Eter (2018) - full transcript

"Ether" is a story of a military medical doctor experimenting with science at the beginning of the 20th century in order to get power over other people.

A Krzysztof Zanussi film.



I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to…

What didn’t you mean to do?

A dead one? You can bury it.

I’m sorry.

The doctor’s killed the young lady!

The doctor’s killed the young lady!

The court finds the defendant

guilty of premeditated murder,

whilst abusing his position
of trust as a doctor,

and decides to impose
the maximum sentence.

If it’s a priest, it won’t be necessary...
I’m not a believer.

His Majesty has pardoned you,

and commuted your death

penalty to exile to Siberia.


Production Designer
Director of Photography.

Written and Directed by.



All of my papers were reissued
by the court.

After everything that happened,

applying to the Russian
courts was not an option.

Your whole past,
that is the exile to Siberia

and then the flight
across Manchuria, right?


- What was the reason for your exile?
- The Hippocratic Oath.

I helped all who needed help,
regardless of their political beliefs.

It was a matter of conscience.

Working as a garrison physician,

you’ll have no reason
to invoke your conscience.

Let’s leave that to the idealists.

Here you’ll be given orders
which you’ll carry out, no matter what.

Some of your duties will include activities
that would not appeal to the idealists.

You’ll have to attend
interrogations and executions.

You’ll also be responsible

for overseeing

our brothel.

To sweeten the pill.

I’m used to bitter pills.

Whatever you decide.

Just give me a little freedom

to do my research.

And what, if I may ask,
is your research about?


It’s a substance diffused throughout
the entire universe.

It takes away one’s consciousness,
and therefore one’s free will.

But it also takes away pain.

To me it’s the quintessence of power.

And we still know so little about it.

The quinta essentia.

That sounds promising.

Your predecessor would examine
the girls once a month.

It’s going to be once a week now.

And if you want to use our services

you’re welcome, free of charge.
Other officers always have to pay.

Thank you.

Once a week,
that’s quite a commitment.

Whatever it takes to prevent
problems like the lieutenant’s.

I beg your pardon?!

He must’ve caught it
someplace else.

I don’t know how it happened,

What’s happened has happened…
Let’s face it?

Trousers down and I’ll
see what can be done.

I should be on my way home, to Podolia,
because I’m getting engaged…

And this nasty thing crops up.

You’re right, quite nasty indeed.

But it isn’t a hopeless case.

Yes, sir!

Congratulations, you’re a now a subject
of His Majesty the Emperor of Austria.

But let me remind you of your
special duties as a military man,

especially that you came here
as a subject of the Tsar.

You must prove yourself worthy
of our government’s trust.

I’ll prove it with my loyal service

and also by conducting research that
our military may find useful.

Provided I get the necessary funds.

I’m aware of the limitations, of course.

Especially now that relations
between the two empires are tense.

I do have some money of my own.

Please, bear in mind, though,

that your first responsibility
here is to your patients.

Research comes second.



This time you were lucky.

But next time…

Next time?

I’ll never do such a stupid thing again.

Why don’t you come to see us
in Podolia, doctor?

For my wedding.

With your Austrian passport

you’ll have no problems
at the border now.


Your invitation sounds tempting.

Is your fiancée Polish?


Her grandma was.
The parents are Russian.

Many philosophers claim that science
will accomplish what no religion has.

Christianity is no exception.


will make mankind happy.

Our lives have changed, have they not?
We’re wealthier, better educated.

War, hunger and plague no longer
loom so large.

But war is imminent, isn’t it?

And it’s been a lean year.

And please leave our sacred religion alone.

Your opinions are familiar.

I think we’ve met.

Are you from this parts?

You’ve mistaken me for someone else.

Excuse me, gentlemen.

I’ll need to ask for the
doctor’s urgent assistance.

One of the peasants is very sick.

Please, do something, doctor!

I’ll try. Excuse me.

Do you have relatives here?

Are you local?


Is father going to die?

We’re hired hands,

they’ll throw us out.

If you make it across the border,

you’ll find me in this citadel.

Ask for me and they’ll let you in.


We have no money for the funeral.

If you bring his body along,

you’ll get paid.

It’s not life-threatening.
He can be interrogated.

That gas works as an anaesthetic.

No need.

At this point it’s obvious
that he was a spy.


Are you expecting any guests?

