Allen’s Love and Death intelligently uses many of the ideas from Tolstoy’s novel. The film is a clever parody that is able to incorporate obvious ideas such as the title and war with Napoleon. It explores further though to include Napoleon’s role in the war and the decisions at hand for the general. There is a scene at the beginning of the film in which Allen parodies the lack of free will Boris has in his decision to go to war along with the exhilaration of his brothers at the prospect of fighting.
At many points in the film, Boris uses syllogisms to examine and parody life’s supposed truths. For example, “A. Socrates is a man. B. All men are mortal. C. All men are Socrates. That means all men are homosexuals.” This ridiculous logic mocking syllogisms comes right after a much more coherent moral predicament in which Boris weighs the idea of murder on his conscience. Allen manages to mock and satire different aspects of the writings of Tolstoy, even to the point of slapstick humor, but he combines the intelligence with comedy.
As Ivan Ilych (the title character of Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilych) nears the end of his own life he wonders, “What is the right thing?” After a life full of experience he realizes that he has not come close to understanding the meaning of life. Before Ivan neared his untimely death, he lived an ordinary life that “flowed pleasantly.” He never dealt with adversity and simply followed the path that was set out for him by his parents and society. “Tolstoy shows that Ivan’s life, though simple and ordinary, was truly terrible because he had no sense of the tragic dimension of life.”(8) The reader comes to understand that failure and inexplicable suffering happen whether a person has behaved rightly or not. As Ivan lies in bed slowly dying of his illness he has two visitors. His servant comes to visit him and teaches the reader that a common peasant is able to help Ivan even more than any doctor. His son also comes to visit him and portrays how no one should have to suffer such a painful, unwarranted death. This moment raises great questions about God’s will, destiny and justice.
As should be expected with a parody of Russian literature, Love and Death examines and satirizes many of these ideas. Many scenes in the film analyze theories on death and dying, but after the death of Boris the viewer gains a glimpse into what life and death have taught the hero. In The Death of Ivan Ilych the main character comes to the realization that he has learned nothing about morals or the true meaning of life. In contrast, the parody these ideas show a character, Boris, with seeming omniscience flaunts such tidbits of knowledge like, “there are worse things in life than death…I mean if you’ve ever spent an evening with an insurance salesman, you know exactly what I mean.” This film also provides a satire on the bedside drama that takes place in Tolstoy’s novels. As opposed to meaningful events taking place that enlighten the hero to life’s truths; Boris encounters ridiculous people from his past. One such person is Boris’s father who produces a package size parcel of land with a monopoly sized house on it and exclaims that he has finally built.