Science Fiction Film & Television

Back to the future in Arkanar

The Strugatskiis, Aleksei German Sr and the problem of injustice in Hard to Be a God

Science Fiction Film & Television (2015), 8, (2), 233–253.

Abstract

This article examines the treatment of the ethical problem of human injustice, cruelty and oppression in Boris and Arkadii Strugatskii’s 1964 novel Trudno byt’ bogom (Hard To Be A God) and its screen adaptation by Aleksei Yurevich German, Trudno byt’ bogom: istoriia arkanarskoi rezni (Hard To Be A God: History of the Arkanar Rebellion; Russia 2013). I also draw briefly on the Strugatskiis’ 1976 stage play based on their book, Bez oruzhiia (Without Weapons), and the 2006 screenplay co-written by German and his wife, Svetlana Igorevna Karmalita, Chto skazal tabachnik s Tabachnoi ulitsy (What the Tobacconist from Tobacco Street Said), each of which differs significantly from other versions of the narrative. I explore the very different production histories of the Strugatskiis’ novel and German’s film, analysing their resonances with other texts from the canon of Western sf fiction and cinema. Arguing that neither the novel nor the film is strictly sf at all, I suggest (following Elana Gomel) that their generic ambiguity is a deliberate ploy to make each text an allegory of contemporary Russia. Finally, I assess selected Western and Russian critical reactions to the film, concluding with a revealing parallel between the plot of Trudno byt’ bogom and that of Russia’s earliest sf classic, Yakov Protazanov’s Aelita (USSR 1924).

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Bergan, Ronald. ‘Aleksei German obituary’. The Guardian (26 Feb 2013). http://www.theguardian.com/film/2013/feb/26/aleksei-german. Accessed 15 Jan 2015. Google Scholar

Beumers, Birgit. A History of Russian Cinema. Oxford: Berg, 2009.A History of Russian Cinema Google Scholar

Bykov, Dmitri. ‘Nadezhda dlia Arkanara’. Ogonek (3 Mar 2008). http://www.ogoniok.com/5037/25. Accessed 12 Jan 2015. Google Scholar

Chapman, James, and Nicholas J. Cull. Projecting Tomorrow: Science Fiction and Popular Cinema. London: I.B. Tauris, 2013.Projecting Tomorrow: Science Fiction and Popular Cinema Google Scholar

Corney, Frederick C. ‘Aleksei German’s Empire of the Senses’. Kinokultura 46 (2014). http://www.kinokultura.com/2014/46r-trudno-byt-bogom.shtml. Accessed 15 Jan 2015. Google Scholar

Dalton-Brown, S. ‘It’s Hard to Be a God’. Reference Guide to Russian Literature. Ed. Neil Cornwell. London: Routledge, 2013. 785–6.‘It’s Hard to Be a God’Reference Guide to Russian Literature7856 Google Scholar

Dolin, Anton. German: interv’iu, esse, stsenarii. Moscow: Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie, 2011.German: interv’iu, esse, stsenarii Google Scholar

Dolin, Anton. ‘The Strange Case of Russian Maverick Aleksei German’. Trans. Oleg Dubson. Film Comment (Mar/Apr 2012). http://www.filmcomment.com/article/the-strange-case-of-russian-maverick-aleksei-german. Accessed 15 Jan 2015. Google Scholar

Eco, Umberto. ‘Umberto Eco: “… Imenno o nas, o tom, chto s nami mozhet sluchit’sia”’. Trans. Elena Kostiukovich. Novaia gazeta (11 Nov 2013). http://www.novayagazeta.ru/arts/60879.html. Accessed 30 Sept 2014. Google Scholar

Ellis, Carol Schwartz. ‘With Eyes Uplifted: Space Aliens as Sky Gods’. Liquid Metal: The Science Fiction Film Reader. Ed. Sean Redmond. London: Wallflower, 2004. 145–53.With Eyes Uplifted: Space Aliens as Sky GodsLiquid Metal: The Science Fiction Film Reader14553 Google Scholar

Etkind, Alexander. Warped Mourning: Stories of the Undead in the Land of the Unburied. Stanford. Stanford UP, 2013.Warped Mourning: Stories of the Undead in the Land of the Unburied Google Scholar

Garros, Aleksandr. ‘Vremia Germana: Aleksei German o tom, kto kakoe iskusstvo delaet’. Snob (Nov 2010). http://www.snob.ru/magazine/entry/26473?rp=lj. Accessed 11 Jan 2015. Google Scholar

German, Aleksei, and Svetlana Karmalita. ‘Chto skazal tabachnik s Tabachnoi ulitsy’. Chto skazal tabachnik s Tabachnoi ulitsy. St Petersburg: Amfora, 2006. 608–84.Chto skazal tabachnik s Tabachnoi ulitsyChto skazal tabachnik s Tabachnoi ulitsy60884 Google Scholar

