Russian Tattoos in Eastern Promises
So, I just saw “Eastern Promises,” the latest David Cronenberg movie, which like “A History of Violence,” also featured Viggo Mortensen (Aragorn). It was really good, and prominently featured the Russian mob. Viggo’s character is decorated in tattoos, which end up as a big part of the movie, and it’s really interesting. In the “thief in law” tradition, tattoos say everything about you. As explained in this article:
In Russian prisons, tattoos emerged as a visual mode of communication, linked with social division. The images of churches, Christs, cats, Madonnas, dolphins and bears, to name just a few, became part of a secret, political language that allowed for clandestine communication both in and out of the system.
There’s even a special featurette on the DVD about the alcohol-based fake tattoos made for the movie. From a design perspective, it’s really interesting to think about the tattoos as a visual code. The tattoos say everything: what kind of crime, if you used to do it or still do it, prison sentences, and affiliations. I mean, despite the horror of what these people are responsible for, it’s pretty bad ass. Two of the tattoos Viggo picked for his character are a pair with one on each foot. On one foot, it says “where are you going?” in Russian. On the other, it says “what the fuck do you care?” There’s even a movie, called the The Mark of Caïn, which Netflix doesn’t have unfortunately.