Not that I recall.

I have no family here,
no acquaintances yet, either.

So you’re not expecting visitors?


I showed him the way.
He’s from the Russian side.

You tried to save his dying father.
His mother took her own life.

The boy says that the doctor
promised to help him.

Can I leave him with you?
I have important business to take care of.

The regulations require
that every visit has to be reported.

The situation is tense,
we must be vigilant.

Your presence will be required
at tomorrow’s execution.

He pleaded guilty. He was sent
here to photograph our constructions.

All right, you’re dismissed.

If the boy’s to stay here,
you’ll be personally responsible for him.

Yes, sir.

If there’s nothing I can do here,
I’d better go.

I could work,

do anything you tell me to.

I won’t let you down.

What exactly do you want in life?

If it was up to me.

I’d like to study.

What for?

To be like you.

Those who study want to know.

- Exactly. I want to know.
- Know what?

- Everything.
- Everything?

What the world is like.
What life is…

You’ll get your first lesson tomorrow.

You said that the army would pay
for my father’s body.

You brought it?

Your tears won’t help him.

You’ll get the money

as soon as it comes from Vienna.

What about the funeral?

Why worry?

On Judgement Day your father
will rise from the dead.

Like all of us.

We could do with your gas now.

No pain, no fear.

Further research,
with your go-ahead, would be very helpful.

Why don’t we discuss it in detail?

Maybe in your other workplace?

I’m not a frequent patron,
but on a day like this…

We’re leaving him like that?

Until the body’s cold.
Then we’ll get him for our research.

- How can he be useful?
- You’d be surprised.

- What about my father’s body?
- You sold it, didn’t you?

But you said…

Don’t worry.
You did the right thing.

Do you believe that the soul is immortal?

So is the body, you’ll see.

Look how they aimed.

Only one hit the heart.

They do it on purpose,
to avoid a guilty conscience.

Sometimes all of them miss.

What happens then?

An officer will do it and the squad
will be punished.

Watch him, not me.

See what science is capable of?

We’re one step away
from resurrection.

It’s wonderful what you say.
But also horrifying.

It is. Life is horrifying.

So is science.

Come here, will you?

I need you.

For an experiment.

It’ll hurt and you must tell me
how much you can bear.

That was One.


- For what?
- Science.

With nitrous oxide
it won’t hurt at all.

Here you go.

That was Ten.
Did it hurt?


You see?

Ether will take us even farther.

Farther where?

On our way to eliminating pain.

Our priest says that suffering
may serve a purpose.


You can offer it for somebody else.

A beautiful idea.

But questionable.

Admit it, are you a virgin?

What does that mean?

We need a language expert here.
How do you say virgin in Ukrainian?

Oops! You here?

We have another room.

Come on! Grab the opportunity.

And if you’re afraid of committing a sin,
there’s a priest having fun next door.

He’ll give you absolution afterwards.

Doctors witness birth and death.

Love lies in between.

Don’t worry about it, do your thing.

The Commander wants
a word with you.

- What kind of research would it be?
- Scientific.

The citadel allows more liberty than
any university with its bureaucracy.

Restrictions kill research.

What kinds of restrictions?

Religious, social, political.
Many people out there are prejudiced.

I wonder what use your research
is for the country, for the army?

It’s about

power over people.

Ether has that power.

Just allow me do what I ask
and you’ll see.

Allow you…

I can just turn a blind eye
to what you’re doing.

Pretend I don’t see it.

Come with me.

Go on.

What is it?

- Nothing you’ll find in the pharmacy.
- Where can I get it?

At the front. Before combat.

- So that you show heroism.
- What?


Look. See what he did to me?

He’s an animal.

There’s a beast in all of us.

Keep him until tomorrow.

And don’t give him anything hard.

He could swallow it or hurt himself.

See how strong the influence
is on some people?

Give him some bromine with water.

What do you mean there’s a beast
in all of us?

It’s there, deep inside.

And science can help us unchain it.

To liberate a human being would
mean to liberate that inner beast.

That hasn’t occurred to me before.

You mean curing people?

To cure means restore something.
I want to create something new.

Since you’re into biology,
I’ll have you trained to be a paramedic.

- Really?
- Would you like that?

Keep running!

No pain, no gain!

Until you sweat.

One, two! One. Two!

- Alright. That’s enough.
- Line up!