Gomel, Elana. ‘The Poetics of Censorship: Allegory as Form and Ideology in the Novels of Arkady and Boris Strugatskii’. Science Fiction Studies 65 (1995): 87–105.‘The Poetics of Censorship: Allegory as Form and Ideology in the Novels of Arkady and Boris Strugatskii’Science Fiction Studies6587105 Google Scholar

Hemingway, Ernest. The Fifth Column. London: Jonathan Cape, 1968.The Fifth Column Google Scholar

Howell, Yvonne. Apocalyptic Realism: The Science Fiction of Arkady and Boris Strugatskii. New York: Peter Lang, 1994.Apocalyptic Realism: The Science Fiction of Arkady and Boris Strugatskii Google Scholar

Idlis, Yuliia. ‘Detskaia voznia v pal’to Istorii’. Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie 85 (2007). http://magazines.russ.ru/nlo/2007/85/id27-pr.html. Accessed 30 Sep 2014. Google Scholar

Kaveney, Roz. From Alien to the Matrix: Reading Science Fiction Film. London: I.B. Tauris, 2005.From Alien to the Matrix: Reading Science Fiction Film Google Scholar

Kharkhordin, Oleg. ‘Natsional’naia idea v fil’me “Trudno byt’ bogom”’. Vedomosti (17 Jan 2014). http://www.vedomosti.ru/opinion/news/21446901/otkaz-ot-renessansa#ixzz36PDzXTN0. Accessed 15 Jan 2015. Google Scholar

Le Guin, Ursula. ‘European SF: Rottensteiner’s Anthology, the Strugatskys, and Lem’, Science Fiction Studies 3 (1974): 181–5.European SF: Rottensteiner’s Anthology, the Strugatskys, and LemScience Fiction Studies31815 Google Scholar

Nechaev, Aleksandr. ‘Kameron ukral ideiu “Avatara” u brat’ev Strugatskikh?’ Komsomolskaia pravda (11 Jan 2010). http://www.kp.ru/daily/24422.5/592579. Accessed 28 Jan 2015. Google Scholar

Redmond, Sean. Foreword to Section Four, ‘The Origin of the Species: Time Travel and the Primal Scene’. Liquid Metal: The Science Fiction Film Reader. Ed. Sean Redmond. London: Wallflower, 2004. 114–15.The Origin of the Species: Time Travel and the Primal SceneLiquid Metal: The Science Fiction Film Reader11415 Google Scholar

Skalandis, Ant. Brat’ia Strugatskie. Moscow: ACT, 2008.Brat’ia Strugatskie Google Scholar

Strugatskie, Arkadii and Boris. Bez oruzhiia. http://lib.ru/STRUGACKIE/armless.txt_with-big-pictures.html. Accessed 15 Jan 2015. Google Scholar

Strugatskie, Arkadii and Boris. Trudno byt’ bogom. Moscow: ACT, 2014.Trudno byt’ bogom Google Scholar

Strugatskii, Boris. Kommentarii k proidennomu. St Petersburg: Amfora, 2003.Kommentarii k proidennomu Google Scholar

Sul’kin, Oleg. ‘Proshchal’nyi fil’m Alekseia Germana vykhodit na ekrany Ameriki’. Golos Ameriki (24 Jan 2015). http://www.golos-ameriki.ru/content/hard-to-be-a-god/2612032.html. Accessed 30 Jan 2015. Google Scholar

Todorov, Tzvetan. The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre. Trans. Richard Howard. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1975.The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre Google Scholar

Trofimenkov, Mikhail. ‘Dovol’no srednie veka’. Kommersant (28 Feb 2014). http://www.kommersant.ru/doc/2417757. Accessed 15 Sep 2014. Google Scholar

Vail’, Petr. ‘Aleksei German: “Trudno byt’ bogom” – skazal tabachnik s Tabachnoi ulitsy’. Iskusstvo kino 8 (2000). http://kinoart.ru/archive/2000/08/n8-article1. Accessed 12 Dec 2014. Google Scholar

Vail’, Petr. ‘Sni o Rossii’ (Introduction). Chto skazal tabachnik s Tabachnoi ulitsy. Aleksei German and Svetlana Karmalita. St Petersburg: Amfora, 2006. 7–14.Sni o RossiiChto skazal tabachnik s Tabachnoi ulitsy714 Google Scholar

Vail’, Petr. ‘Zhizn’ pri Germane: Vydaiushchemusia kinorezhisseru ispolniaetsia 70’. Rossiiskaia gazeta (18 Aug 2008). http://www.rg.ru/2008/07/18/german.html. Accessed 12 Jan 2015. Google Scholar

Weissberg, Jay. ‘Film Review: “Hard to Be a God”’. Variety, 22 Nov 2013. http://variety.com/2013/film/reviews/rome-film-review-hard-to-be-a-god-1200871096. Accessed 15 January 2015. Google Scholar

Young, Deborah. ‘Hard to Be a God (Trudno byt’ bogom): Rome Review’. Hollywood Reporter (11 Nov 2013). http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/review/hard-be-a-god-trudno-656020. Accessed 15 Jan 2015. Google Scholar

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Maguire, Muireann