“The Return of the Sacred”: Implicit Religion and Initiation Symbolism in Zvyagintsev’s Vozvrashchenie (2003)

  • Author(s): Andrada Fătu-Tutoveanu
  • When: 2015-11
  • Where: Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies
  • Recent studies have been increasingly interested in the connections between popular culture – cinema in particular – and religion, and most particularly in how traditional mythologies and religious frameworks and practices are recycled and reinterpreted within modern media. These interactions can be ranged from opposition to dialogue and move towards appropriation and even replacement, in terms of functions and impact. Departing from a series of theories – mainly that of “implicit religion”, coined by Bailey but also developed by theorists like Lyden – the article examines the issue of recycled myth and religious pattern in contemporary cinema, focusing on the Russian “New Wave” and more specifically on discussing Zvyagintsev’s Vozvrashchenie [The Return] (2003). The article aims to decode the religious layers and symbolism of the film, which can find a coherent explanation in Eliade’s theories on the pattern of initiation, but also in those on the sacred camouflaged into the profane and most particularly on the hierophanies and initiation religious patterns. The paper also focuses on the function of religious archetypes and rituals as employed by contemporary storytellers like cinema (with all its audio-visual paraphernalia), especially when such religious scripts are as articulated, although implicit, as in Zvyagintsev’s narrative. The article concludes that this return to religion and the sacred as worldviews and manners of understanding of the world can be explained as employed for their persistent function of myth structures as meaning and coherence providers.

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