Review of Visitor of a Museum (1989)

Moving picture, 136 minutes

Konstantin Lopushansky (writer-director).

Seen in 2016.

A strange man from the city says he’s a tourist, using one of his four weeks of annual leave to visit the coast. Chief among the local sights is the “Museum”, the colloquial name for an old city submerged beneath the waves, except when an anomalous tide lays it bare. The water otherwise continues to rise, and the sea is dead. Toxic waste blankets the Museum, says the manager of a weather station. Like other middle-class locals, he keeps braziers burning beneath his ground-floor windows to discourage the degenerates. About 40% are now born into that class, demented and deformed, perhaps by the poisonous dust in the air. They have formed a religion. Their sole prayer, which they call “the words”, is “Let me out of here”.

Pensive science fiction. A still-more arty, religiously infused followup to Letters from a Dead Man (1986). Light on scripting, heavy on marvelously oppressive, stylized sights and sounds. Lopushansky, working without the Strugatskys or other writers, does manage to come up with a decent story, albeit a thin one. It is as if Ingmar Bergman, Kurosawa Akira and Andrei Tarkovsky got together to film Gamma World (1978) and—true to their bourgeois prejudices—decided to cut out all of the action and all of the comedy, replacing these with a grim ecumenical Christian vision akin to the Mercerism of Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968). The deformed masses here echo those deemed unfit for space travel in Dick’s novel. Perhaps the flooded city is one of the holy sites of Christianity, and the “mound” in the dialogue is the hill of Golgotha.

Despite the religious content—cf. The Sacrifice (1986)—this hits me right in the sweet spot of Mutant (1989) nostalgia. The late Cold War was fertile with what Lawrence Buell would later call “toxic discourse”, still married at the time to tragic determinism and the fearful anti-war movement, having not yet shifted, as it did in the 1990s, to merge with more humanistic, dynamic global movements for environmental justice as the most promising means of preventing disaster. Visitor of a Museum is a snapshot of environmentalism at its most pessimistic, seemingly at the moment of that shift. The humble, mostly peaceful underclass of this film is unable to represent sustainable, diverse small-scale farming à la Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1982) or even social stabilization à la The Chrysalids (1955). Their religion is merely paralytic and offers no hope to a non-Christian viewer. The vague pantheism of the Nausicaä comic, though no more credible, is at least likely to be more materially productive.

References here: Blade Runner 2049 (2017).

moving picture fiction