The reviewer also complains about the Soviet Minister of Energy’s lack of knowledge about nuclear fission (Boris Shcherbina, as played by Stellan Skarsgard). I have two words, one name, as a response: Rick Perry. The idea that a government official may not be entirely informed about the department they run is being played out daily right now by our own government by our president, the Secretary of Education, Mr. Perry, and too many other officials in the Trump “administration.” Apparatchiks are not simply figures from a bygone era; they exist in all governments. And his criticism of the omnipresence of “stoic-peasant and menacing-strongman Soviet stereotypes” really rings false. Having spent five years in an ex-Soviet Republic in Central Asia, I can assure him these are not stereotypes; unfortunately, they are still living and very real archetypes for bureaucrats, military and other functionaries. I witnessed this on a daily basis up until my return to the US less than two years ago, stodgy unqualified men with a penchant for vodka and sausages running departments that they knew nothing about: they just knew how to act stern and threatening, while the more qualified underlings cowered in fear and kowtowed to these domineering blobs.
The movie is filled with realistic detail, from the Krushchevs (the old-style Soviet apartment blocks with their characteristic sun rooms), which I saw so many of on the North Bank in Astana, to the typical Russian wall-paper, lace curtains, Ladas, omnipresent cigarettes and vodka, dilapidated infrastructure and more. My closing thought is on the radiation which will cause cancer and other illnesses for generations to come in Kyiv Oblast and surrounding areas. When my family lived in Astana (recently rebranded Nur-Sultan), we lived a few hundred miles downstream from Semipalatinsk, the Soviet nuclear testing site in eastern Kazakhstan, where generations of Kazakhs have suffered from unusually high rates of cancer, birth defects, and other effects of radiation poisoning. Our first year there, my wife had big chunks of her hair fall out. In hindsight, I realized that I also lost hair, only realizing it through looking at photos of myself trekking in Nepal and seeing far more scalp on the back of my head than I had ever seen before. And most tellingly, my wife and I had to decide whether to proceed with her pregnancy, when we found out that our daughter to-be, Anoushka, was missing two of her four heart chambers. In ultrasounds, where there should have been motion and light, there were simply two black voids. After consulting doctors at Kings College London, we mad the difficult decision to cease her life, as the outlook for her life had no future.
A very strange and short-sighted review. Perhaps he was expecting a musical comedy.