The Decalogue

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"I am always reluctant to single out some particular feature of the work of a major filmmaker because it tends inevitably to simplify and reduce the work. But in this book of screenplays by Krzysztof Kieslowski and his co-author, Krzysztof Piesiewicz, it should not be out of place to observe that they have the very rare ability to dramatize their ideas rather than just talking about them. By making their points through the dramatic action of the story they gain the added power of allowing the audience to discover what's really going on rather than being told. They do this with such dazzling skill, you never see the ideas coming and don't realize until much later how profoundly they have reached your heart."

The Decalogue (Polish: Dekalog) is a series of ten Made for TV movies by acclaimed director Krzysztof Kieślowski. Each movie represents one of the Ten Commandments of The Bible, dealing with different characters that are related only in the setting and making small appearances in some of the other chapters. There is also a strange man that appears in almost all the movies, usually as a bystander playing different roles.

It’s very similar in tone to Kieślowski’s later Three Colors Trilogy, but this one has a more religious background associated because of the obvious reasons.

In case you’re still not convinced, maybe you would want to know that Stanley Kubrick himself declared this film the only one worth admiring in his lifetime.

Tropes used in The Decalogue include:
  • Author Tract: Frankly, every movie, as they deal with moral imperatives. In particular, Kieślowski was against the death penalty, something that you can see in Decalogue Five.
  • Black Comedy: Decalogue Ten.
  • Child Prodigy: Paweł.
  • The Commandments
  • Continuity Nod: Characters from each story occasionally appear into another, usually for a second or two.
  • Dead Little Sister: Jacek’s back-story.
  • Dead Man Writing: Anka’s mother’s letter.
  • Deus Est Machina: In Decalogue One. Probably.
  • Driven to Suicide: Tomek in Decalogue Six, Roman in Decalogue Nine. Fortunately for them, they both fail.
  • Drives Like Crazy: Roman.
  • Expansion Pack: Decalogue Five and Decalogue Six were later remade as A Short Film About Killing and A Short Film About Love, respectively.
  • Genre Shift. Decalogue Five is notoriously different than the rest of the episodes, being Darker and Edgier and more political in his message. Decalogue Ten is outright Black Comedy.
  • Girls Love Stuffed Animals: Ania and teddy bears. Yup.
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Played with in Decalogue Two, averted in Decalogue Four.
  • Irony: The M.O. of most of the episodes.
  • Jerkass Victim: Waldemar. He ogles little girl, scares a man’s dogs and runs from any client he doesn’t want to take in his cab.
  • The Loins Sleep Tonight: At the beginning of Decalogue Nine, Roman is diagnosed with impotence.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: According to your interpretation, a lot of stuff.
  • Mythology Gag: The composer Van den Budenmayer (fictitious, but treated as a real person) mentioned in Decalogue Nine is mentioned again in The Double Life of Veronique and the Blue and Red movies of the Three Colors Trilogy.
  • Nerd Glasses: Anka uses a pair of huge pink-framed glasses just for one scene. Of course, she looks just as good with them or without them.
  • Not So Different: Just compare Waldermar’s murder by Jacek with the latter’s execution.
  • Outgrown Such Silly Superstitions: Averted in Decalogue One. Krzysztof doesn’t believe in God, but he has no problem with the fact that his sister does.
  • Retired Badass: According to Elzbieta, Zofia made a name for herself in the Polish resistance against the Nazis.
  • The Rock Star: Artur.
  • Rule of Symbolism: All over it, but just to give a couple of examples, you have Krzysztof’s computer in Decalogue One or the bee swimming out of the glass in Decalogue Two.
  • Santa Claus: Janusz disguises as such.
  • Science Is Wrong: Krzysztof uses his computer to calculate if the frozen lake will be able to hold Paweł. The ice breaks anyway.
  • Serious Business: Stamp collection.
  • Sexy Stewardess: Hanka.
  • Sibling Team: Artur and Jerzy in Decalogue Ten.
  • Stalker with a Crush: Tomek.
  • Stalking Is Love: The premise of Decalogue Six. Magda initially is annoyed at Tomek, but she gets over it pretty quick.
  • Teacher-Student Romance: Majka and Wojtek’s background in Decalogue Seven..
  • Theme Tune: The ten episodes begin and end with a nice little piano melody. In Decalogue Ten, however, the tune immediately transforms into a rock song, which appears again in the end.
  • Throwing the Distraction: In Decalogue Seven, Majka, while hiding behind a wall, throws a small wooden ball down the stairs, thus distracting an old woman watching over the entrance to the back of the stage.
  • Villain Protagonist: Jacek.
  • The Watcher: There’s a man that appears in almost all the episodes, under different appearances, watching the events. The only episode he doesn’t appear in is in Decalogue Ten (his appearance in Decalogue Seven is in the background, so you might as well not notice him).
  • Water Wakeup: Anka and Michal seem to wake each other up this way frequently.
  • Wife Husbandry: Subverted in Decalogue Four. It seemed to move in that direction, but at the end… it didn’t. Of course, considering the ending, we’ll never know…
  • Your Cheating Heart: Hanka in Decalogue Nine.
  • You're Not My Father: Anka confirms this to Michal. Then at the end, turns out it was a lie. Or was it?