Tim’s review published on Letterboxd:
Dormammu I've come to bargain... wait no, wrong movie, scratch that. A man, a woman, their two children, and some family friends are celebrating said man's birthday, when suddenly, news of World War 3 breaks loose on the radio. Paranoid and horrified, the man, alluded to be a nonbeliever, attempts to strike a deal with God itself, willing to make whatever sacrifice is necessary to prevent a nuclear holocaust and total annihilation of the human race.
That man's name is Alexander, a middle-aged journalist and former actor living in a fairly remote location with his actress wife Adelaide, stepdaughter Marta, and mute son referred to as "Little Man". Alexander is getting old and, by the start of the film, is at the ripe old age for starting his midlife crisis. Thing is, Alexander is a bit of a downer. He ponders the meaning of life itself and goes on existential spurts in front of his young son, even quoting Hamlet's famous monologue on nihilism. He speaks on death, the fear of death, and condemns human civilization's tendencies for its own destruction.
Alexander is Tarkovsky. These are not the delusions of a man struggling with the loss of his youth, these are the words of a dying man reflecting on his own mortality. Much like how Tarkovsky dedicated Nostalghia to his mother, The Sacrifice is in dedication to Tarkovsky's son. The son that Tarkovsky, while in exile, was guaranteed to never see again. And the son that, aside from what's left of his father's work, will never truly know him nor the extent of how much he cared about him.
Tarkovsky's relationship with his son is represented in Alexander and Little Man. Reflecting the biblical tale of The Binding of Isaac (no, not the video game), bargaining the fate of humanity with God is tough when the price of success may depend on sacrificing your family, including the life of your own son. Tarkovsky knew he was dying and vowed to never return to the Soviet Union despite knowing that meant he would never see his son again. Had he returned, among likely being imprisoned, Tarkovsky's career as a filmmaker would be over. Effectively trading a life with his son for his career.
Beyond Alexander’s musings with God on nietzschean concepts, at its core, The Sacrifice is a film about regret. Alexander for clear reasons, though the supporting cast as well. Among others, Adelaide, Alexander's wife, regrets her life and wishes she had walked an alternative path, often pondering whether or not life would be better, had she never married Alexander at all. Filmed amidst the Cold War, the escalating conflict of an impending inescapable nuclear threat is all the more appropriate, especially in conjunction with Alexander's early tangents.
This is the crutch of The Sacrifice. If you knew for a fact that the world would soon end via some catastrophic event, would you be content with how you spent your life? Adelaide sure wouldn’t. Where some may accept their fate and live out their days with the inevitable in mind, some such as Alexander would resort to drastic measures to ensure that his fate is not met. The Sacrifice is Tarkovsky's meditation on reflecting on life at the end of the line. How people, looking back, will value their existence and how they, as a man obsessed with the concept of time, spent their time on Earth.
In many ways, The Sacrifice is a stellar spiritual successor to Tarkovsky's prior work on Nostalghia. If Nostalghia was about Tarkovsky's exile, The Sacrifice is most definitely about his death. Filmed just prior to his eventual passing, knowing that he was terminally ill, Tarkovsky chose the perfect project to cap off his filmography, as well as, one that serves as a touching farewell letter to his son and the world of cinema as a whole.