Within the Whirlwind (2009)




Director:     Marleen Gorris.

Starring:     Emily Watson (Evgenia Ginzburg), Pam Ferris (Genia's mother), Ian Hart (Beylin), Ben Miller (Krasny), Monica Dolan (Pitkowskaya), Agata Buzek (Lena), Ulrich Tukur (Dr. Anton Walter), Benjamin Sadler (Pavel), Jimmy Yuill (Siderov), Pearce Quigley (Yelvov), Zbigniew Zamachowski (Guard), Lena Stolze (Greta), Adam Szyszkowski, Heinz Lieven (Old Vlady), Krzysztof Globisz (Timoszkin).

a female literature professor is sentenced to 10 years of hard labor in a Siberian gulag



Spoiler Warning:

Eugenia Ginzburg is a literary professor with a husband and two sons. She and her husband are both members of the Communist Party.  Soviet Union 1934, Kazan University.  Someone comes into her classroom and tells everyone that they have to go to the main hall. 

In the main hall they have a moment of silence for the tragic death ofcomrade Karoff.  It is said that Trotskyite followers assassinated him. 

Eugenia now goes to a collective farm to read the notification of the assassination of comrade Karoff.  Someone watches from a truck.

Eugenia goes to the Red Tartary newspaper offices.  She writes a very positive article on the collective she visited the other day.  The editor only says:  "Excellent."  After she leaves, the editor tosses it into the waste basket. 

A young female student named comrade Pitkowskaya waits to talk with Eugenia.  She says her husband was arrested for being a member of the Trotsky group.  She brings the young student into her apartment.  Eugenia asks her husband Pavel why didn't he invite the young woman in.  Husband says he thought she had left.  Eugenia tries to help the young woman, but there is little she can do for her.  The student leaves looking very unhappy. 

At night there is a light knock on the apartment door.  The husband refuses to let the person in. He just ignores the knocking.  Later a man comes out of the apartment building.   The man in a truck writes down what occurred. 

The next day at the university, the police come and arrest the man who tried to talk to Eugenia.  He sees Eugenia and tells her to call his wife.  A student asks what's happening?  Eugenia says she doesn't know, but she's sure they know what they're doing.  After school, Eugenia asks Pavel if he knows what happed to Yelvov?  He pretends ignorance.

Later her husband talks to her in the kitchen, while he runs the faucet.  He says that Eugenia helped Yelvov. Pavel says he apologized to the party for her, but they were not satisfied.  Eugenia feels that Pavel had no right to do that. 

The next day at work the newspaper editor talks to all his staff.  Eugenia comes in a little late and the editor asks what does she have to say.  Everybody has been confessing to minor sins.  Eugenia answers that she has nothing to say.  The editor then asks Eugenia  if she will not confess to wrong doing?  Eugenia asks the editor what does he want her to say?  The man says that Eugenia cooperated with Yelvov and did not write an article critiquing Yelvov's writings. 

Later a woman colleague tells Eugenia that sshe should admit her errors, but Eugenia just says she's not guilty of anything.  The woman says Eugenia will get a political reprimand. 

The editors tells the staff, including Eugenia, that her lack of political vigilance "sets comrade Ginzburg alongside Yelvov's potential collaborators".  She later telephones her husband and says she's scared.  He says they will take the matter higher up to Beylin.  Husband and wife go out for dinner, and then they make an appearance at a meeting of the party.  Husband introduces his wife and Beylin say that yes, he has heard about Eugenia. 

Eugenia visits Beylin in his office, one on one.  He doesn't accept her explanations.  When she arrives back home she tells her husband that Beylin has forbidden her to teach.  She cries. 

Mrs. Ginzburg takes a train ride.  On the train she meets a colleague.  The both of them are going to Moscow.  He says he has to bow down to explain himself.  Eugenia says she's going to Moscow for the same reason that he's going to Moscow. 

In Moscow she goes to the Party Office of Appeal.  There she is told that her teaching ban is now lifted.  And she will only get a severe reprimand for insufficiency of political vigilance.  When things blow over, she can get the reprimand expunged from her records. 

As Eugenia walks out, she passes by Beylin walking in the other direction.  When she gets outside, the man who dealt with her shouts down to her from a window telling her to come back up.  She thinks she must have left something behind.  But no.  There has been a change in the status of her offenses.  The charges are now of collaboration and conspiring with the enemies of the people.  She just knows its Beylin that did this to her.  She protests against this injustice to her.  The bureaucrat tells her to give him her party membership document. She hands it over. 

Eugenia cries on the train ride back home.  When she sees Pavel again she asks him to have another baby.  Pavel comments that he also said that Eugenia was innocent.  Eugenia is now disgusted with him. 

At night she can't sleep.  She hears the police coming to get her, but they come and get other people and take them away.  They even take Eugenia's editor away and the woman student who Eugenia tried to help. 

The telephone rings.  Pavel picks it up.  The call is from Beylin for Eugenia.  Pavel goes with her, but only up to the building.  She goes in alone. 

Eugenia is now in a prison cell.  Pitkowskaya signs a document implicating Eugenia.  She must have been a plant for Stalin's secret police. 

Beylin brings in Yelvov.  He tells Eugenia that the Soviets are giving out death sentences, so he had to name her. 

Beylin tells Eugenia that her sons miss her.  He says then that Pavel has denounced her and is now asking for a divorce.  He tells her to sign her confession.  She won't sign.  Beylin becomes furious at her and calls her an "arrogant bitch".

