In a simple sense, Decalogue is a series of ten theological messages that have central importance in Christianity. They can also be called the repository of spiritual wisdom drawn from ancient ages. The mystery of these messages is sometimes very much denied. The irony of the wisdom is that it is trapped in the literality of words. A message is a guideline for those who are pursuing a path where they have to judge themselves from point to point and moment to moment. This is a situation where every action and its follow-up action needs to be understood in the light of the commandment. Kieslowski says that it's not easy. He tries to situate the struggle between the possible and the impossible terrains delineated by the message. That's why JGK calls the Commandments “ten universal arenas of moral choice.” To him, they are the loci of our most important decisions as humans and Kieslowski shows how rich and complicated these arenas are. The excellence of Kieslowski is that he is trying to bypass any kind of dogmatic approach possible in these theological messages. He's more interested in the exploration of Christian memory. He's trying to say that a religion is not visible in the organisation but present in the collective memory of people. People may or may not fully adhere to the received message but it does not mean that they don't have an interface with their religion. He's only trying to point that there is not possible any simplistic understanding of Ten Commandments rather there is a serious complexity involved especially when the intricacies of life get involved with the religion of emotional inheritance.
The first film of the Decalogue series is actually an exposition on the complexity of the first commandment and its relevance for human life. It's a story of a scientist father and a genius son who share a very strong bond of love and affection. The father is a person who believes in scientific rationality and human judgement. His son is growing kid who is discovering the meaning of death, love and separation. He has a remarkable intelligence but he's confused about the question of God. His aunt, a very affectionate human soul, becomes an alternative teacher in the matters of faith and love for the young boy. The father teaches in some university. He's working in the area of artificial intelligence. He is trying to visualise a possibility where computers will be able to develop the aesthetic preference like human beings. In a crude sense, he can also be called an atheist but he's not an anti-god person. He loves his son a lot rather he's the only anchor of love for him because throughout the film, we don't see his wife’s active presence. He gifts his son a pair of ice skates but his son’s desire to use them is dependent upon the thickness and solidity of ice. The scientist father scientifically calculates the density of ice and then personally goes to check how solid the ice is. Once he is sure of his judgement, he allows his son to skate on the ice. The next day, his son is found dead in a broken portion of ice. It's a blow beyond repair for the father and his rational faculties. He goes to a nearby church in deep anguish and overturns the Altar. The wax from the candles gets splashed on the face of Madonna icon as if she is herself weeping. This film is the most powerful as well as the most tragic one of the entire film series.
We don't know that why the name of the main character in this film is the first name of Krzysztof Kieslowski himself. It may or may not be deliberate but there is a subtle indication that Kieslowski is present right in the film. It also indicates that this film project is a very personal kind of venture for him. The interesting thing about this name is that Krzysztof is quite a Christian name. Does it mean that he is trying to discover his own Christian belief? It may be a may not be but the main question is that the entire film series is based upon a deeply individualistic treatment of matters of faith. I also think that Kieslowski always desired to make the series. That's why when he was offered this project by Poland TV, it was going to be for only one film and the rest was to be directed by other filmmakers. The beauty of the situation is that Kieslowski took the responsibility of making all the ten films on his own though he changed his cinematographers in all his films except one.
The beginning of this film introduces us to a character who does not participate in the plot but who is present in almost all the films except a couple of them. He's a young man sitting beside the fire and is observing everything around. Who is he? This has been a very serious and interesting imaginations (not exactly interpretations) about that person. Annette Insdorf calls him “an Angel”. Kieslowski and Piesiewicz might not call him the same, but he has been put there to perform a specific narrative function. He is a link of every film with every other film in the series. As said earlier, he is one of the three traces who is found everywhere but the nature of this praise is personal while the nature of the other trace i.e. the housing complex (where all the films were shot) is non-personal. JGK uses a more theological term for him; he calls Theophanes. He has used it deliberately in order to insert a philosophical and visual similarity with Tarkovsky. In this film Andrei Rubelev, there is a character of the same name with same kind of function. There is no doubt that Kieslowski and Tarkovsky were the two filmmakers who were trying to build the personal metaphysics through the medium of cinema. Here again, the feel of the film is quite similar to Tarkovsky's but the picturization of reality is much softer in Kieslowski’s films. Of course, his reference is towards God though he doesn't try to pinpoint his intention. There might be some hint that a commandment is meant to awaken a sense of non-temporality within the infinite sequences of temporality.
Decalogue I begins with this agent of a non-participating presence amidst a location where ice meets water. It is a scene of extreme cold when everything around is as nearly frozen but still some water, some fluidity is still present. Where it begins and ends is not very clear but this is the point where Theophanes is seen for the first time along with a sharp and intoxicating music of Preisner. This Angel is awake with attentive eyes with a certain element of sadness into it as if he knows what is going to happen or what has already happened. He seems to be having an omniscient persona around him. He seems to be the master originator of a process called memory, a process that creates identifications, a process that creates relationships and a process that a sense of loss and gain. And that is precisely what makes him beyond the memory. Immediately after that, the first character is introduced in the form of Aunt who is watching over TV the young boy who seems to have shifted into the realm of memory. The re-insertion of Theophanes after this shot supports his masterly status which he is going to have over the entire story rather the series of stories.
The plot is introduced immediately after that. It begins with the life of a father Krzysztof and son, Pawel. The young boy is a computer wizkid who has been trained well by his scientist father. The boy is so passionate with his maths and computers that he demands a problem from his bathing father and he manages to give him one. Pawel jumps onto his computer screen, types into the keyboard, successfully solves the problem and is very happy about it. But this happiness is very short-lived. While coming back from the market, he comes across a dead dog. The appearance of death before his happiness makes him sad and a bit inquisitive also. He asks his father, “why do people die?” the father answers back; “because of heart failure, cancer or some accident.” he explains that in scientific terms with the boy is more interested in what is left after death. For father, it is memory but some counters it with a different alternative i.e. soul. The father rejects the idea of soul but it doesn't seem to satisfy the young genius. He seems to be in a state of anguish over why somebody dies. He is questioning the futility of our achievements when we cannot keep our loved ones alive. The film is an indirect commentary on the presence of death vis-a-vis the right to life. Kieslowski is trying to re-situate the context of death in our lives. This is something that enhances the awareness of the moment and subtlety of the situation.
The film is located in between the two extremes of faith and scientific judgement with one extreme being represented by his father and the other one by his aunt. Neither is against the other though there may be an apparent denial of the other. Father doesn't deny religious lessons for his son arranged by his aunt and she does not rule out the power of the size of measurement. Pawel is swinging between the two because he loves them. Within that, what makes this film a tragic one is the search for precise-ness. The logic of science is built around exploration of this precision but is it really can be achieved? Both father and son mathematically calculate that ice is safe to skate on. Father not only re-checks the equation but also verifies physically the exact condition of our ice but again the master of uncertainty is lurking around. The inevitable has to happen and it happens. Pawel's tutor is suffering from flu and cancels her tuition. This sudden vacation prompts the boy for skating but the ice on the lake breaks and he drowns. All the calculations of precision collapse. JGK has interpreted this betrayal very poignantly, “Indeed, multiple betrayals exist in this rich, potent film: technology that destroys rather than serves, a father who fails to protect sufficiently and in Krzysztof's mind, a God who gives and then takes away. In each case, the betrayal is complex: a mingling of good intentions, inability and mystery.”In the end, the scientist father is helpless and full of anguish. He pulls down the altar of God and the wax gets splashed on the face of Madonna. Perhaps, the God herself is sharing the pain and that's what compassion is. It does not defy the inevitable rather it adapts itself with the inevitable.