Essay Question #1: Using Semiotics to Analyze “The Return”

Bianca, Carly & Marco

Film Theory & Criticism

Using semiotics to Analyze “The Return” by Andrey Zvyagintsez

         “The Return,” directed by Andrey Zvyagintsez uses nature and religion to emphasize the relationship between the father and sons. This is shown through symbols of nature and religion.

First of all, because the majority of the film takes place in the wilderness, nature acts as a symbol for Ivan and Andrey’s relationship with their absentee father. For one, the water reflects the mood of the three men. When tension occurs, it seems to always be raining, whereas when the mood is more calm, it is a clear and bright sunny day.  The tower, a huge symbol in the film, represents growth and courage for the son, Ivan, because he is scared of jumping at the beginning of the movie and still is at the end, but uses this fear to threaten his father and stand up to him for what ends up being the last time. There is also the scene when the three are camping, where we see fish in a bag gasping for air, just like the sons are trapped with their father on his strange mission, and slowly suffocating. Throughout the film, there are an abundance of big landscape shots, to show how small and insignificant humans are compared to the vastness of the wilderness, in the same way that the boys feel insignificant to their father. We read on IMBD that “Andrey Zvyagintsez says the four main characters of the film represent the four elements: “Earth is Mother, water is Father… the elder brother, Andrey, is air and Ivan is fire. But if you think it’s all different, it is”” ( This can easily be understood because Ivan and his father have the roughest relationship with each other, similarly how water and fire don’t mesh well together. Andrey is air because fire feeds off air, so the more air there is the bigger the fire gets. When Andrey provokes his father on the beach, it pushes Ivan to a breaking point, where he explodes at his father, threatening him with a large knife and running away, leading to the father’s death.

There are even more religious symbols, since the movie itself is a sort of allegory for Christianity. Firstly, at the beginning of the movie, the boys discover their father laying in bed in a position resembling that of Jesus Christ. He is also seen in this position at the end of the film, when he is lying dead in the rowboat. At their first meal as a family, their father pours wine for his sons like Jesus did at the last supper with his apostles, the wine symbolizing Christ’s blood. Likewise, when the three are at a diner, their father encourages the boys to eat the bread, thus symbolizing the body of Christ. One of the nature symbols already mentioned can also be viewed in a religious manner, because the rain is a symbol for cleansing the men, purifying them.

In conclusion, the film uses symbols of both nature and religion to explore the brothers’ relationship with their father. Without these elements, the meaning of the movie would not come across as strongly.


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