Sunny LanKennyENG3U12 January 2017re e e e e e e eDuring March 1938, the last of the three Soviet show trials was held. Known as The Trial of the Twenty-One, 21 communist party members were falsely accused of crimes against the Party. All 21 defendants admitted to the charges, and were subsequently executed.
Darkness at Noon, published two years later, tells the story of Nicholas Salmanovitch Rubashov, a deeply logical man and a zealous supporter of the communist party. Loosely based upon the 21 party members’ last days, Darkness at Noon documents Rubashov’s arrest and trial during the Great Purges. Burnt by the Sun follows the similar story of Comdiv Sergei Petrovich Kotov, who lives a surprisingly happy and peaceful life with his family. Unlike Rubashov, Kotov seems friendly and laid back. Despite this initial appearance, he is a high ranking general, an Old Bolshevik military hero, and a loyal patriot of Stalin.
The movie takes a sudden turn when an old rival Dmitrii, now a NKVD officer, arrives to arrest Kotov. His family clueless, Kotov gets into Dmitrii’s car with a smile and waves goodbye. In the end, bBoth characters are shot to death. Both the novel and movie depict the characters’ struggle to reconciling their own values with the Party’s actions and changing ideals and overlooming rule. Darkness at Noon shows Rubashov’s struggle to rationalize the sacrifice of morals/ethical conduct justified through this false promise while Burnt by the Sun shows the irony in the fact that people believe in the communist party because of the promise of a happy future, while they don’t realise the shadow that they themselves are standing in.The communist regime is depicted as a presence that penetrates every part of the lives of both Kotov and Rubashov.
Even on his day off, Kotov is forced to deal with troubles caused by the Party, when a pack of tanks threatens to run through one of the villages fields. As Kotov is driven to the site of his impending execution, a plane pulling a large picture of Stalin flies across in the background. The deliberate choice to time the appearance of the picture at this exact moment makes Stalin’s rule seem ever more omnious and omnipresent. In the last scene of Burnt by the Sun, Dmitrii is seen floating in a bathtub full of his own blood.
Dmitrii’s suicide adds to the irony of the moment: Kotov, the one who conscripted Dmitrii into the NKVD, is now dead, executed by Dmitrii. Dmitrii, whose life was ruined by the conscription, having finally recieved ‘justice’, kills himself out of guilt. A red sun hovers across the screen, and the scene fades away to the text, “Dedicated to those who were burnt by the sun”. The imagery of the sun, a harsh and distant object, reminds the audience that the events werewhere simply another check in the agenda of the Party, without regard for the struggles of the individual.In Darkness at Noon, a bright lamp is used to prevent Rubashov from falling asleep during his interrogations. The brightness of the lamp reminds Rubashov of the path the the communist Party is taking. Gletkin (rubashovs interrogator) comments that depriving Rubashov of sleep is perhaps the only way of getting answers-even though it may be inhumane, it is required since it produces results.
Similar to the burning nature of the sun, the novel equates the harsh and unrelenting nature of the lamp to the party’s way of operation. The portrait of No 1. appears often in Darkness at Noon. No 1. (an euphamism for Joseph Stalin) is only described through these portraits, giving the impression of a leader who is distant, yet whose influence is always present. When Rubashov looks at the painting, he is reminded of Stalin’s public figure:But his thoughts had not left No. 1 for a second, No. 1, who, sitting at his desk and dictating immovably, had gradually turned into his own portrait, into that well-known colour-print, which hung over every bed or sideboard in the country and stared at people with its frozen eyes (Koestler 6)The phrase that Stalin “had gradually turned into his own portrait” is a metaphor for the public’s image of Stalin.
During the Great Purges, Stalin’s image as a human leader began to shift towards a ‘cult of personality’; almost a god-like figure. This was intended to appeal to teh the younger, more idealistic generation. The replacement of the old generation like Rubashov by the newer generation like Gletkin is a common topic examined by Darkness at Noon. The characters in Burnt by the Sun react differently to the changes in the communist party. Kotov turns a blind eye and pretends that nothing is happening. This is most evident when he is on the car, about to be executed. He tries to act happily, offering his the guards sitting beside him some alcohol, which he drinks himself when they refuse. When the guards order him to quiet down, Kotov refuses, saying that lowly people like the NKVD could never arrest him – since he is a high ranking military officer, and even has a ‘personal connection’ with Stalin.
On the other hand, Dmitrii becomes very conflicted when he is forced to do the Party’s bidding. At the beginning, Dmitrii holds a gun loaded with a single round to his head and fires, showing that he is troubled. Dmitrii’s job as an NKVD officer is revealed in the second half of his movie.
