Andrei Tarkovsky’s “Andrei Rublev”
Creativity is one of the most important motifs in Andrei Tarkovsky’s critically acclaimed Russian film, “Andrei Rublev.” Although Tarkovsky never comes right out and explains his views on creativity, he
expresses them to us through the vehicle of three of
his characters: Andrei Rublev, The Jester, and a young bell-maker. Each of these characters is a creator who struggles in some way with the creative process.
Andrei Rublev is a talented and successful Russian icon painter who is known throughout Russia for the quality of his religious depictions. At one point in the movie, however, after he has done a lot of thinking about the value of his work in the modern world, he decides to give up painting forever. When he decides to do this, he is under the impression that his art is worthless, that it is no longer appreciated by the people because the people are no longer good Christian followers. After all, the value of his art lies in its ability to move its viewers, to make them feel the love of their Lord; if the majority of the people in the world have strayed from their Christian beliefs, then his art can no longer have this effect on them. They cannot feel the love of the Lord if they have forgotten him. There is one scene, in particular, in which Andrei realizes how immoral and Godless the people of his country have become. In this scene, he is captured by a group of reveling pagans and tied upside down to a cross, an evil symbol meant to mock the crucifixion of Jesus.
Eventually, Andrei decides to start painting again. But why? Although the movie never gives you a definite answer in regard to this question, I have a theory. Because Andrei had seen what a bad state the world was in, he decided to paint again because he believed that if he could create something great enough, he might be able to reverse (or at least slow) the world’s descent into evil. It dawned on him that the Lord had given him the ability to paint for a reason – to enlighten and inspire the masses – and it would be a sin to waste that ability.
The Jester is another creator in this movie. Instead of painting religious icons like Andrei, he composes songs and verses which are designed to both entertain his friends as well as ridicule and poke fun at his oppressors. At one point in the movie, he is punished for one of these songs – a comically scathing song about a tartar. His punishment shows how it is dangerous for someone to create something that criticizes the ruling powers in a country. Tarkovsky probably meant this scene to act as a mirror for the situation in his own country, where a great deal of art and creativity was censored by the Communist government.
Aside from this, the Jester is also meant to symbolize how creativity can exist in any level of the social caste system. After all, the Jester was a poor and impoverished peasant. Most people during that time would have had trouble believing that someone from such a low socio-economic background could be skilled at anything beyond manual labor, but Tarkovsky is reminding everyone that they can be. In his opinion, creativity can exist anywhere.
The third and final creator in “Andre Rublev” is the young boy, who is commissioned by the prince to fashion a bell for the cathedral. He is warned that if he fails at this task and the bell does not ring, he will be executed. In my opinion, this aspect of the movie is meant to symbolize the desire to create. Many artists are so passionate about their work, that failure to them is like death (just as failure to caste a working bell would be death for the boy).