No discussion of the Taras Bulba/Gogol controversy would be complete if Cathy Young didn’t add her predictable two cents:
Yet in creating their propaganda vehicle, the makers of “Taras Bulba” were arguably more unfaithful to the source than those maligned Ukrainian translators. While Gogol admires his Cossacks as warriors for God and country, he unflinchingly portrays their less pleasant traits. They are addicted to warfare for its own sake, ever seeking a pretext to unleash violence on the hated Muslims, Catholics and Jews. They loot and kill; avenging fallen brothers-in-arms, they torch churches and burn women and infants. Not so in the movie, where the Poles commit graphically shown atrocities while the Cossacks, a Russian reviewer quipped, strictly follow the Geneva Convention. Bulba even gets a respectable motive for his anti-Polish crusade: In a pure invention of the filmmakers’, Polish soldiers burn his farm and butcher his wife.
Of course, this is a convention of popular film-making, which Young inevitably attributes to propagandistic motive. In Braveheart, which Englishmen everywhere find obnoxious in its unfair portrayal of their ancestors, Mel Gibson portrayed William Wallace as an inoffensive fellow who was merely avenging the wrongful execution of his wife, rather than telling the true story of Wallace, the brigand who quarreled with local officials and killed them over a catch of fish. Hardly anyone pretends that Braveheart is a faithful representation of the history of Scotland, and viewers can be similarly skeptical of Taras Bulba‘s literal fidelity to Gogol’s story, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the either is a bad or unworthy film, much less that it can be dismissed as simple propaganda.
In other words, the creators of Taras Bulba engaged in poetic license, which hardly anyone finds even remotely objectionable when it is done in adaptations of other historic, legendary or fictional characters, but which is obviously a heinous act when it serves to portray a Cossack or a Russian in a relatively favorable way. Ideologies do come and go, and happily Gogol and his work have outlasted several of them, and one can only hope that they will continue to do so long after fashionable Western anti-Russianism, Ukrainian nationalism and Putinism are all long dead.