Due to the bounty of both aggrandizing and slanderous accounts — typically based on the political loyalties of the sources — the “facts” of Rasputin’s life often seem more mythology than history. For that reason, the putrid, brilliant, charlatanic, hypersexual, mystical — or none of those things — religious wanderer and incidental advisor to the Russian imperial family has become an enigmatic icon onto which we can project all kinds of campy notions of occultism and penis size.
Since Robert Eggers’ debut film, The Witch, pulled an anti-Crucible and envisioned Puritan-societal witchcraft myths as tangible threats to settlers’ cloistered existences, today’s announcement that Eggers will be writing and directing a six-to-eight episode miniseries about Rasputin couldn’t be more perfect. Similar to the ways 1600s American folklore speak to the anxieties of ultra-religious colonists, the stories told about Rasputin often seem to have merged with fantasy to express people’s own ire towards (or support of) the Russian monarchy at the dawn of the Revolution.
And so, we’ve put together a few select pieces of Rasputinian lore, apocryphal or otherwise, that we’d quite like to see turned into putrid, brilliant, charlatanic, hypersexual, mythical — or none of the above — scenes by the most-discussed director of the week. For the purposes of getting the FULL vision of this project’s potential, I’ve cast Oscar Isaac as Rasputin. (He proved quite adept at having a beard in Inside Llweyn Davis, quite adept at dancing in Ex Machina, quite adept at being misunderstood and forced into violent situations in A Most Violent Year, and quite adept at being, like Rasputin, the “Internet’s boyfriend.”)
Just as all stories that see the supernatural imposing on and shaking the ordinary, it’d be good for Rasputin’s story to ground itself in his earlier, less sensational lifestyle. The idea of Rasputin as we “know” him having a traditional Serbian wedding may be almost incomprehensible, but that’s what’d make this such a good scene, presuming that Eggers would avoid clichés depicting unease within the status quo — wandering eyes from the wanderlusty groom, a belabored “I do” (anglicized adaptation). No, I want to see Rasputin just have a very typical, uneventful wedding in his village of Pokrovskoye.
Travel Montage/Potential Visions
After his marriage — during which six children that were born, three of whom survived — Rasputin famously removed himself from small-town domesticity and travelled through Eastern Europe, and also made some pilgrimages to Israel. His story would be wildly incomplete without a few breathtaking travel montages of him as a man unfettered from his old life, soaking it all in, à la Elizabeth Gilbert, and maybe even having a religious vision or bloody premonition or two.
One of Rasputin’s most famous feats — apart from rising from peasanthood to political influence via his closeness with the monarchy — was purportedly healing the Tsar and Tsarina’s son, Alexei Nikolaevich, who was hurt and allegedly bleeding profusely due to hemophilia. Rasputin used prayer as a healing mechanism, though some think that he just took young Alexei’s aspirin away, as it’s a blood-thinner. Thus, depending on Eggers’ approach, if he treats it as he did The Witch, this scene could either see Rasputin and assorted others huddled over the boy, chanting him back to health in a frantic crescendo, or just involve Rasputin anticlimactically pocketing a bottle of aspirin. Or both.
Rasputin Uses a Telephone
Rasputin was notorious for loving the telephone, so this would be both a perfect way to ground the story in a historical moment through the awe towards this new invention we now consider so commonplace, and also a great way of showing Rasputin’s lighter side. In Frances Welch’s biography Rasputin: A Short Life, she speaks of how the healer would, with his daughter Maria, make “nuisance phone calls,” wherein Maria would “make suggestive overtures to men listed in the phone directory.” But, the author claims, he also loved to dance while he spoke on the phone — he’d have his singer friend sing a variety of tunes as he’d do “squats, twirls and stamps.”
First assassination attempt/recovery
Despite the fact that when he was actually assassinated, he was murdered through multiple means, there was also another attempted assassination well before he was finally killed in 1916. While Rasputin had left the city to go and visit his family, a townswoman named Khioniya Kuzminichna Guseva stabbed him in the stomach, allegedly loudly bragging about having killed the “antichrist,” until it turned out that Rasputin was still alive, and running quickly away from her. This would not only provide some needed action (even a jump scare?), but also a chance, in recovery from his knife wound, for Rasputin to really consider what matters.
Rasputin and Tsarina Alexandra
And now, the time has come — with prestige cable television graphicness — for Rasputin to live up to his perhaps mythological sexual reputation, which has been morphed into all sorts of wonderfully bizarre claims about his abilities. “Who can forget the claim,” writes Phil Reeves in the Independent, “that the reason noblewomen in St Petersburg were enraptured by this goatish conman was that he had an enormous wart on his penis, so positioned that one of his lovers passed out cold during orgasm?” It was often speculated Tsarina Alexandra Fyodorovna, who often conferred with Rasputin on policy that she’d then convince her husband to enact, had an affair with him. (It was also speculated — just as much as it was debunked — that together they were German spies.) In any case, this relationship would be a great one to mine for drama and eroticism… and, sure, enormous warts.
This is the most twisted — and most commonly known — story of them all. Rasputin was assassinated by Felix Yusupov, Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich, Vladimir Purishkevich and a couple of others — all of whom had slightly different accounts. The best option would therefore be to put all of them together, giving Rasputin the seemingly endless night of multiple deaths his legacy deserves. (Really, a whole episode could be — and should be — strictly this prolonged assassination). When cyanide-poisoned wine and petit fours didn’t kill him, a revolver was used. When bullet wounds through the chest and kidney didn’t do it, his killers finally shot him in the head, and then to be safe threw him off a bridge into an icy river.
Rasputin’s legacy hasn’t only amounted to a great deal of myths about his life, but also about his existence in death — or rather, the existence of a particular part of him. The Russian Museum of Erotica holds a pickled specimen it claims is Rasputin’s penis. The founder, Igor Knyazkin, once said of the acquirement, “We can stop envying America, where Napoleon Bonaparte’s penis is now kept… it cannot stand comparison to our organ of 30 centimeters.” That being said, there’s skepticism about the authenticity of the member: Atlas Obscura notes that a previous “Rasputin-penis” purchased by an American collector in 1994 proved to just be a sea cucumber. Alas, I think it’d be great — if not necessary — for the last shot to be the lone penis (or is it?) catching the ephemeral interest of passing tourists, and then watching them pass on by. This, friends, is the shriveled, ersatz monument we call history.