My Name is Ivan, by its original Russian name, is called Ivan's Childhood. It is not, however, a film about childhood, nor even entirely about Ivan. It is a film about war—not a clean, sensational Hollywood representation of the tragedy of war, but a heavy, dark, Russian depiction of real devastation. Yet that heaviness gives way to moments of intense beauty and feeling.
Ivan is a twelve year old boy whose family has been killed by German soldiers. Refusing to go to an orphanage and determined to avenge his family, he becomes a scout for the Russian army. Disturbing pictures of bad behavior are intertwined with dream sequences revealing a once happy and pleasant boy. Ivan is presented as a hard and belligerent young man, yet when Corporal Katasonych comes to see him, he embraces Ivan, while the boy jumps into his arms and kisses his face with true delight. For a moment he is a sweet young boy again. This film deals not only with the issues of children in a war torn world, but also the deeper questions that the soldiers face—do they have any right to corrupt this child for military ends?
Despite its child protagonist, this is not a children's film, and the question of whether or not to share it with children is a complex one. Not only is its subject matter sophisticated and often disturbing, but its poetic imagery and loose hold to narrative form make this a film for much study and thought. In a superficial discussion, this may prove a valuable viewing experience for the sober child, an opportunity to explain that life for many in the world may be different or more difficult than it is for us. The issues of war, exploitation and unrepentantly vivid images of death may be too much for any child, though it is a brilliant and difficult film that should be watched and understood by adults.