Looking At Christian Morals Through Kieslowskis Choice Philosophy Essay

Assignment Proposal

For the purpose of this assignment I shall look into detail the choice of shots and characters with particular reference Decalogue One and Decalogue Two. Moreover, I shall discuss some of kieslowski’s shots, camera movement, editing and iconography. Whilst keeping all the above mentioned points in mind I tend to examine further Kieslowski’s reference to Life and Death, the view of God (being an Agnostic himself), the meaning of love, truth, success and fulfillment.


The Dekalog directed in 1989 by Krzysztof Kieslowski, is one major masterpiece which was directed amongst other great films directed by Kieslowski himself. The Decalogue features mainly ten short films aired on Polish television, each adhering to the ten commandments, in which Kieslowski expands and gives his view, sometimes being contradictory and ambigious to various critics, to each and every commandment.

Kieslowski’s work was prescient in all kinds of ways. He developed innovative narrative forms and stylistic methods to address pressing existential, moral and political issues, with reference to his social context and the tensions and conflicts that surrounded him (Woodward, 2009). Being an Agnostic himself, the way he manages to portray and manifest the ten commandments is of highly significance and demands examination. As pointed out by Kickasola (2004), Kieslowski never took a hard position on what is true and untrue especially in The Decalogue, but rather he was more interested in the search for meaning. In this regard, we are encouraged to search for the real meaning of life, death, values and morals.

Kieslowski seems to point out that our desire to search for meaning is what makes us human, being worthy to reveal. The Decalogue does not give us concrete answers to the metaphysical questions but acts as a sort of guideline for us viewers to question our way of living in adherence to the ten commandments. Since, Kieslowski is more interested in what is mainly intangible being issues acting beyond systematic reasoning, it is eminent for us as analytical viewers of the Decalogue to go beyond the words. This point, induces us to look further into Kieslowski’s creativity into film aesthetics. By taking Kieslowski’s choice of shots, characters, lightening, camera movement and editing altogether one can reflect on the morals as presented by Kieslowski addressing our way of living and our way of reasoning as a holistic approach.

In this regard, I shall look closely Decalogue one and Decalogue two addressing them from the aesthetic and theological point of view. I shall be in a better position to deal with the major issues portrayed by Kieslowski and our adherence to the first two commandments as Catholics and of human beings in general

Decalogue One

The Storyline

In Decalogue one, Kieslowski focuses on the first commandment being - I am the Lord thy God; thou shalt have no other gods before me. Briefly Kieslowski presents us with three main characters being Krzysztof (presented with the role of a father), Pavel (Krzysztof’s son) and Irena (acting as the boy’s aunt). Decalogue one, displays the life of a father who works as a mathematics professor whose life is seen to be based on science and formulas, does not believe in God as opposed to his sister and ends up by losing his son in an accident.

Burggraeve et al. (2003) note that from a filmic perspective, the movie’s own world of spiritual meaning arises by means of three elements: the filmic element of the flashback introduces remembrance and contemplation; the narrative-dramatic element of the sudden death of the child Pawl, the only child of Krzysztof, confronts the characters and the viewers with the ineluctable existential question if meaning; and finally, the metaphorical element of the figure of the silent witness.

Kieslowski addressing God

Kieslowski, makes it obvious that Krzystof’s major importance is held into science lacking the possibility of believing in a supernatural being. For example, this is done with reference to the stance when the boy is portrayed to be relating with his Aunt as she presents him images of Pope Paul II, and the boy asks why his dad thinks differently than her about God and Christianity. It is here where his Aunt admits that Krzystof "concluded that measurement could be applied to everything".

Another attempt by Kieslowski to define what God is, is seen with reference to Pavel’s questioning "who is he [God]" In this regard, Kieslowski shows that it is difficult for us to understand who is God, since in essence we do not have an exact definition of who God is. In this regard, it is highly understandable that the child asks the question, which even we as humans ask. It is infact evident that in order for us to grasp what God is, we try to simplify this by identifying him with concrete examples like God as the father, God as love and God as merciful. As a result, in this particular scene we see the Aunt who urges the son to hug her and she asks him "what do you feel now?". The boy promptly answers "I love you" and Irena interrupts again "Exactly; that’s where he [God] is".

Aesthetically, Kieslowski gives three eminent shots which are significant for us to conclude that it is difficult to really understand who God is. He first shows the Aunt embracing the child, in the second shot we see Pawel in his Aunts arms looking puzzled and in the next shot we are shifted again to the aunt. This suggests that although the effort from both Aunt and child to explain and understand who God is, it seems confusing for both of them. As a result of this observation, Kieslowski admits that one needs faith in order to believe – as Irena admits "God is very simple, if you have faith".

