When an already moody sleuth starts relating events in his life to themes in Andrei Tarkovsky’s Nostalgia, as Van Veeteren does in the fourth of the series, Woman with Birthmark, I figure something significant is percolating.
About ninety percent of the way through this book, Van Veeteren takes a break from the murder case that has him and his cohorts stymied:
That evening he went to the movies. Saw Tarkovsky’s Nostalgia for the fourth, or possibly the fifth, time. With the same feelings of admiration and gratitude as usual. The masterpiece of masterpieces, he thought as he sat there in the half-empty cinema and allowed himself to be gobbled up by the pictures….
…Van Veeteren thought as he walked home after the showing. How many people are there living the sort of lives which don’t even have room for nostalgia?
And his gloom deepened.
I’m an old sod, an old, tired detective who’s seen too much and doesn’t want to see much more, he thought. I know the background is just as ugly as the crimes. Or suspect that, at least, and would like to be spared everything.
A futile prayer, he knew that—but isn’t futility the home ground of prayer? What else could it be?
I don’t want to see the end of this case that’s been occupying me for the past six weeks now. I want to get off the train before we get to the terminus.
What were all those vile thoughts about flushing out and hunting that were so noble and meaningful at the start?
I don’t want to get to the point where I’m staring at the bleak and grubby causes of all this…
And later that same night Van Veeteren lies awake troubled by the murder case, sure that something must happen soon… and questioning whether he has ‘the strength to last for much longer’.
As he finally drifts into sleep…
…the image of —Ulrike Fremdli (the wife of one of the murder victims)—popped up in his mind’s eye. Hovered there in the dark mist between dream and reality, between slumber and consciousness, and was gradually interleaved by and combined with Tarkovsky’s ruined church and Gorchakov’s wading through the water with a flaming torch.
Having only a film-studies-one-semester-familiarity with Tarkovsky’s films, I won’t pretend any great authority… but my understanding of Nostalgia is that this scene, with its ruined church and guttering candle, is pivotal to the story… the ‘turning point’ for Tarkovsky’s protagonist.
The film deals with themes of ‘spiritual longing’ and ‘making peace with one’s past in order to move forward’. It’s not such a leap to see parallels here.
Van Veeteren refers to a Tarkovsky film in each of the subsequent three books: The Inspector and Silence, The Unlucky Lottery (titled Munster’s Fall in Europe), and Hour of the Wolf.
In Hour of the Wolf, Van Veeteren recalls the same scene from Nostalgia, but this instance’s placement is so intertwined with the storyline that all I’ll say is that the situation is tragic.
“Something positive among all the negatives. A faint light in the eternal darkness. He recalled yet again Gortiakov’s walk through the pond carrying a candle in Nostalghia… with suffering and with art and with creativity – all possible kinds of creativity…With life and death, and the never-ending passage of time.
Oh yes, Van Veeteren is wrestling with some very weighty issues,
and significant decisions are in the offing.