There was a moment after the first ten minutes of Anna Karenina when I thought director Joe Wright had somehow confused Tolstoy with Tchaikovsky—it would be understandable, what with both names having that Russian thing going on, and beginning with Ts and ending with Ys—and I was looking at a filmed version of The Nutcracker Suite. Then the drama settled over the dancy-pransy stuff like thick ice on a Siberian lake, and the characters lapsed into something resembling normal film dialogue, although the balletic quality remained as the dominant conceit for the remainder of the film.
In that respect, Anna Karenina is a satisfying holiday piece, especially if you’re sitting, as I was, next to your mother in a theater on the Upper East Side of wintery New York, an area of our own imperial city that would be the modern equivalent of the locales in St. Petersburg where the film’s action takes place. The fact I was wearing a short shearling jacket that makes me look like a hussar—a middle-aged Count Vronsky, perhaps, none of whose lovers ended under trains, but some of whom have definitely been emotional train wrecks—added to the meta quality of this particular movie-going experience.
Anna Karenina isn’t just a ballet confettied with words that are spoken more like sequences of musical notes than sentences that have a meaning to which one can attach real emotion. It is a feature-length fashion film, which explains why so many spreads in the glossy women’s magazines, indeed entire collections from designers, have been inspired by this. In that respect, it is supremely successful. I do not want to go to a black-tie event ever again in my life unless everyone there is styled the way they are in Anna Karenina. And if Marc Jacobs shows up in a see-through lace frock, throw him under a train. (Please. Finally. Thank you.)