What’s so funny?

It’s science!

Be quiet! Number Two?

Smell it.

I don’t like it.


I like it!



I like it.

Number One likes Number Four!


Doctor! Would you tell me
which girl was the one I chose?

- Which number?
- Seven.

Why do you ask?

So I can find her.

- She’s got you going, hasn’t she?
- Well…

- I’ll think about it.
- Thank you!

Go on!

Now you can look.

Wow, lucky me!

- Where am I?
- In heaven, where else?

That’ll do, my boy.
You don’t have enough money for this...

Rush back to the citadel.


Please, stay with us.

Relax, have some fun.

You look so sad today…

Wait a moment.

Some of this for me…

And some for you.

You can’t hurry love.

Could I get clearance to visit
the mental hospital?

- I have an interesting offer for them.
- What could that be?

Hypnosis and ether.

They’re both used separately,
but no one’s thought of combining them.

I’ll see what can be done.

Let's sit.

I’ll be in the way here.
I’m afraid I don’t believe in spirits.

You think that a person dies
and that’s it?

What about the communion of saints.

Please sit down, don’t be silly.

Soul of purgatory, come to us!

There was a bubble of air trapped in the porcelain,
there was some outside pressure, and the plate broke.

Not my fault! No fault!

There’s no fault!

There’s no God!

No God!

There’s no God!

Screw God!

Behold the Cross of the Lord,
flee bands of enemies…

Begone, Satan…

Screw God!

I’ll take care of him.

God doesn’t exist!


No. It’s post-execution stress
not washed away with liquor.

Lock him up for a week.

May I?

It’s easy to overdose on ether.

What are you afraid of? I love you.

- Who is she?
- Margaret. From over the border.

She’s been here for a while.
There’s little hope of any improvement.

Has anyone tried hypnosis?

Many doctors have experimented
on themselves,

jeopardized their health for
the sake of science,

contracted diseases to try out
new methods of treatment.

But I can’t try this out on myself.

Count to ten.






- Remember anything?
- No.

Stay there! Now without ether.
Or the whole effort is pointless.

This will prevent you
from biting your tongue.

- Is it really necessary?
- Yes, it is.

We already know that ether can be
stronger than electrical stimulation,

but we don’t know the intensity
of pain caused by electric shocks.

Let’s say this was One
on a scale of one to ten.

With ether we hit the maximum.

- Let’s try Five.
- No! One’s more than enough.

Three then.

Only Three, okay?

There are limits!

Science knows no limits.

Drink some, you’ll feel better.


I’m sorry.

I didn’t know it would hurt so much.

Thank you for everything.

Where are you going? Wait!
You can do the same to me.

Stay, don’t ruin my work.

I know who stole your father’s body!
You’ll go to jail for that!

You took money for the body.

- I’ll give it back!
- The body? Or the money you’ve already spent?

Could you help me, Father?

Help you? How?

I have nowhere to live.

I’m studying.
I’ll do anything.


Perhaps you want to be my…

- I don’t understand.
- In that case go to the monastery.

- They might help you there.
- Thank you.

Whatever it takes…

I need money for my experiments.
I’ve spent it all, I’m at an impasse.

On top of that,
I’ve lost my only volunteer.

I understand the difficulties,
but the results could be amazing.

I warned you that the army had
no budget for research.

True, but for what I’m proposing
there must be some way around that.

Not really.

But there might be.

I assume, that as a
Pole, you feel no loyalty

to the Austro-Hungarian empire which oppresses
us, just like the Russian one that you fled.

Am I right?

The Russians would love to get
access to our secrets.

This is what’s left of that botched
mission of their spy.

Just take some more photographs,
leave then with a certain pigeon breeder,

and he’ll dispatch them.

The money is all yours.

If it’s that easy,

- why don’t you do it yourself?
- I don’t care about money anymore.

I am rich. But I don’t like taking risks.

I’ll collect my share, of course.


For me, a life without risk has no taste.

Now you’ll have more than enough to savour.

You do realize what will happen
if you get caught?

Isn’t the wind changing?
The gas will be blown back the other way.

Shut the door, quick!

Run, everybody!

Run away!

I’ll give him ether.

To relieve the pain.

Don’t intervene.
He’s a perfect case for observation.

Allow me to do things my way.

No smoking!

Don’t interfere with the research.

It’s sentimentality.

