Transsiberian (2008)

Rated: R for some violence, including torture and language.
Length: 107 minutes
Grade: BDBB+=B
Budget: $15 million
Box Office: $5 million ($2 U.S., Intl., DVD)
Written and Directed by: Brad Anderson (The Machinist, Session 9, and many single episodes of TV: Fear Itself, The Wire, Shield, Fringe) with some writing help from Will Conroy, who has no credits to speak of.
Starring: Woody Harrelson, Emily Mortimer, Kate Mara, Eduardo Noriega, and Ben Kingsley.

For a recently married couple, a trip on the Transsiberian train turns from exotic adventure to nightmare when he is left behind at a stop and she is lured into a compromising situation with drug dealers and Russian police.

Entertainment Value: B
One thing I liked about this movie was how mostly unpredictable it was. It would give you enough to possibly come to the right answer, but also enough to mislead you pretty regularly. It’s a very well-acted and innovative thriller built around interesting characters.

Superficial Content: D
Drugs/Alcohol D, Sex/Nudity C, Violence D, Language D, Illegal Activity F
This is properly rated R for sure. However, the bulk of the rating comes from just a small number of difficult scenes including one of a fairly brutal torture, two murders, and some sexual scenes with no nudity. Language is what you’d expect.

Significant Content: B
The thing to understand about this movie is that it shows a lot of bad things being done, but in every case it also shows real horrific consequences following from what are sometimes fairly minor bad decisions to begin with. Some of the themes include lying and truth-telling, temptation, adventurous personalities and their instability, the conflicts between planning and fate, the importance of planting roots, and being careful whom you trust.

Artistic/Thought Value: B+
As a thriller, this is quite good. But as an art piece, it’s also fairly interesting, especially because it opens with this rather out-of-place scene with a church leader giving his thoughts on how the world is full of unambiguous black/white situations and no gray. Of course, the directors are telling us that this movie intends to be entirely about dubious situations and difficult-to-evaluate decisions. It certainly invites ethical analysis as well as questions about who is really to blame and what would have been better choices to make.

Discussion Questions:
~Carlos encourages Jessie in one scene by telling her that “Nobody will know.” What does this tell you about his view of the world? Is it ever true that nobody will know? Even in this situation, won’t the two of them know? Why exactly is it so wrong to keep a secret like this from your spouse?
~Why does Jessie take the trip with Carlos in the first place? How does he manipulate her and his knowledge of her? How much of the blame for what happens is his, and how much of it is hers? ~What do you make of the fact that what happens after her change of heart is much worse than what would have happened if she had gone through with her initial plan? Whom do you sympathize with in this event? What should have been done afterward?
~Is the world primarily made up of ethical decisions which are black and white or ones which are gray? What is the motive for claiming that the situations are gray? Are there ever legitimately gray situations? Why do modern filmmakers like to emphasize them so much? What does emphasizing them do in our perception of the general difficulty or ease of making the right decision?
~How do you feel about the entirety of the ending? Does it seem like justice has been done or not?
~“Life is a journey, not a destination.” What do you think of this expression?
~“Kill off all my demons, and my angels might die, too.” What does Jessie mean by this? What are her demons? What are her angels? Does it turn out to be true? Do you think that God ever allows us to continue to struggle with a sin because eliminating it would tear out other essential things in us as well? How does this relate to the parable of the wheat and the tares?
~Have you ever taken a trip outside of the United States? Did it make you feel vulnerable?
~What role does Roy’s faith seem to play in his everyday life? Why is his faith included in this movie?
~What do you make of Grinko’s notion that life under the Soviet Union was at least bearable, in spite of all the problems? Do his actions have any justification in your mind?
~The pastor in the beginning says that the way back into God’s grace is by practicing compassion. How is that concept played out in this movie?
~The Bible teaches that “He who walks with the wise will be wise, but the companion of fools will be destroyed.” How is this principle represented in this movie? Does bad company corrupt good morals?
~Do you think that Abby would have accepted all the developments in this movie in the end if she had foreseen them?
~“Fear makes you do irrational things.” Have you ever experienced this? If this is correct, how is the Gospel the only true solution to irrationality?
~“With lies you may go ahead in the world, but you may never go back.” What does this mean? Is it true?
~Why does Jessie wait so long to tell the truth? What is the movie trying to tell us about her character by this reluctance? Is it possible for a person like her to just tell the truth and come clean? What do her lies cost other people? Is honesty always the best policy? Would it have been here? How might a thriving Christian faith have made things different for her in this movie? Why do you think Roy married her?
~Who in this movie is good, who is evil, and who is on bubble between them? How do the evil and the good differ in their attempts to influence the others?
~If you start from the premise that Jessie represents the Church symbolically in this movie, how does it affect your view of all the other characters here? Do you think this interpretation is intentional? What clues are given that support this interpretation? (Note: this insight bumped the art value of this movie from a B to an A for me.)

Overall Grade: B
This is a good thriller with some disturbing images and many interesting things to discuss.

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