian selflessness associated with modern heroes of the spirit (like Mother Teresa in Calcutta).” (1987, p.127). We are in agreement here; this sacrifice is not a Christian one but one induced by fear, desperation and a selfless desire for others to live on.