A guard comes into her cell to tell her that she goes to trial tomorrow.  At trial she learns that Yelvov has been executed.  She pleads not guilty to the charges and asks hard hitting questions that, of course, will do her no good.   And, of course, they find her guilty.  She is so relived when she learns she is not to be executed.  She will be sent to prison for ten years. 

Eugenia is put on a train headed for Siberia.  A fellow prisoner comments:  "Stalin is seeking the physical extermination of all the best people in the party, because he fears that they will stand in his way."  She meets another university professor in the box car.  

Now the women prisoners have to walk the rest of the way.  They run into a group of male prisoners also having to walk.  Eugenia recognizes a man from Kazan and he tells her the news that her husband Pavel was arrested.  Some men and women prisoners are killed to get the men and women back into separate groups.  They go into the prison camps.  A sign says:  "We will exceed the production plan for the next quarter."  The women are placed in large barracks. 

The women are busy on work assignments such as lumbering.  The guards treat them miserably.

Eugenia is popular because she knows so many tales from Russian literature to tell the women.  She is called to the office.  They have a letter from Eugenia's mother.  She says that Pavel killed himself in captivity.  Her son Vasha is living with her husband's sister.  Aleosha was sent to a youth labor camp and died of starvation during the German siege of Leningrad. 

Eugenia is devastated by the news and lays in her bunk depressed.  Russian military men come into the barracks and start raping the women.  Eugenia pushes the man on top of her off the top bunk bed.  She then runs outside.  She lays down on the snow to go to sleep.  She awakens in the hospital.  A guard brought her into the hospital.  At first, Eugenia is upset that she's still alive.  The German doctor keeps working with her to get her desire to live back.  She gets better and is released from the hospital.

Eugenia'sfriend decides to kill herself by walking over to the barbed wire fence.  She is shot down.  Eugenia tried to stop her but she is knocked out with a blow from a rifle butt.  When Eugenia awakens she is back in the hospital.  The doctor is there and asks her to be his assistant.  Eugenia gets mad at him and says:  "Stop trying to help me!  I don't want to be helped.  I want to be dead."  The doctor gets a book and gives it to her saying it's Pushkin.  That interests Eugenia.

A woman prisoner tells Eugenia that a man from Kazan is dying and wants to see someone from Kazan.  The man turns out to be Beylin, but he doesn't recognize Eugenia.  She asks him if he knows her?  No.  Then he asks if he interrogated her?  She says:  "You've ended up just like us."  Beylin says but in his case, he's innocent.  Eugenia gives out with a crazed laugh at the word "innocent".  "You rot in hell, you bastard.  You're not going to get me, ever."  She leaves. 

A man offers a woman prisoner, named Lena, a loaf of bread for sex.  She takes the bargain. 

Eugenia now works in the hospital.  She has to clean a wound out for an old man.  She recites some poetry and the man knows it and he recites some of the parts of the poem.

She goes out with the doctor as he picks up plants that can be used as medicines.  He tells her to pick what he picks. 

Eugenia is told that the doctor is a prisoner here too.  He's a German minority from Volga.  His wife and daughters died in a camp.  And now Eugenia regrets the terrible things she was thinking and saying to the doctor.

The doctor has a guard go get Eugenia at night.  She is told to sit down at the table and share the meal with the doctor and the camp commander and his wife.  They have a piano and Eugenia plays for them.

Lena is now very pregnant, so she gives her red dress to Eugenia because she can no longer fits in it. 

The doctor and Eugenia have dinner together.  They stare at each other.  When they are completely alone, she drops her coat and the doctor sees her in her red dress.  Doc says:  "Look at you.  How lovely you are."  They hold hands, kiss and embrace each other.   Later they have sex. 

For getting pregnant, Lena gets five more years of prison added onto her total.  She cries.  She asks what happened to her baby? 

The Russian authorities find out about the relationship between the doctor and his assistant and they are going to send the doctor to another camp.  Of course, that upsets the couple very much.

The doctor leaves in a bus for the new camp. The doctor says if he gets out before she gets out, he will be waiting for her outside the camp.

Lena commits suicide by slashing her wrists and laying down in the snow. Eugenia's other best friend, the other female professor, is getting out tomorrow. Eugenia is very happy for her.

And now Eugenia is released. She says goodbye to her friends and then walks out a free woman. She waits outside the gate for the doctor, but he does not come. So she starts walking.

She sees a strange man coming toward her, so she turns around. The stranger is the doctor, and he calls out for her. The two reunite happily.

"At Stalin's death in 1953, some 18 million people had been sent to the Gulag in Siberia.  About 5 million of them never came back.  Genia and Anton married.  Vashya joined them in Siberia where they also adopted a little girl, Antonina.  Gina Ginzburg was fully rehabilitated in 1955."


Good movie.  Kept my interest throughout the film.  That Stalin was a very bad fellow, wasn't  he?  18 million people thrown in the gulag system with 5 million never returning (or 27% percent).  The good professor and her husband are thrown into the gulag.  Siberia is no place for weaklings.  The audience sees one injustice after another done to the female prisoners, including rape.  Some women committed suicide.  But it's not all gloom and doom.  Emily Watson as the professor was just great in the movie.  So enjoy the film.

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.



Return To Main Page

Return to Home Page (Vernon Johns Society)