An influential reformist theologian who complimented to the stance by which one can claim to have knowledge of God is Karl Barth. With particular reference to his second volume of Church Dogmatics: The Doctrine of God, Barth claims that the question of the knowledge of God is based on the issue that God is in fact known and thus knowledge of God is possible. For one to get to know God implies a readiness on the questioning individual to know God. In the Decalogue One, the father is not seen that he wanted to allow for the knowledge of God simply because unlike his son, he was not ready to receive God and did not possess faith.

Kieslowski addressing death

In Decalogue one, Kieslowski presents us with the vision of death as being highly pravelanant since the story line ends by the unfortunate death of Pawel. Pawel himself encounters the corpse of a dog and then the child reads about a man’s death in the morning whilst having breakfast. In this particular scene, Kieslowski addresses death as flourishing fundamental questions about death and why this happens. Pawel is convinced to ask his father why do people die. In this regard, his father addresses the causes rather than the basic philosophical question as meant by his son, by saying "it depends, heart failure,cancer, accidents, old age". It is here that the child asks again what is death attempting to get a deeper answer from his father. However, Kieslowski presents a scientific definition of death – "The heart stops pumping blood…it doesn’t reach the brain, movement ceases, everything stops. It is the End". This definition in itself, shows Kristofs vision being that death is in itself an end to life, the end for the person. Infact the natural question intended by Kieslowski which follows death is precicely what is left for the human being after he dies. From this scientific stand point all that the father could do is proclaim that one will own a memory of the person who dies, which has to do with the physical structure or behavior. The child is seen not as happy with the answer gained so he asks by reading about the dead person in the newspaper – "…for the peace of her soul-You didn’t mention soul".

The observation in this scene therefore, presents us with a shift comprised into three fundamental questions concerning death; the first being what causes death, the second being what is death, and the final one and most important to the Christian understanding being what happens after one dies. Krystof flees away from the major question about the soul by saying that the words in the newspaper as " a form of words of farewell, there is no soul" and alleging that " some (referring to Irena) find it easier to live thinking that [the soul exists]". It is At the end of the film, of course, these words that reduce the human-being to an automaton will come back to torment him, as the encounter with the reality of his son’s drowning shatters the precious mathematical certainties by which he has structured his life (Santilli, 2006)

A Symbolic instance upon which Kieslowski addresses death is at the scene when the bottle of ink is spilled over Krzysztof’s work. In this scene, one can note various aesthetic shots which symbolize death as viewed by Kieslowski. The darkeness of this scene reaches its climax in the spilling of the ink done in such a way by Kieslowski to foreshadow that something dull is about to feature in the last part of the story. By doing this, Kieslowski manages to build a kind of tension in the viewer as its after some while that we know that the blackness appearing on the works is a result of a spillage coming from the bottle of Ink rather than an illusion. In addition, the gradual spillage of the ink to the paper symbolizes death in such a mannor that a human being cannot understand the taking away of life from a person. The ink is seen as devouring all his scientific work bit by bit. (Kickasola, 2004) In fact, in the same scene we see Krzysztof heading towards the sink to clean up his hands from the black ink. This acts as a symbol as if to free himself from the future killing of his son. We as viewers know this since it’s the father’s mathematical computations that went wrong in the end. Kickasola (2004) sees the washing of the ink from the father’s hands as blood as to imply a form of guilt on the father’s side. In fact, Krystof is to be facing a judgment as the comes to an ending. An ending which seems to note a belief in science as a god which is shuttered by a failure the part of science to save the child from his unfortunate death.

Decalogue 2

Decalogue two focuses on the second commandment – thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain. Kickasloka (2004) agrees that Kieslowski manages to bring out this commandment by showing the importance of one’s word in human life.

We are introduced to the doctor who lives alone and a women by the name of Darota who also lives in the same apartment. Darota Geller is seen as a very tense women, who finds herself in a difficult situation since she is to due to deliver a baby from her partner and her husband is on the verge of dying. As seen with comparison to Decalouge one, Kieslowski seems to tackle the issue of life and death in a different manor. As a result, in Decalogue two, we are introduced to the principle of truth and transparency which are seen to be left aside in order to seek a better life. It seems as if Kieslowski continuously attacks the viability of morals since on one hand morality presupposes and demands us to tell the truth and nothing but the truth and on the other hand if the doctor told the truth, abortion would have taken place and to some extent the relationship between her partner would have been shattered.

