In contemporary Russia young brothers Vanya and Andrey have grown a deep attachment to each other to make up for their fatherless childhood. Running home after a fight with neighborhood kids the boys are shocked to discover their father has returned after a twelve year absence. With their mother's uneasy blessing Vanya and Andrey set out on what they believe will be a fishing vacation with their taciturn father.
The dubious sanctuary of a rickety light tower, the desperate reassurance of a stolen knife, the cryptic allure of a rusting strong box and the fleeting safety of a hastily patched boat give evidence to the ultimately tragic conclusion of Vanya and Andrey's harrowing father and son journey and the heartbreakingly transitory nature of their reunion.
The film is loaded with religious imagery. The first time we see the father he is sleeping on a bed, staged very similarly to Andrea Mantegna’s Fifteenth Century painting “The Lamentation over the Dead Christ”. When the boys go up to the attic to find the old photo of their father, it is in a Bible next to a drawing of the scene of Abraham about to sacrifice his son Isaac. At dinner the father passes out wine and food in such a way that takes the mind to Jesus’ final meal with his disciples. The very set up of the story brings to mind two of Jesus’ parables of a father with two sons (Matthew 21:28-32 and Luke 15:11-32).
It is very similar to people's reactions to a perceived silence of God. The loudest silence perhaps was the Holocaust, but that silence can be found in personal lives as well. When God is known after such a silence, how do people respond? Do they seek God's approval as Andrei sought the father's approval, or do they rebel as Ivan did? Is it God who must prove Godself, or we who must prove ourselves to God?