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Friday, May 22, 2015

The Strugatsky Brothers: Hard to Be a God

Many times a sci-fi story suggests features and trends of the epoch contemporary with the authors, and it does it with much more clarity than books of any other genre. Hard to Be a God (Трудно быть богом) apparently speaks about a planet far away and from a very distant future, while actually it is a coded description of things that happen hic et nunc. And it remains in 2015 as actual as it was in 1964, when it was published.

A group of scientists is sent from Earth to an alien planet inhabited by humans living still in medieval times. The task of the envoys is to observe the way aliens evolve (and to report), to try to assist them (in evolving this way and not that way) ... you got the picture. The course of events force the envoys to intervene brutally sometimes, though theoretically this is to be avoided. As it always happen, any intervention produces the worse. What should God do in turn? Maybe the Supreme Being would respect their liberty and let them on their own. Only it is very hard to be God and behave godly, firstly because you are not God (though sometimes you think you are), and despite the huge civilizational difference, Earth humans and alien humans share the same instincts, the same misunderstanding of the otherness, and the same appetite to be in total control (plus, perversely, the same appetite for living in a tightly controlled world).

Two movies have been made based on the novel. The first one, made in 1989, was an international project. The Strugatskys did not agree with the way the director (Peter Fleischmann) was conceiving the movie and stopped any collaboration with him. A second movie was made in 2013, an entirely Russian production this time, directed by Aleksey German. The 1989 movie unfolds on a planet of desert landscapes and caverns. Is it an alien world still in the dawn of history, or is it rather about us, as our atomic present cannot have another outcome? In the 2013 film the landscape is more familiar, as both us and the aliens probably live on the same planet: the elephant is in the room.

(Arkady and Boris Strugatsky)

(Russian and Soviet Cinema)

(German and Nordic Cinema)



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