Ivan the Terrible was Sergei Eisenstein’s final film, created as the Soviet Union was being overrun by Nazi Germany. This biopic is a tribute to the sixteenth-century Russian Tsar Ivan IV, known as “The Terrible” in the West. Despite that Western moniker, Russians remember Ivan IV as a modernizer of medieval Russia who unified the country to brilliant military victories in the early part of his reign. That’s exactly what we see in Part One of this movie. So, you can understand why the Stalinist regime was happy to publish it.
Part Two of Ivan the Terrible wasn’t so well received by the Soviet censors. It portrayed Tsar Ivan’s increasingly unhinged and paranoid behavior. As such, it got banned for a decade and was only released after Stalin’s death.
Part Three sadly never made it past the earliest stages of shooting.
All in all, Eisenstein’s Ivan the Terrible today seems like some incomplete mystery that the world unfortunately never got to see to its completion. The genius that Eisenstein imbued into the telling of Ivan’s story sadly will never be fully realized. Nevertheless, you should absolutely consider giving this Part I a watch – it really is a marvelous film. Always mysterious and full of ambiguous cues, it creates a portrait of Ivan that rejects simplification and a clear hero-villain narrative.