“Religion is responsibility or it is nothing at all. Its history derives its sense entirely from the idea of a passage to responsibility. Such a passage involves traversing or enduring the test by means of which the ethical conscience will be delivered of the demonic, the mystagogic and the enthusiastic, of the initiatory and the esoteric. In the authentic sense of the word, religion comes into being the moment that the experience of responsibility extracts itself from that form of secrecy called demonic mystery.”
-Jacques Derrida (p.2-3) in “The Gift of Death”
After watching the first two films of Decalogue, it can be easily inferred from Kieslowski that his treatment of visuality and abstraction does not situate the human being in the realm of only imagination. He brings all philosophical and imaginative possibilities of human beings down into the day to day details of life. His work is almost religious to the extent that he is upholding the sanctity of the message of the God but he does not put it across as a discourse on the mystic. It won't be wrong to say that he equates religion with responsibility. His films are vindication of liberty vis-a-vis the liminal possibilities of the human beings. The third film of the series is based upon the sanctity of time. Here the sanctity means not the discipline of time rather the discipline of the soul. The very first scene of the film begins with a Christmas Carol being sung by a drunkard amidst blue and the red lights picturized through lens flares. The blue represents the indulgent self and the red represents the defiant self (even to the extent of being unholy). When the descent of divine is celebrated by the shaky and quivering mind, it cannot generate a specific debate around the theme of responsibility. The entire film is going to elucidate the moral neglect that we sometimes impose upon time but this kind of thing is more evident in the entire atmosphere of the film rather than locating it in the immediate characters or their actions.
In the background of Christmas Carol, enters the main character, Janusz who is dressing up as Santa Claus. The moment he rings the bell of his house, he is intercepted by the father of Decalogue one whose face shows the element of loss and sadness of a dead son. This lonely father watches across the window the sight of a happy family which is celebrating Christmas. Kieslowski is doing a very disturbing thing for audience. This is disturbing in a sense that this is something for which audiences are not used to. He takes them back to an earlier film, the memory of an earlier film, the pain of an earlier experience. When it started with “the theory of traces” in the beginning, it was projected as a tool to understand the most difficult points in the cinema of Kieslowski. Decalogue was going to be a very simple series of narrative films had Kieslowski not tried such techniques but he does not shock anybody rather he reminds; he inserts an element of faith in memory. It's like what Derrida says, “The narrative is genealogical but it is not simply an act of memory. It bears witness, in the manner of an ethical or political act, for today and for tomorrow.” If we add something to it, we would say that memory of not only the self but also of the other and the experience of not only the self but also of the other. Just after this moment, this interception vanishes and the story resumes from the point when Janusz in the disguise of Santa Claus entered his home. He distributes gifts for all members of the family and they are immensely happy. His wife is deeply thankful and is planning to go for the midnight Christmas Mass, together with her husband.
The next scene introduces the second main character, Ewa who has come to visit her auntie in her old age home. She has lost her memory and is in the state of near-permanent sleep. Kieslowski and Mahabharata have a very delicate relationship with the question of history and memory. In Mahabharata, during exile, Yuddhishtra is very disturbed over his actions and possible loss of kingdom again. He is helped by a saint, Brihdashva, who gives him the blessing of permanent memory, a memory with zero loss. Though it's not very clear that he's really helped or harmed by this blessing but the real message is that a memory gives base to the teleological purpose of life. Can human beings really master the art of memory? Perhaps not. That's why they have to suffer and try to relocate their direction after every moment and every action. Ewa seems to be a person who has some task left of her memory. She's on the course of retouching those links, maybe successfully or may not be. Kieslowski is trying to explore this thing. We come to know finally that she was going to kill herself because of a sudden loss of any direction. A past link reinserts in her a hope for life. So, the memory, the exploration and the question of life get inter-mixed within Ewa and she is trying to find an answer. Can she? In an another sense, she is trying to transfer her loss of purpose and memory to her ex-lover, Janusz who is a happily married person and should spend the holy day with his family but he is tempted by Ewa to stay away from his home. His wife seems to be able to see through the descent of untruth in her husband but she maintains to be a nonparticipant in this pseudo-search. He is not very different from a passerby drunkard who is crying, “Where is my home?” For the rest of night, they will keep trying to come out of this memory loss.
Ewa tells him that her husband has disappeared and she has confirmed from all possible sources about his whereabouts but to no avail. It does not seem to be a truth as it gets confirmed in the end. She's not very interested in searching her lost husband rather she is more focused on unearthing her past with Janusz. It's quite evident that he does not love her any more but he is still tempted and has a sense of moral empathy with her. That becomes his weakness also. Even Ewa does not love him but she has a past anguish simmering in her over the loss of love. She's a person who does not distinguish between love and hate because hatred is the exact opposite but the inseparable side of love. This kind of feeling is continuously exhibited in the film when both of them go around the city to find Ewa’s husband. First, when they go to hospital, then to mortuary, then to a car chase by police and and finally during a death-defying speedy car run that almost crashes into an incoming train. It's a mad display of heroism and overconfidence. The Theophanes, as usual, is watching from the train. JGK is quite pertinent here when he says that “No theological dogma is trumpeted here, but it is not a stretch to say that Kieslowski shows respect for the Judaeo-Christian tradition, even if only by acknowledging that the Commandments continue to haunt us. Respect is not equal to adherence, however. Several times Kieslowski seems to be indicating how difficult the Commandments are to keep, or even understand, amid the complexities of contemporary life.” Kieslowski is introducing a disjunction through the appearance of Theophanes so as to remind us and the characters of the film that life is a gift and it is not meant to be thrown away like that. The road rage is followed by much calmer time in Ewa’s flat where both of them are trying to sort out a truth unsolved. They were caught in an act of lovemaking by Ewa’s husband and that was the point of separation for them. She promised her husband not to meet Janusz again and this was a kind of untimely death for their love. Their bodies and minds remain in a state of unfulfilment which was recalling them back but it was love mixed with lust for which there can be no redeeming.
The reality of the matter is that she is living alone since that incident when her secret of love/lust got ruptured suddenly in the presence of her husband. It was a moment of humiliation for her. She could never come out of it and kept on suffering. Her husband left her and she kept on losing track of life. On the Christmas eve, it turned very difficult for her to live like that and she decided to kill her almost. The sight of Janusz ignited a hope of living and she started playing a game of hope but this game was played through the tools of deceit, lies and lust. She snatched his evening from his family and superimposed her own self and her own hope on him. She tried all methods to stay on with him till morning. She wanted to live but she wanted to cross the night and her ex-lover was the only medium for that. In a way, it can be said that he saved her but this path was not as simplistic as we are used to think. This film continuously brings us on the crossroads, both as a metaphor and a reality. The judgement can never be final because the outcome of any action can never be pinpointed to any single causative factor. Kieslowski has painted the complexity of the commandment and its relationship with life. It can be accurately understood in Derrida’s words, “the concept of responsibility is one of those strange concepts .... It presents itself neither as a theme nor as a thesis, it gives without being seen, without presenting itself in person by means of “fact of being seen” that can be phenomenological intuited.”