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Elem Klimov's "Come and See" as the Apocalypse of John

Updated on May 24, 2015
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Our main character, Flyora, kneels in front of four Nazi soldiers standing as henchman of the apocalypse.
Our main character, Flyora, kneels in front of four Nazi soldiers standing as henchman of the apocalypse. | Source

An outline

The film “Come and See” employs both cinematic and plot devices to create a truly apocalyptic representation of war. Subtler details of the film, though, give it a deeper message and establish it as an adaptation of the Apocalypse of John in the book Revelation of the New Testament. Particularly, the war driven destruction in “Come and See” is an allegory for the four horseman of the apocalypse and the ruin they bring to the world, depicting World War II as an apocalyptic occurrence.

First, the movie’s title “Come and See” is a direct reference to Revelation 6 (KJV) where, the first four of the seven seals are opened, the beast beckons John to “come and see” as each of the four horsemen manifest. There is first a white horse, then a red, a black, and a pale horse. Though there is some debate over what each horse symbolizes, based on their descriptions in Revelation it makes the most sense to assume that the horses/horsemen represent conquest, war, famine, and death respectively. Unsurprisingly, these are four forces that World War II created for everyone involved in “Come and See.”

The white horse

The white horse of conquest is best represented towards the beginning of the movie, where Flyora finds Gasha in the woods and the Germans begin their attack. The German forces do not limit their conquest to the battle lines; they also infiltrate the neighboring villages and homes, including Flyora’s home where his family is slaughtered. This demonstrates that the bloodlust we see is not just part of direct combat, but it is also a means for the bigger mission of gaining and asserting control over the entire country.

In "Come and See," fire is the choice execution method of the Nazis

The red horse

The red horse of war, given the power “to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another…” (Rev 6:4), could not be more prevalent in the film. From the Germans dousing men in petrol to set them on fire, to the brutal gang raping of women, to joyously watching a church full of children be consumed by an inferno of grenades and flamethrowers, the peace has most definitely been taken from the earth. The fixation with fiery deaths further suggests the nearness of hell and the redness that war is drenched with. Also, the task to kill “one another” suggests that there is some blurring of the line between ally and enemy, where it becomes right to turn on even those close to you. This transition is suggested when the German soldier who instructed “those without children” to leave the church becomes enraged at his commander for begging for mercy upon their capture. Further painting them as “henchman” to a higher power, they claim regularly that they are just doing their job and ought not be blamed for their violence.

The black horse

Starvation spread through taken over villages that had to surrender their food to their invaders.
Starvation spread through taken over villages that had to surrender their food to their invaders. | Source

There are elements of the movie that also allude to the black horse, which represents famine. In a desperate search for food, Flyora and several others manage to steal a cow from a farm, but in fleeing from the scene, the boys are shot at and the cow is killed. Cows are a common symbol for plentiful bounty, like when Joseph dreams of cows and crops and tells Pharaoh that after a seven years of famine, seven years of surplus will follow. The cow dying thus serves as a symbol of the impending (and current) struggle for food that is lost through the war effort. In a less “natural” way, famine is also induced when the farmer’s family must give up their food to the German officer that comes through their home, suggesting that food is depleting not just from the destruction of farms, but from the expected reallocation of resources to those “in charge.”

This final scene exhibits the "paleness" that swallows the public as a result of war and death

The pale horse

Lastly, the pale horse represents death, but the “pale” color seems to particularly symbolize the haunting, ghastly aspects of death rather than the process of dying or being killed. I think this “ghostly” representation of death is best shown in the final scene where Flyora comes across faded pictures of Adolf Hitler in a puddle and uses his rifle for the first time. The fact that the pictures are sort of worn and pale make him a seamless emblem of death, as he is the master behind the madness. Flyora shoots the portrait of Hitler and the picture of him as a school boy, demonstrating that even though he has not had any personal encounter with Hitler, he is terribly aware of the souls that have been crushed by his hands and of the “ghosts” of millions of slaughtered families that will now be unrested. Even the woman who resembles Gasha towards the end is stark white, as though life has left her an empty shell with no soul or spirit. In this case, death is not exclusively being literally dead, but also encapsulates the robbing of vitality and spirit, leaving survivors in a forever dimmed, pale state.

Which horse/horseman do you think was most exemplified in World War II?

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The big picture

Using the Apocalypse of John as an allegorical framework for “Come and See” allowed the movie to portray the horrors of World War II beyond just depictions of graphic violence. The extended metaphor showed that the war was truly an apocalyptic event, where the world as we knew it was ended forever, leaving much to be rebuilt physically and metaphysically across the globe.

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