Sunday, 16 November 2014

An Appendix to Structures of Soviet Science Fiction: Visitor to a Museum

Following the previous feature, which touched on the influence of Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1979 film Stalker and its parallels with the ‘zone of exclusion’ created by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, the 28th Leeds International Film Festival has screened two Soviet films which can be considered in the same light. Both were written and directed by Konstantin Lopuchansky, who worked as an assistant on Stalker, and both deal with post-apocalyptic environments. Lopuchansky’s screenplay for the first of these, Letters from a Dead Man (1986), was written in collaboration with Soviet authors Vladimir Rybakov and Boris Strugatsky. The film depicts the aftermath of nuclear meltdown, a golden-tinted world of ‘perpetual twilight’ where a scholar, holed up in a makeshift shelter, copes with the devastation around him by writing and reciting letters to his son, who is presumed dead.


Posters for Letters from a Dead Man and Visitor to a Museum,
from 'The Apocalypse Quartet of Konstantin Lopushansky' at

The second, Visitor to a Museum (1989), has even been interpreted as a sequel of sorts to Stalker. Its main character travels through a vividly portrayed nightmarish wasteland (literally – it appears to be one vast rubbish dump) on a journey to visit the Museum of the title, which lies submerged under rising flood waters and can only be reached at low tide. In this blighted landscape, an underclass of mutated humans, known as Degenerates, are confined to reservations, where they persist in primitive forms of worship – their sole prayer is “let us out of here”. The central protagonist is disturbed by their plight and fascinated by their religious customs, later seemingly being adopted by them as a Messiah before continuing on his mission as a form of spiritual quest. The latter part of the film is particularly hallucinatory and harrowing; the ‘hero’ reaches the Museum, only to find that it is nothing more than a bleak island of ruins amidst the toxic sea. These evocations of a decayed civilisation, environmental ruin and social collapse are vividly portrayed throughout – a truly dystopian vision created at the very end of the era of Soviet Communism. 

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