I think of Dekalog not as a group of stories written about the Ten Commandments but as a group of stories written to be some kind of a response to them. This response is not in a way of a raging atheist as some might prefer, because it's not inspired by the modern man's anger towards historical and washed up dogma, but it's inspired by the modern man's ethical anxiety born out of human condition.
Because Ten Commandments are words of God, they are the definite truth, they can not be refused and must be obeyed without condition. To obey the truth means to understand the truth -which is fair and even desirable- but how does someone understand "that kind of truth"? "That kind of truth" is human condition itself and human condition also requires you not to fully comprehend it, basically because you are in it all the time. One can only get a sense of it sometimes, through intiution which is always personal and subjective which brings us to the dillema, of practicing those universal laws, rules, that way of life which is objectively "right" for the whole humanity, but one can only get a sense of that way of life through subjective means. Some might say Subjective is objective. Practicing an ethical life is not possible only through action, it also requires a profound understanding because source of that striving for understanding is also the basis for ethics in human.
Stories in Dekalog create elaborete situations which challenges and questions not only the commandments themselves but also our understanding of them. "Honor your mother and father" "What does that mean?" one should ask himself before going and honoring his father. "Do not misuse the name of God" the more someone thinks about that statement, more the possibility that statement transforms from a washed up dogma to a profound fact of life, even if it doesn't turn out that way, it's worth trying.
Dekalog was originally shot for tv and first aired in 1989 on Polish tv. The fifth and sixth episodes were originally standalone movies and re-edited and shortened for the series.
There are ten films, which are all forty to sixty minutes long and seem to represent the ten commandments one each but relationship between the commandments and stories are not that lineer. Each of the stories is probably
inspired by more than one commandment and should be thought as such.
Here is a short description of each film I gathered from IMDB.
Dekalog 1: "I am the Lord thy God; thou shalt have no other God but me:"
A boy and his father, possibly an engineer, live in their home with their wonderful computer which they trust to decide if the ice will break when the boy goes iceskating.
Dekalog 2: "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain"
A woman wants his husband's doctor to tell her if her husband is going to live so that she can decide if her unborn child will.
Dekalog 3: "Respect the Sabbath"
A taxi driver spends Christmas night looking for his ex girlfriend's missing husband rather than staying with his current wife and children.
Dekalog 4: "Honour thy father and thy mother" Young actress discovers a letter from her long dead mother which endangers her relationship with her father.
Dekalog 5: "Thou shalt not kill"
A man kills a taxi driver, receives a death sentence then executed.
Dekalog 6: "Thou shalt not commit adultery"
A young boy likes to spy on his older and beatiful neighbour with a stolen telescope.
Dekalog 7: "Thou shalt not steal"
A young mother tries to steal her child from her own mother. Probably the most provoking and compelling part of the whole series.
Dekalog 8: "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour"
A middle-aged, apperantly respected researcher gives a lecture about ethics but confronted by a young jewish woman who claims she refused to save her from the nazis.
Dekalog 9: "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife"
An impotent man asks his wife to find a lover but than becomes jealous of her.
Dekalog 10: "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's goods" Two brothers try to make big money out of their dead father's stamp collection.
Stories are also related in two more visible ways, first all the characters live in the same apartment block and they seldom appear on several parts of the series. Second: there is a young, blonde guy who appears in each film and never speaks but only seems to deeply observe all the characters, maybe already knows what will happen next in each story and unable to tell them he simply looks at the character to make him reflect on his current situation. Some people see that man as a symbol of human conscience and some simply refer to him as the angel. Either way, it creates some kind of a meta-fiction effect on the audience and forces them to realize the changes that story will create on its characters' lives.
Stanley Kubrick points Dekalog as the only masterpiece he can name in his lifetime and defines them as a complete success both in writing and directing. Don't miss it if you like "movies"