A successful international journalist, Jerzy Michalowski (Zbigniew Zapasiewicz), makes a guest appearance on a televised variety show to reflect on his life and work. Candid and self-assured, Jerzy’s evasive comments on the limited freedom of the Polish press on domestic issues causes concern to a programming official who believes that the serious topics discussed in the interview overstep the intended entertainment format of the program. Meanwhile, Jerzy’s family life is in a state of upheaval. After meeting at the airport, Jerzy’s wife Ewa (Ewa Dalkowska) leaves him alone on the sidewalk and announces that she has moved out of the house with their younger daughter and is filing for divorce. Jerzy enlists the aid of his dentist and mutual friend, Wanda (Emilia Krakowska), but Eva continually refuses to meet with Jerzy and explain her decision to leave, uncertain over her own feelings and emotionally manipulated by her insecure lover, Jacek (Andrzej Seweryn). Eva’s attorney (Jerzy Stuhr) encourages Jerzy to agree to the divorce in order to spare him from the complications of a protracted and divisive trial, but Jerzy insists on disputing the petition. Attempting to escape his personal problems, Jerzy turns to the distraction of work, only to find that his seminar at a local university has been inexplicably canceled and his privileges at the news organization have been curtailed. Without the support of his family and under the pervasive gaze of unnamed authorities, Jerzy’s life spirals out of control.
Without Anesthesia is a cleverly incisive, relevant, and intriguing examination on the persecution of an intellectual during communist Poland. Co-written with Agnieszka Holland, Andrzej Wajda creates a surreal, Kafka-esque, and allegorical portrait of the widespread government intervention, euphemistically called “rough treatment”, that occurred during the tenure of the First Party secretary, Edward Gierek, which often led to career and personal ruin. Using fragmented scenes and unresolved relationships, Wajda provides a subtle reflection of the destructive and arbitrary nature of political suppression: the enigmatic young student, Agata’s (Krystyna Janda) unprovoked attachment to Jerzy; Jacek’s open hostility and consuming envy towards the prominent journalist; Ewa’s determination to continue with the divorce proceedings despite overwhelming personal uncertainty. In the end, the elusive adversary proves to be omnipotent, and Jerzy is unable to escape its stifling grasp – suffocated by its pervasive stranglehold – and reduces him to a shell of his former self.
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