The Temptation of St. Tony

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On first glance, one could assume that the Tony depicted in Estonian filmmaker Veiko Õunpuu’s film The Temptation of St. Tony bears some resemblance to The Temptation of St. Antony, the trope of an ancient saint so often depicted in works of art as standing firm against his tormentors.

This Tony represents a post-communist Eastern European everyman who appears to have the seemingly comfortable life promised to those who do “good” and follow the model of Western capitalism. Tony begins to question his own goodness after he is forced to fire a thousand employees, witnesses his wife’s infidelity, buries his grandfather, and finds a dozen pairs of human hands from the underbrush. But while St. Anthony withstood his tormentors, Tony begins to lose bits of himself piece by piece by piece.

Fate—or the Devil , depending on one’s perspective—steps into Tony’s life in the person of Herr Meister. He gives Tony the chance to live in absolute submission, by which he can remain a powerful member of this newly formed capitalist society. After Tony rejects this opportunity, he begins a quickening descent towards madness. While watching Tony finally come alive as he’s performing this Felliniesque dance of death, I began to wonder, “What must die within us in order that we may fully live?”

Becky Garrison is a satirist/storyteller whose most recent book is Roger Williams’s Little Book of Virtues (Wipf & Stock, March 2020). Also, she edited Love, Always: Partners of Trans People on Intimacy, Challenge and Resilience (Transgress Press, 2015). Her six books include 2006’s Red and Blue God, Black and Blue Church (PW, starred review).