In the second episode of Dekalog, Dekalog 2: “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.”, Dorota is a young woman earnestly seeking the consultation of an elderly doctor who happens to be her neighbor in the high-rise housing complex in which the series is situated. The doctor is a senior physician at the hospital, and he lives alone, having lost his family many years before. Dorota’s husband, Andrzej, is mortally ill in the doctor’s cancer ward, and she is urgently trying to find out about his condition and his chances for survival. Even this basic information is revealed only slowly, as the film is shot mostly in closeup on the two principal characters going about relatively mundane activities. The doctor is shown to be a gruff, lonely figure who is set in his ways, and the viewer may wonder why considerable viewing time is spent watching him simply puttering around in his apartment and tending to his cacti. But the slowly developed character threads are brought together in the end. And while much of the film’s screen time is devoted to Dorota’s activities, the thematically significant character development is that of the doctor. When the story reaches its ironic conclusion, it brings about a satisfying closure and elevates the entire narrative to a sublime viewing experience.
The doctor’s detachment from human feeling is revealed by the manner in which he tells a probably oft-repeated story to his housekeeper. The story turns out to be how his entire family, including his daughter and infant son, was obliterated during a World War II air raid some forty years earlier, and in his dispassionate storytelling we see the degree to which he has insulated himself from such a horror.
As a senior physician in charge of a cancer ward, the doctor is matter-of-fact about death and shows no particular interest in seeing the woman any earlier than the usual once-a-week two-hour period when family members may consult with the doctors – especially since his only previous connection with this woman was her running over his dog with her car two years earlier. But Dorota is so insistent that he finally relents to an earlier meeting, and it is then, fully half-way through the film, that we finally learn what is really at issue. She reveals to the doctor that she has never been able to have children before, but now she is three-months pregnant – only the expectant father is not Andrzej. She believes that this is probably her only chance ever to have a baby, and she wants to know from the doctor whether Andrzej will recover or not. If the answer is yes, she will have an abortion, but if the answer is no, she will have the baby and live together with the baby’s father, Janek.
The doctor does not want to be in the position of making such a life-or-death decision and tells her that medical science cannot predict the precise outcome of any patient – there are always exceptions. But Dorota needs to have a definitive answer and won’t let the doctor get away without him telling her everything he knows. She tries to do the impossible and explain herself to the old man, asserting to him in anguished tones that, yes, it is indeed possible to love two men at the same time. He looks back at her noncommittally, and she recognizes the hopelessness of her task. Even so, the doctor does try and get her some more authoritative information, without making that ultimate decision for her. And little by little, and probably against his will, as well, the doctor is becoming more intimately involved in the life of another person. He goes back and checks Andrzej’s condition and medical tests in more detail. He finally tells her that her husband’s prospects are actually extremely grim: there is probably no more than a 15% chance that he will even linger on for awhile.
Dorota, though, is still agonizing over what decision to make. After watching her barely conscious husband’s suffering in the hospital, where even the sound of dripping water is agonizing for him, she finally decides to commit herself to his fate and go ahead and have the abortion. Even though his chances of survival are negligible, she decides to give up her chance of having the baby. And when she tells this to her lover, Janek, they both recognize that her decision means abandonment of any future life together, regardless of whether Andrzej survives or not.
Dorota then goes back to the hospital to tell the doctor of her decision and take him off the hook concerning the unborn child’s fate. She has made the decision on her own terms. But to her shock, the doctor suddenly abandons his detached demeanor and emphatically tells her not to have the abortion. Andrzej’s condition is absolutely hopeless, he tells her, and she should definitely not have the abortion. Still wavering, Dorota asks the doctor to swear to what he had said, and this is where the Biblical Commandment of the episode’s title is engaged. The doctor says, “I swear”.
When someone swears to something, it implies a solemn oath in affirmation of belief in some sacred being or text, such as the Bible. This is what Dorota probably intuitively meant. But for a scientist, such as the doctor, the use of the term ‘swear’ would attest to the doctor’s firm belief in the integrity of science, itself. In this case the doctor was swearing on the basis of his scientific credo. On the basis of his further investigations, the doctor is now sufficiently sure of his judgement, and wants Dorota to know and profit from his knowledge. His own baby was killed in that long-ago bomb blast, and he wants Dorota to have the chance that he didn’t have to raise a child. He has, to a certain extent, been restored to life – to a concern about the fate of Dorota. He even tells her as she leaves his office that he knows she is a violonist for the Philharmonia and that he would like to come and hear her play sometime.
But the world, and the Lord, work in mysterious ways, and science cannot predict everything. A miraculous event dramatically alters the circumstances for those concerned at the close of the story. Despite the doctor's "oath", things came out differently. The old doctor is praised for his scientific skills by a jubilant, expectant parent and asked rhetorically whether he “understands” what it means to have a child. The doctor, still not revealing the depth of his feelings, understands all too well.