You’re fast asleep.

You’re in a garden,

flowers all around,

with butterflies on them.

You turn around,

walk into the house.

Now you leave this place

- and go back to…
- I don’t want to go back!

Looking back may help one
get rid of memories.

Now take your time and answer

is there anything else you recall?

Was there anybody with you?

If you recall something, tell me.




Come in!

You’ve cut yourself.

So I have.

Because of me?

Kind of.

I’m sorry.

I’ve decided to come back.

Not to live, I’m living at
the monastery now.

To go on helping you.

What’s in this package?

It’s for you. Somebody dropped it
off at the gatehouse.

If you need me for experiments,
I don’t mind.

You’ve acquired a taste for pain?


But I owe you so much.

You owe me nothing.
Gratitude is a weakness.

Anyway, welcome back.

I still rely on volunteers.

But soon we’ll be doing big things.

I realize the risks,

but the results may be
beneficial for mankind.

Syphilis germs can fight mental illness.

And we know how to cure syphilis.

Are you sure?

To fight one illness with another?

Evil against evil, that’s the trick.

I know it sounds risky and paradoxical,
yet it’s true.

Straitjacket, please!

Put her on that bed.

Hey! What are you doing here?

Nothing much.

What’s that?


- A new measuring device.
- Let me see.

Pour me some ether, quick.

When I walk away, call the guards.

If they wonder what the smell is,

say he stole some ether
from the lab to drink.

Sorry, I need to go before the monks
close the gate.

No need to yell.

Give this to that pigeon breeder
I showed you.

Come again in a week.
I’m busy with something else now.


Will my suffering help someone?

Now we’re able to calculate the dosage.

Whose package is this?

Don’t know.

Let me see.

You came just in time.

Pecunia non olet.

- What does it mean?
- Money doesn’t stink. Even in the privy.

We can move forward with our research.

- Keep this to pay for your studies.
- I can’t take it.

War’s on the horizon
You never know, keep it safe.

It’s Russian money, no use to me.

Exchange it in the bank.

We could set up a real lab.

Lucky you, it won’t hurt.

Although the Bible says “with painful
labour you will give birth”.

Count out loud.




Lucky again, it was stillborn.

Given the choice,

you’d have never
had sex with the father of the child.

Your nose wouldn’t have liked him.

Here you are, five crowns.

Exchange this as well, please.

I’ll be right back.


That will do. I don’t need the wine.

What will you do with what you
have hidden in the box?

I’ll give it to someone to desecrate.

Nothing’s sacred.

- Is that a joke?
- No.

You are a sad joke, Father.

I’m just a very weak person.

How come your God doesn’t help you?

Maybe He does.

I could be much worse.

Oh, no! Not me.

No way. No dead bodies here.

Why, there’s eight of us,
nine including the doctor.

There’s one revolver
with eight chambers.

We have one head each…
A slim chance of getting killed.

Why don’t you begin, doctor?

No problem.

- I was born under a lucky star.
- Are you sure?


Well done!

Come on!

Come here!

Kill me!

Come on!

Come on!

Orders came from Vienna
no pigeons around the citadel.

We need to shoot them all.

I’m not joking.

That’ll do!

There’s probably none left.

What are you staring at? Dismissed!
No good for cooking, this one.

- We’ve got orders to search your room.
- From whom?

The Commander.

I need your strongbox key.

I don’t have one.

- Where is it?
- I don’t know.

I’m not using the strongbox.

The Commander has spare keys.

I’ll tell them everything in court.
You’ll be sorry...

We’re wasting our time.

Do you plead guilty?

Shall we use your tricks to get
you to confess?

Yes or no?

I’ve nothing to confess. The camera
was used to register an experiment.

Someone must have stolen it
to use it for evil purposes.

Who could that be?

Perhaps that assistant of yours?


It’s obvious it was him.


He must’ve killed someone
to get hold of this money.

And lost his mind if he burnt it.

- Who hired you to spy?
- A stranger, I don’t know him.

- Then why did you agree?
- Because he paid me.

- So you don’t know who he was.
- No.

- Not the doctor, by any chance?
- No!

You know you’ll hang for this?

But if you said it was the doctor,
you’d save your neck.

Was it the doctor?


- Was it the doctor?
- No. I acted on my own.

The doctor’s innocent!

I owe him everything.

