Sputnik – Film Review

Dendy Canberra
1 to 14 October 2020

Horror, sci-fi
In Russian with English subtitles
113 minutes, rated MA 15+

This ‘alien taking possession of a space traveller’ film will initially remind sci-fi fans of Alien. Sputnik, set in the Soviet era, has all the violence and horror of any such scenario – we are immediately repelled by the strangeness, the physicality of the invasion of the human body.

However, the film dwells on other subjects of ethics which elevate it to a philosophical level rather than merely a demonstration of special effects.

Young doctor Tatiana, who is brought in by the military to problem solve the situation of the returned spaceman (Konstantin Sergeyevich) and his unwelcome parasitic occupant, is interested in what makes the creature tick. She is also interested in what makes the cosmonaut tick –  there is a subtle examination of their burgeoning love story and of the former life of the spaceman.

Tatiana, played with skilful nuance and subtlety by Oksana Akinshina, is undoubteldy the lead protagonist. She forecfully portrays courage and insistence of the ethical. In a male-dominated world of weapons and violent interactions, her bold though quiet insistence upon human interaction is a winning card and a refreshing aspect to this film. We don’t usually expect anything other than might to be right in such scenarios.

Sputnik is a hard watch. Not only is the story challenging, so too are the pragmatic solutions we witness, the evil intentions of the military authorities and the use of force to compel compliance, the disrespect and value judgments placed on human life within the machine.

In the end the small glimpses into Konstantin’s personal life and history carry us to a gentler conclusion, but still not one without question or mystery.

This is not a film for the squeamish, but definitely one that engenders thought on the roles of science and the military in our society. The understated style sets the film apart from its large box office American movie cousins and places it more comfortably in an arthouse environment.