It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
In the title of Philip Kaufman’s “The Unbearable Lightness of Being,” the crucial word is “unbearable.” The film tells the story of a young surgeon who attempts to float above the mundane world of personal responsibility and commitment to practice a sex life that has no traffic with the heart, to escape untouched from the world of sensual pleasure while retaining his privacy and his loneliness. By the end of the story, this freedom has become too great a load for him to bear.
The surgeon’s name is Tomas, and he lives in Prague; we meet him in the blessed days before the Russian invasion of 1968. He has an understanding with a woman named Sabina, a painter whose goal is the same as his own - to have a physical relationship without an emotional one. The two lovers believe they have much in common, since they share the same attitude toward their couplings, but actually their genitals have more in common than they do. That is not to say they don’t enjoy great sex; they do, and in great detail, in the most erotic serious film since “Last Tango in Paris.” One day the doctor goes to the country, and while waiting in a provincial train station his eyes fall upon a young waitress, Tereza. He orders a brandy. Their eyes meet. They go for a little walk after she gets off work, and it is clear there is something special between them. He returns to Prague. One day she appears in the city and knocks at his door. She has come to be with him. Against all of his principles, he allows her to spend the night, and then to move in.
Eventually they even get married. He has betrayed his own code of lightness, or freedom.
The film tells the love story of Tomas and Tereza in the context of the events of 1968, and there are shots that place the characters in the middle of the riots against the Russian invaders. Tereza becomes a photographer and tries to smuggle pictures of the uprising out of the country. Finally the two lovers leave Prague for Geneva, where Sabina has already gone, and then Tomas resumes his sexual relationship with Sabina, because his philosophy, of course, is that sex has nothing to do with love.