Will you sign that you were
working on your own?

I will.

That rat has pleaded guilty.

You’re free.

Thank you.

Got away with it this time, huh?

- What happens to him?
- Who?

My assistant.

We’ll have to hang him.

Looks like you’re off the hook!

On certain conditions, but we’ll
talk about it later.

Here’s to…

a good solution.

And what exactly are we drinking to?

Good question.

Sometimes I propose a toast

to honour something
that is beyond reason…



I’ll leave that to you to answer.

It was you who took me for a fool.

But you were the one
who made the proposal.

Why did you do it?

Am I to explain myself?

You set me up.

Let’s say I put you to the test.

- In the name of what?
- Let’s say, of the truth.

But there’s no point in discussing it.

Neither here, nor in court.
It won’t help you in any way.

I have a suggestion for you.

We know what the court’s verdict
is going to be,

but you could save all that trouble
do the job yourself.


That’s up to you.

A pistol would be the easiest way…
Or use your ether if you like.


Right now.

You know where to go?

- No.
- Make up your mind.

I’m supposed to let you go.

How come? I pleaded guilty.

No one believes you.



The ether didn’t work.

Why don’t you try a gun?

You won’t let me see him
one last time?

What will you do when he’s
no longer around?

Follow in his footsteps.

I’ve been accepted at a paramedic school.

In that case we might be able to use you.

I know you’re not willing to confess.

Please hear my confession instead.

I’m not a real priest.
I pretend to be someone who’s dead.

I lied to you.

I took your money,

but that Host wasn’t consecrated.

- What did you do with the money?
- I gave it to the poor.


- Do they show gratitude?
- I don’t know.

They stopped coming.

Because they’re in jail.

The money was fake.

Like you.

Like everything.

Don’t say that!

One should tell the truth.

The truth…

Your last request?

Perhaps to donate my diary to the library.

Someone might use it.

We’ve burnt it, I’m afraid.
Anything else?

That they don’t miss.

Those bunglers either can’t or won’t
hit the target.








Show me your eye.

Not me, take him!


What’s the use of it all?

Why is God doing this?

Everything makes some kind of sense.


A priest? There’s no need.
I’m not a believer.

What is it you don’t believe in?

That you’ll hang tomorrow?

Well, you’re right, perhaps you won’t.

What happens then?

What do you wish for?

The Tsar might change the sentence.

To exile and hard labour.

A life of misery.

You could escape, with somebody’s help.

Sounds like a lot…

But it’s not enough for me.

What else could you ask for?


I want to have control over people.

All of them?

At least one.

In exchange for what?

What’s in it for you?

Something that you don’t believe in,
so it’s nothing to you…

Your non-existent soul.

It’s a good deal.

Who are you, by the way?

Someone you don’t think exists.

That disbelief is shared
by millions nowadays

and this is my triumph.



His Majesty grants you clemency,

commuting the death penalty
to life in exile.

I’ve shown him the way.
He’s from Podolia.

The boy says that the doctor
promised to help him.

There’s no God!

Screw God!

Behold the Cross of the Lord,
flee bands of enemies…

Begone, Satan…

I’ll take care of him.

Screw God!


What happens now?

That’s your problem.
I’ve helped you more than enough.

I’m powerless without your backing.

Do your best.

I might step in.

Don’t be scared. I love you.

Stay away from her.

- Who cares? She’s a mental case.
- None of your business.

Stay away or our deal is over.

Does she recognize me?

You wish she would?

Her words won’t be taken seriously.

Then what do you care?

In any case, she’s not the one.

Yours is dead.

You have her on your conscience.


What else would you expect of me?

I told you that I loved you

and wanted nothing in exchange.

I love others, too.

I want to love everybody.

But I’m still too weak for that.

This will do. I don’t need the wine.

Here’s what you asked for.

You won’t fool me.

You wanted it.

You never checked what kind of
priest he was.

You tried to cheat me.
That’s not nice.

I won’t be had, either.

We’ll see.

We got orders to search your room.

- From whom?
- The Commander.

What’s going on, huh?

You think you’re the only one working
for me? There’s a whole bunch.

Our Father who art in Heaven
Hallow’d be thy name.

Thy kingdom come
Thy will be done.

On Earth as it is in Heaven…

And lead us not into temptation
But deliver us from evil.

What happens now?

Better not to ask...