Walter Andrade’s review published on Letterboxd:
Finally, at the end of a very educational journey started in The Mirror, with Offret - or The Sacrifice - I can say proudly that I've seen all Tarkovsky's.
Unfortunately, I should say that The Sacrifice is the worst film in this talented Russian career. Although the cinematography is gorgeous, absolutely wonderful, a real proof that Nikvyst was one of the best DoP ever, the screenplay was seriously damaged by Tarkovsky's own spiritual and moral beliefs.
The greatest thing about this filmmaker's scripts, in my humble opinion, is that he used to analyse subjects and problems without taking a real positioning about the themes surrounding it. His art consists in suggest possibilities instead determines it. That's exactly the flaw about The Sacrifice's screenplay.
The story is about an atheist philosopher, critic, professor and journalist named Alexander (Erland Josephson in a brilliant performance) who need to give up everything he has to save his family. When the moment of the crises comes, he suddenly prays to God. This moment itself is already forced; why is he praying if he does not believe in God? Because the moment is critical? But if he didn't believe in first place this wouldn't be even an option. Tarkosvky failed creating this character so superficially. This scene seems artificial and morally innocent. After that, he is told by a mystic friend who "collects events" that he should make love with his part-time housemaid to save his family. He'll do that. Nevertheless, he'll also burn his own house. The idea of redemption is clear as water, but Tarkovsky didn't managed to elaborate it very well.
In the beginning of the movie, we know it's Alexander's birthday and a friend of his (the same mystical, Otto) brings a great present: an old map of Europe. This symbolic event is a synechdoche to the movie's morality. Tarkovsky innocently believed that society was going to an end because we are forgetting spiritualism. Thus, the map is a representation of the "good times", when the people used to live "better". Nonetheless, Victor, the family's doctor and friend, gives to Alexander a book with pictures of the famous iconic Russian painter, Andrei Rublev. Both presents are representations a nostalgia feeling that the new times will only be right when it tries to be like the old times, spiritually speaking.
Otto, not by chance, says to Alexander: "Every present is a sacrifice. What is a gift if not a sacrifice?". The idea of redemption is simplifying things that we need to suffer and to lose things to gain a greater gift. However, it's never clear whether Alexander's sacrifice is his sex with the housemaid or the burning house. Tarkovsky said that he disliked the modern society specially for super appreciation of material beings, so the second choice is more reasonable. Then, why does he needed to sleep with Maria (suggestive name), the housemaid?
Plus, there is this reference to Nietzsche. Both by dialogues and by the scene in which the Little Man jumps into Alexander's back just like the dwarf in Thus spoke Zarathustra. The reference to the man who killed God's philosophy is unclear but I'll make sure I'll read Thus spoke Zarathustra again in attempt to understand it.
In the end, even though these morality is innocent and superficial, is was defended with passion and wisdom by the hands of the most poetic of all filmmakers.