Sometimes a movie comes along that’s an approximately two hour life lesson. I started watching The Last Station because I like Christopher Plummer and Helen Mirren. I haven’t even read Tolstoy, just watched a couple of versions of Anna Karenina. One starred Sean Bean and…some other people. Sean Bean in a historical Russian military uniform. Enough said. The other was an old black and white version starring the great Greta Garbo. I liked them both, but not enough for it to make me tackle reading the novel. Still, I was drawn to the cast of The Last Station. That along with being vaguely intrigued by the idea of learning about Tolstoy in his natural setting made me watch it.

The first hour pretty much made me regret that urge. Plummer and Mirren, and McAvoy as the young secretary, were wonderful as expected. Plummer was a bit too wonderful. His great talent brought Tolstoy to vivid life. A half hour in I realized I didn’t like him. He was a rigid, hypocritical tyrant who did not practice what he preached. His great movement was a hollow shell. His wife’s life was often miserable. She saw the shell, butted heads with it, and sometimes cracked it wide open. Briefly.

I actually stopped halfway in and went to bed. All the great acting and beautiful cinematography in the world can’t keep me awake when I’m really just not feeling the story. Not one to lightly walk away from challenging movies, I went back later to resume my punishment for being interested in Tolstoy.

It was like a different movie.

It’s impossible to know if it was because I was tired or in the wrong mood for the first hour or the second actually was stunningly better. All I can be certain of is that it was so much better that I was drawn in and felt as if I argued and loved and hated and suffered right along with the family Tolstoy. I think it was that the second hour showed the author as a frail and very human man whose reputation and the ideals he has put forth got ahead of him. Away from him.

In a way some of the family aspects reminded me of The City of Your Final Destination. Both dealt with issues of author rights,  legacy, and where responsibilities actually lie most. The countess was heartbreaking in her desperation not to see her family left penniless and her husband manipulated so by his great “friend”, played smarmily by Paul Giamatti. Tolstoy too was heartbreaking as the end wound nigh. Trapped in a situation he both participated in and was victim of, he turned away the one person he needed most.

When husband and wife were reunited at last, just before the author left the world he influences still, I felt their joy, their grief, and the rightness of the conclusion of a situation gone so horribly wrong. I learned all over again what we all need to remember at all times, in all situations: Don’t leap to judgement. Wait until you know the whole story.

For all the unpleasantness that came in the first hour, the second brought understanding and great admiration. All the struggle, the anger, and the love that defined them became encapsulated in the final moments at the last station.

The Last Station–Trailer