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Letters from a Dead Man (Soviet Union 1986)

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message 1: by Manuel (last edited Feb 18, 2011 01:06PM) (new)

Manuel | 144 comments Its been several months since a nuclear war devastated Moscow. Rolan Bykov playes an elderly Nobel Prize laureate trying to survive with his wife and academic colleagues under the ruins of the History Museum. Bykov is trying to keep himself sane by composing a series of mental letters to his son Eric, who was most likely killed in the nuclear blast.

The letters are an effective cinematic tool, because it lets us hear the internal thoughts of the protagonist and we get to see in flash back mode how he was initially safe in the Central Bunker, but he managed to escape to the surface to look for his wife and son (Eric). Bykov escapes by riding the train of the dead...a conveyer type vehicle where the countless dead from the bunker are being deposited on the surface.

Now months after the initial blast; Bykov's seismograph is no longer picking up activity and he presumes the third world war is over. We discover there are still pockets of survivors under the debris of Moscow; a sort of community and barter black market economy has developed, despite the withering presence of the Soviet Government. It is still possible to move around Moscow if you have heavy radiation suits. The authorities are trying to gather healthy survivors in the Central Bunker where they will probably stay for the next 30-50 years.

Bykov has been trying to find food and medicines for his cancer stricken wife at the museum. While scavenging through Moscow he has discovered a handful of children under an orphanage. The children once numbered 40, but their priest care-taker says most of them have died, the remaining children are still in shock and are unable to speak. It is not likely they will be approved to live in the Central Bunker without their parents.

At the museum Bykov's wife finally dies and in true Russian fashion, his peers debate the state of humanity and the true nature of man's relationship to man. It is discovered the war was accidental with the Soviet Union firing the first shot. In a film with minimal color and much more realistic ruins (compared to THE DAY AFTER from 1983) The slow motion flashback scenes of a night time Moscow being consumed in flames are actually quite beautiful; done in a way that you feel the death agony of all civilization. The bright fireball over the Kremlin incinerating the central city and then spreading across the river into the suburbs.

As Bykov's museum colleagues prepare to leave for the Central Bunker they are gathering books from the upstairs gallery, they worry about the future. It is still a world where books and art are valued, but they are now valued as fuel.

Bykov discovers the children are about to be abandoned, his purpose will now be reclaim humanity and look after these forgotten children. He composes another mental letter to his son as we see the children getting ready to celebrate Christmas under the ruins of the perpetual twilight. Bykov's letter reminds his son of past Christmas' where people would gather together to share their joy in each other's presence. He reminds his son of the last Christmas ritual when people would go outside to look at the sky for the first evening star to make a wish. The camera pulls back and we see their bunker surrounded by little candles lit by the children.

The letter's narrative is taken up by a child's voice telling about the day the pastor (Bykov) died. The last scene.......a group of people in radiation suits (most likely the grown children) making their way out of the city towards the brightest spot in the twilight horizon.



Very surprising film about nuclear war from the Russian side. I was expecting a very heavy handed message from the Communist state; instead, I was extremely shocked and surprised by the religious themes and iconography in a film made in a country which was officially atheist.

Not the easiest film to watch, Russian movies are much more verbose where the main characters will actually discus the human condition, unlike the action driven American movies. Limited appeal, but well worth viewing for the die hard sci-fi fan.

This movie left me emotionally exhausted and it haunted my thoughts for days.


message 2: by George (new)

George | 63 comments now, that's an interesting review. thanks


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