I came across a movie this week on YouTube entitled Ballad of a Soldier (1959). Directed by Grigoriy Chukhray, the film tells the story of a young private in the Red Army during World War Two named Alyosha Skvortsov (Volodya Ivashov).

Alyosha manages to cripple two German Panzers by himself with a heavy machine gun. For his heroism in battle, he is awarded a six-day pass to go home. He has two days to travel there, two days to spend with his mother, and two days to return to the front. This seems simple enough and not very interesting, but the story turns into a Greek tragedy quickly with Alyosha playing the part of a wandering Odysseus.

As Alyosha begins his journey, he encounters a soldier headed for the front who asks Alyosha to visit his wife and father for him. Alyosha does so and presents both with gifts of soap from the soldier, who is a faithful husband and son. Unfortunately for the soldier, his wife turns out to be not nearly as faithful. Alyosha then helps a man who lost his leg in battle return to his wife, which takes up precious time on his pass. That completed, Alyosha turns his attention back to going home but meets a young woman named Shura (Zhanna Prokhorenko) as both stow away on a train. One setback leads to another, and the two fall in love.

Eventually, Alyosha has to part with Shura. In a wrenching scene, she watches as his train pulls away. He endures more setbacks, including his train exploding from a German artillery attack, and finally arrives at his village. However, by then there is time only to embrace his mother and say goodbye. Like Shura, his mother is left watching as Alyosha departs. 

Ballad of a Soldier depicts the tedium and horror of war, but it also raises the question of fate and how we respond to life’s challenges. Specifically, is it better to remain fixed on your goals or experience life as it comes to you? Clearly, Alyosha did the latter, but he did so out of a generosity of spirit that compelled him to help others, especially those who had been wronged or were suffering. In the end, he paid dearly for his generosity. But the choice may not be ours after all, particularly for people of faith. For instance, the psalmist exclaims, “Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth; all the stages of my life were spread out before you, The days of my life all prepared before I’d even lived one day” (Psalm 139:16). 

This is not to say that free will does not exist, but maybe our choice comes down to accepting our fate or not. If we do not, then we must spend our days struggling to create another reality. That is the modern dilemma with many succumbing to nihilism, which is nothing but intellectual despair. The ancients had it easier. They believed that no one could escape their fate no matter how hard they tried.

Alyosha could have denied the soldier’s request and ignored the one-legged vet, which means he likely would not have met Shura. He would have arrived at his village and spent two days with his mother. He even might have ended up marrying the girl next door, who showed up during his brief visit. Instead, he let himself get sidetracked by other people and their needs. 

You might argue that Alyosha followed his heart, but then you would have to justify the cruelty of doing so. By following his heart, he lost the relationship with Shura and time with his mother. This, after having squandered four days on the road. That doesn’t exactly reflect well on the “come what may” approach to life. Was he simply an inexperienced youth, an idiot, a sucker? 

The real dilemma is not deciding which should govern your life: the heart or intellect. It’s clear that we need balance. Too much of the former can lead to suffering and heartache. Too much of the latter can make people successful but insufferable. The best way to get sidetracked is to know what’s happening and to agree to go along for the ride. Nobody wants to get railroaded.

Image credits: Film images used under Fair Use. No copyright infringement intended. For more, go to Robert Brancatelli. The Brancatelli Blog is a member of The Free Media Alliance, which promotes “alternatives to software, culture, and hardware monopolies.”


  1. Corporel Tim Davis tortured and quarterd.. Didn’t have a chance despite efforts to smuggle cake..Wink..and..Mad Magazines. It was evident from the get go with the stichmarx circulating the ear. Big Big loafers to Phil. Slash ye knew him well..

  2. Thank you, Robert. Your post is meaningful for me at this moment of my life. Difficult questions and struggles when in midst of the needs of others, and the day to day passing of one’s days, months, and years. This, without clear choice for change that would cause significant change for others. Difficult when persons do not accept any responsibility, but allow the full weight of a situation to rest in one place. Pues, the challenge to respond, rather than react… Which is what a beloved Jesuit community of long term friends did for me, out of the blue…this week. I received a text from one of these dear friends, telling me that he was sending the Lord to me, and to have someone pick up my mail on Thursday. A small box arrived, containing 5 consecrated Hosts. It had been more than a year, since I had received the Sacrament, as I cannot leave Laura, alone.

    1. Thank you for this. I had no idea about your situation with Mass. I am glad you have had some comfort now. I think the hardest part is doing things not without recompense but without gratitude or appreciation. Sure, we’re not supposed to be that way but we are. We’re human. It would be nice once in a while for others to grow up and not be rebelling all the time.

  3. Whaa? Sounds like some Russian Romance Epic? Is the protagonist here belgian( he looks belgian) or some N9rdic strain.Gianini probably would have been a better casting choerce. You know..
    The word Provudence escatologicly speaking. i dont know a better word or concept. Thanks for your literal mastapieces. Besides 7xam mass your work gives me something profound to look?forward every sabbath.
    Thanx little bro.

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