John A. Lindqvist
Morality says: true love can overcome any adversity. But what is the price? Betrayal, disappointment, and loss is only a small fraction of what Tomáš and Tereza survived in order to find true love.
“The Unbearable Lightness Of Being” is directed by Philip Kaufman, based on the novel of the same name by Milan Kundera, a French writer, born in Czechoslovakia.
Czechoslovakia, Prague, 1968. Tomáš is a Czech surgeon whose carelessness, at first glance, repels. With an easy life, arrogant personality, and self-confidence, sex becomes an entertainment similar to that of playing football, and the main rule is not to spend the night in bed with a woman. Obligations and responsibilities were completely absent in the life of Tomáš, until Tereza, a provincial girl, naive and faithful, appeared. However, the presence of Tereza and their soon marriage failed to weaken the main character’s craving for Sabina, his mistress.
Kundera seems to oppose Tereza and Tomáš. On the one hand, the fragile, penetrating Tereza is ready for anything for the happiness of her beloved husband. Despite the betrayal of Tomáš, she firmly believes in the reciprocity of their feelings. Tereza’s desperation and sacrifice are most evident in her willingness to look at how Tomáš has sex with other women. She compares mental pain with sticking needles under the nails; however, her pain is much stronger. On the other hand, Tomáš, who is unable to abandon his habitual lifestyle and to make a choice in favor of his beloved woman. The author illustrates the duality of the body and the soul, where Tomáš is the body and Tereza is the soul.
The USSR’s occupation and the Prague Spring significantly influence the fate of the main characters. Sabina, and then Tomáš and Tereza move to Switzerland.
In Geneva, the paths of Tomáš and Sabina gradually diverge, and their craving for each other weakens. Sabina meets Franz, a married man. Franz’s reasoning about treason is ridiculous. Attraction to another woman is opposed to remorse. Franz basically does not have sex with Sabina in Geneva, since he considers it is humiliating in relation to his wife. However, there is a solution. Franz and Sabina travel abroad to have sex. Their paths diverge when Franz leaves his wife out of love for Sabina, and Sabina, in turn, escapes from Franz and possible obligations.
At this time, Tereza, unable to stand Tomáš’s attitude, leaves him and returns to Czechoslovakia. Returning to the country threatens the protagonist with deprivation of the passport and the camera; that is her whole life. However, Tereza’s despair is much stronger than the fear of the return. This moment becomes a turning point in the relationship between Tomáš and Tereza. Finally, Tomáš decides in favor of Tereza and follows her.
At this stage, the scale of communist censorship is clearly visible. Upon his return, Tomáš finds himself in a hopeless situation: giving up his political convictions or losing his job. The Soviet government did not tolerate unflattering statements addressed to it and quickly got rid of those who resisted. The protagonist remains true to his beliefs and gets fired.
Tereza and Tomáš move to the village, where they finally find peace.
- Tomáš, what are you thinking about?
- I am thinking about how happy I am.
On the way from a tavern, they have a crash.
With the death of Tomáš and Tereza, Kundera sums up the disappointing outcome of his era. Life is a unity of lightness and intolerance. Beauty, a devoted world of the past, recedes into the background and humanity enters the era of absolute ugliness.
“The Unbearable Lightness Of Being” is a single story that contains a few plotlines. Disappointment is what connects them. Disappointment in people because of their cowardice. People are afraid to take responsibility for themselves and for someone else, thereby complicating their lives. An easy life is what they need. And only at the end of their way they do realize that this lightness is unbearable. Disappointment in their homeland, “the country of the weak,” the country losing its independence and limiting people’s rights. Disappointment in beauty. Human beauty and the one surrounding us. The era of immoral people and ugly buildings starts.
Poster for The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Copyright Orion Pictures