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The Student examines the idea of religious fundamentalism in a teenager who declares the world around him as corrupt and only his ideology can save those who believe without question. In this new film by Kirill Serebrennikov he shows us what happens when adults are stunted by their own liberal, well meaning attitudes and how without leadership and little opposition a student’s ideology becomes so powerful with destructive consequences.
Veniamin is the classic misfit student in a nameless Russian town who after studying the Scripture is convinced that the world around him is corrupt and only his beliefs are the true beliefs. This leads to conflict with everyone around him and an epic collision with the biology teacher who believes in evolution rather than creationism.
How you engage with the film all depends on whether you can engage with the central character Veniamin. The actor carries the entire film. He dominates every scene he is in and walks that fine line of charisma and insanity. He is entirely convincing as a teenager caught up in his own religious fervour. His mother’s desperation at not being able to control her son is a metaphor for the State and all adults who are out of touch with society’s youth. The Student is based on a play Martyr by Marius von Mayenburg and so on screen some of the scenes do feel stilted but in a way that works in this film. You need those set pieces where you just stare and listen in disgust and awe at the student and his religious fervour.
The film’s central question is how do we stop religious fundamentalism and what can we do to stop our teenagers becoming radicalised. The film’s other social commentary centres on belief, fear and no one wanting to show authority and although the questions are asked no answers are given. For some the fact that no answers are given may be disappointing, frustrating but in a way that is the point. How in 113 minutes can you answer such fundamental questions that so many governments and countless societies across the world are currently wrestling with. What’s interesting is the way in which the original scripture from the Bible is displayed on screen and how without context you can give anything meaning with terrifying consequences.
The Student should be seen, discussed, thought about and discussed again with friends. Definitely a must see.
The Student is released across cinemas across the UK on Friday 3 March.