Konets vechnosti [The End of Eternity] (1987)

This one caught me by surprise.

I knew there’d been a Soviet movie adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s novel, The End of Eternity, and had even seen a few links for it, but never bothered to take the time to watch it.

But my first glimpses of the film proved so remarkable I had to watch the film

My first impression was that it looked like some forgotten Terry Gilliam film – or perhaps a lost Jeunet et Caro.  It is set in a zone outside of our normal time, called “Eternity”, where a group of men taken from all the centuries under their control work together to create a perfect world, by introducing small changes into known history.

Their world is all oversized rivets, massive stone heads and sloping surfaces, covered with endless digital readouts and lots of wiring, lights and complex devices.  It is a grim and cheerless world, with all the eternals regimented in a strict hierarchy, all dedicated to the improvement of those living in “Time” – the real world outside their seemingly timeless realm.

Andrew Harlan, a young technician, is fascinated with the “primitive” age before the birth of eternity, a subject of study that would normally be forbidden to eternals.  However, the Allwhen council – and the devious Doctor Twistle – need his knowledge to carry out their secret plan:  send someone back in time where he will become the legendary inventor of the technology which powers their world.

But the plan falls apart when Andrew is paired with a woman from the Forty-eighth century(which has an interesting, organic look quite different from Eternity) and falls in love…

This is the sort of film SF fans dream of:  it is complex, with an intriguing concept and a well-developed mystery plot.  Although we know what to expect from any adaptation of  a classic SF novel, it somehow avoids the usual dire pitfalls.  Instead,  it exceeds any expectations we might have had, thanks to its remarkably faithful adaptation of the original.  Only the ending has been tweaked, adding another, ironic twist to the proceedings.

It may have been made for television, but if so, it looks far better than any TV movie I’ve seen.  Its sets and modelwork are all excellent – particularly the central shaft and the “buckets” –  and the movie brims with excellent ideas.

It is a minor classic, one of those which demands to be seen by a much larger audience.  Unfortunately, it is:

  1. ) in Russian
  2. ) subtitled

and despite the action, suspense and dramatic events of the end of the story, for far too many people:

3.) there is far too much talking and plenty of exposition.

Or in other words, it is smart, thoughtful, and trying hard to present the ideas in the original story, as clearly and intelligently as possible.

And yet there is more to it than that.  One of the scenes near the middle of the film, where Andrew and the girl discuss Eternity, she points out that the eternals are so dedicated to improving the world according to what they think it should be like, that they fail to notice that they are grinding all the creativity and spontaneity out of life. All the their efforts to make the world perfect have instead made it …mediocre.

For a Soviet citizen, living in the dying days of the Evil Empire, there would have been no question what that meant – or why Andrew decides to let Eternity fall.  From the seventies and eighties on, SF dared to criticize the monolithic socialist state, under the guise of fictional worlds.

What a remarkable film!  It seems a shame, though, that it appears to be completely unavailable, except online.  It deserves far better than that.

After all, one would be hard pressed to name many SF films from the Eighties that came this close to classic.

Or, for that matter, at any time in the last Century of filmmaking.

(English subtitles available here.)

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