His job is to arrest and kill people who Stalin wants dead – even if they are innocent. With his final arrest of Kotov, Dmitrii is unable to handle the guilt anymore, and kills himself. In Darkness at Noon, Rubashov has a similar conflict to Dmitrii.
Rubashov struggles to rationalize the increasingly harsh way that the Party is governing the country. This is evident in Rubashov’s flashback to his interrogation of Richard. Richard had been distributing flyers that contained “several phrases which the Party could not accept,” even though they were truthful (Koestler 13).
Rubashov maintains a formal/impersonal attitude towards Richard, making the 19 year old boy nervous and frightened. Even though he is very disturbed by the situation, Rubashov is determined not to show any feelings of sympathy or pity that he has: “”One must control oneself,” said Rubashov shortly. He could not now let any feeling of intimacy creep into the conversation” (Koestler 13).
Soon after expelling Richard from the Party, Rubashov begins having a toothache, which often occurs when he is having ‘counter-revolutionary’ thoughts. Through this, Rubashov is shown to be a character who tries to be stoic/only logical, however, he is unable to escape his conscience/morality.Burnt by the Sun shows the motivations behind peoples actions during the communist reign of Russia through its characters. Kotov turns a blind eye towards the activities of the Party because he wants to maintain his idyllic life. An important factor to him is to protect his family from the Party’s ordeals. He pays Dmitrii not to tell his family about his arrest. On the other hand, Dmitrii’s character is depiction of many NKVD officers during Stalin’s reign, who carried out orders to kill innocent people without question.
Dmitrii’s character is shown as someone who is neither bad or good. His actions were not from patriotism, but from hate and fear. He used to fight for the White Army (an anti-communist party), and only joined the NKVD when he was forcefully conscripted by Kotov. Dmitrii later states that, because of his conscription, he “lost all love for Russia”. Although Dmitrii tells Kotov that the arrest is an act of revenge, Dmitrii knows he also has no choice but to perform the arrest, or else he will meet the same fate as Kotov.On the other hand, Rubashov’s motivations result from his struggle to reconcile the Party’s recent actions with his own values and morals. Unlike Kotov or Dmitrii, Rubashov’s actions stem from a strong belief in the Party’s ideals.
Even though the Party’s orders go against his moral compass, he is trapped by the Party’s doctrine that, “The Party’s course is sharply defined, like a narrow path in the mountains. The slightest false step, right or left, takes one down the precipice.” Ironically, this is an allusion to the Bible (Koestler 15). Rubashov explains to Richard that the Party is not trying to be morally correct, but instead ‘absolutely correct’ – which means taking the supposedly only path towards a socialist utopia, even if that requires a few sacrifices along the way – this is highlighted with the use of the phrase ‘sharply defined’. The message is even clearer when Ivanov puts Rubashov’s struggle into words:There are only two conceptions of human ethics, and they are at opposite poles. One of them is Christian and humane, declares the individual to be sacrosanct, and asserts that the rules of arithmetic are not to be applied to human units. The other starts from the basic principle that a collective aim justifies all means, and not only allows, but demands, that the individual should in every way be subordinated and sacrificed to the community ..
. Humbugs and dilettantes have always tried to mix the two conceptions; in practice, it is impossible. Whoever is burdened with power and responsibility finds out on the first occasion that he has to choose; and he is fatally driven to the second alternative.
(Koestler 48)In an attempt to justify the increasingly cruel actions of the Party, the message is further twisted into a dichotomy, completely rejecting sentimentality and individual emotions. Even though Stalin’s actions may simply be to gain more power, his lack of mercy is rationalized because showing any mercy would supposedly be. The ultimate example of this is when Rubashov applies this logic even to himself, leading to his confession to the charge. Like many of the 21 party members who publicly confessed, Rubashov believed that his confession was “the last service he could do the Party” (Koestler 76). Both Burnt by the Sun and Darkness at Noon offer a realistic view of the Party’s rule during the years of Stalin’s Great Purges.
Kotov and Dmitriis’ characters depicted the guilt and denial that many communist supporters/officers felt, while Rubashov’s character was a manifestation of the endless struggle between ideals and emtion.Through the eyes of Kotov, Dmitrii, and Rubashov, the audience is able to understand the struggles of coming to terms with the events that occured during the Great Purges. On March 1st 1983, 43 years after the publication of Darkness at Noon, Arthur Koestler commited suicide along with his wife.
In his suicide note, he writes of the same ‘oceanic feeling’ that Rubashov feels in the hours before his death, “I wish my friends to know that I am leaving their company in a peaceful frame of mind, with some timid hopes for a de-personalised after-life beyond due confines of space, time and matter and beyond the limits of our comprehension. This ‘oceanic feeling’ has often sustained me at difficult moments, and does so now, while I am writing this.”