Kieslowski addressing life and death

In Decalogue two, it is evident that Kieslowski is interested in the value of life and the urge to overcome death. In fact, in the beginning of the film we encounter the doctor who examines the dying plant as if he is trying to save it in time. Kieslowski uses the plant in order to foreshadow hope for the depressed women over her dying husband, Andrzej. However, whilst the doctor is feeling sorry for the plant by referring to it as "poorly" with Barbara, Darota looks outside of the window and starts tearing off the leaves. This is intended by Kieslowski as to show that the women has lost all her hopes that her husband would ever recover from his severe illness. The destruction of the plant is an expression of Darota’s frustration and distress, seeing through the blind the partial and distant vision of the doctor who is cold to her at this stage but who ultimately saves the life of her unborn child. (Woodward, 2009) In this same scene showing the destruction of the plant by the women, we notice that the stem is not completely torn. Here we notice that the stem recoils back as if the plant does not want to die. Here Kieslowski adds on the value to life as in the end Andrzej is "returned" back to life.

Another reference by Kieslowski to show life, happens when the women arrives home and checks her recorded messages, Kieslowski depicts a shot of mountains as to show the urge to live, overcome death and to achieve higher. Kickasola (2004) notes Darota’s hand as a means to destroy things as she crumples a letter (possibly from her lover), constantly is seen crushing cigarettes and slowly tips the glass off the table. The shot of the glass is very significant in this scene since Kieslowski gives a slow motion shot of the glass as it comes into contact with the floor and thus destroys. Infact we get a close up of the glass to see the distruction into more detail. Kickasola (2004) agrees that these gestures are often shot in the abstract mode, carrying resonance of both the temporal destruction permeating her life and the encroachment of evil into her metaphysical sphere.

Another instance by which in my opinion the value of life reaches its climax is in the last part of the film particularly with reference to the scene where we see Andrzej looking up and Kieslowski’s close up of the bee which finds itself in the glass. In this shot, we have a close up of the glass whilst the room is held out of focus. The bee struggles but climbs to the straw and reaches salvation from death. In the same way Andrzej is brought back to life as he himself claims to have "returned" and adds that "I had a feeling the world was disintegrating around me"

Kieslowski addressing the truth

The issue of telling the truth in Decalogue two and even in other episodes from the Decalogue, is brought about by Kieslowski and caused major discussions amongst critics. As viewers of the Decalogue two, we all know that the doctor felt the need to lie to Dorota as to save her from the killing of the innocent child. In this regard, had the doctor engage himself in a lie, Dorota would have killed the unborn child. The doctor is thus faced by a fundamental problem and needs to find a moral position by challenging his conscience to choose the lesser evil. However, the question as seen to be posed by Kieslowski in this regard is: should one abide himself to tell the truth (abiding by the eight commandment) in the first place and encourage to kill the unborn or do as the doctor did and pursue the lesser evil? Furthermore this leads to another question: is the doctor seen as having committed a sin since he did not tell the truth about Dorota’s pregnancy to Andzej? Undoubtedly, here one faces himself with a decision making process mediated upon ethical reflection.

Curran (1986) discusses ethical reflection as to develop concrete decision making and the morality of particular actions. He makes reference to the objectivity of the particular act . In this regard, for someone to engage in lies is objectively and morally incorrect but in this case as flourished in Decalogue two, there is no subjective guilt or rather guilt diminishes. Philosophical ethics recognizes the same reality in its distinction between circumstances which justify an act (make it right) and the circumstances which excuses an act ( take away a guilt without making it right) (Curran, 1986)


Woodward (2009) determines the Decalogue of artistic significance through Kieslowski’s career. In this regard, the Decalogue serves as an attempt by Kieslowski to give a portrayal of Poland after the end of the cold war period and in the same time offering a "cross-cultural exploration of eternal moral problems". Santilli (2006) deems the Decalogue different from Kieslowski’s earlier films particularly with reference to his narrative documentary genre. To the contrary, Kieslowski focuses on the moral life of individuals whilst "using the depressing political climate of martial law in the 1980s only as a backdrop for exploring the inner state of his characters"

The characters used by Kieslowski in Decalogue one and two are both employed in such a manner as to be faced by vital moral decisions that they have to take, particularly with reference to the doctor in Decalogue two. Moreover, Kieslowski indeed manages to address various aspects of moral life which do not necessarily follow the basis forming the Kieslowski’s examination of the particular commandment. Kieslowski’s cinematography is what makes the point intended by Kieslowski more powerful as to be grasped by the viewer. His long shots and close-ups of certain aspects in both Decalogue one and two are often a means of shadowing a complexity of thoughts.