Человек-Амфибия (1962)

amphibian_manAmphibian Man is a strange little feature. Someone recommend this one online as as an example of a 1960s Russian sci-fi classic, which was apparently the country’s top box-office draw of 1962.
I hadn’t seen anything like it or even had any expectation of what is was going to be like, so I gave it a try:
A reclusive scientist has dreams of a utopian ‘underwater republic’ where man lives and breaths (with surgically-implanted shark gills) under the ocean in harmony. His son, Ichtyandr, has been given this “gift”, thanks to a lung operation that saved him from death. The film then follows the son as he leaves his isolated, naive water-kingdom for land, in a quest for love-at-first-sight, while a pearl-scavenging sailor, engaged to his object of love, attempts to enslave him in a quest for profit.

The color cinematography is quite spectacular, as is gratuitously beautiful underwater camerawork. The fable-like story of young love is a simple one, but held my interest better than I expected. It’s hard to compare this to anything else, but its kind of like the Creature from the Black Lagoon crossed with the love story from Forrest Gump (wow that’s a bad analogy).

When I watched this, I didn’t even think about the socio-political implications of this being a major film under Soviet Communism, but I can see its praising of the ideals of sacrifice and idealism, with a caricatured disdain for the individual pursuit of wealth.
One scene in particular is rather blatant in ideology where the title character starts handing out fish to all the customers at a market. When the seller/owner of those fish demands payment and calls the police, yelling that the man is crazy, the young man is socially and economically naive as to why he should not just share the fish with those who need. Of course, he simply pulls out a large wad of money and cluelessly gives it to the market seller, asking “Is this enough?”, to which the seller replies: “A crazy millionaire!”.
I’m not sure what this says exactly about Communism. We are obviously supposed to be sympathetic to fulfilling basic needs over making a profit, but the fact that an overly worthy amount of money is just thrown at the problem kind of says something else entirely….

I also got the impression that the story seems to be taking place with Spanish or Latin characters, which adds to the overall weirdness of the story. After some reading, Michael Atkinson suggests Cuba, which makes more sense. He also makes a similar film analogy to mine, only using Edward Scissorhands instead of Forrest Gump, which is much more astute and fairytale like, but similarly, purposefully naive.

I will simply provide some more stills, since I don’t have anything else to add. Definitely an odd discovery artifact of a historically secretive time in Russian culture….



2 Responses to “Человек-Амфибия (1962)”

  1. 1 Mira
    August 23, 2013 at 12:38 am

    The story takes place in Argentina, Buenos Aires,and there is nothing weird about that because the novel is set in Argentina. Since you are okey with “The Avitar” taking place on Pandora, then why do you find it weird that the Russian writer puts his novel in Argentinian settings? The world literature is full of examples of bestsellers that were written by novelists describing the cultures totally different from their own starting with origins. Obviously, you are not a person who has read a lot of classical novels, and if so, then why show your lack of education to the rest of the world who can read your comments?
    As for your attempts to interpret and/or understand which kind of idea were presented in the film, then allow me to spread the light for you. The ideas of the novel are as simpathetic with the human kind as utopic in their naiveness. Communism has nothing to do with it as love,kindness,compassion and virtues are the top qualities that have been cherrished by humankind since its origins.The film/novel praises the things money cannot buy.Money are disgraced in the novel/film because they ruin human nature making it forget its true purpous. Guttiere and Ikhtiander as well as the journalist and the father belong to the world where true humanitarian qualities and priorities rule. At a first glance their ideology appear naive,however this naiveness has great depth to it,which only truly spiritual people can dig. In the opposite camp, there are Zurita and the rest of the world that sells and buys, the world which understands only the language of money and money rules there. Zurita pursues personal wealth at the expenses of mother-nature – exact same situation is happening all over the world.The film mocks at the idea of obtaiting wealth by and for a single person at the expenses of mother-nature and the whole society, while in fact it belongs to the entire community. However, the core thought in all this money issue is actually the idea that money must never overrule the real humanistic goals,dreams,priorities and qualities. Love and friendship, compassion and creation come first, and then everything else – this is the idea. On the other side, money in the novel are earned with such heavy labor and sweat ; every penny is cherrished for it is earned the most difficult way, so that when naive Ikhtiander starts giving a bunch of money away, people who know the price of hard-earned money cannot stand the carelessness with which the young man “throws the money away”. To them, this is an odd behaviour which means that the young man has never known the hardship of poor people cuz he never sweats to earn his money. The amphibian acting that way is seeing by the surrounding people as an act of mock-up at them and their life.In addition, they see that he is not acting adequately,too because he is expressing naive social ideas which don’t match up with his “riches”. I could only compare it to a person eating a steak,smiling from happiness and at the same time saying ” Oh, poor cows, we shouldn’t eat them! How cruel is that we kill them to survive on their meat! ” Basically the surrounding people are thinking ” Oh, this young guy obviously does not know the price of money, is mocking at our poor life, never has been through hardships,treats money if it were some trash,while he is obviously filthy rich,and yet he is preaching us that we should share what we (have) earn,while he has no idea what it means trying to meet ends.That is why they call him “a crazy millioner” The crowd does not expect a millioner teaching the poor the values which he himself does not live by in their opinion.
    In the meantime, it is always best to read a novel prior to watching a movie. A novel is really as transparent as any novel can and should be.The film was so popular because of its moral values,great cinematography,gorgeous cast and captivating tragic yet romantic story. It is very poetic indeed and can be matched in spirit with Gone with the Wind probably. Nothing after it ever comes even close to it.

    • August 23, 2013 at 10:28 am

      Thanks for your comments! I did not intend “weird” as a negative description. I simply meant that, because this is a fantasy film, the mixture of Russian and Latin cultures added a level of ‘weirdness’ to the already spectacular visuals that I found appealing. I have had very little exposure to Russian films of this period, so seeing that mixture was an unique experience for me. Of course, stories can and should be set in any culture, country, or time period, regardless of the author’s origins. It was a bad choice of word on my part. I appreciate your interpretation of the fish market scene as well. I think I correctly use the word ‘naive’ to describe the way he approaches the situation. From your description, I believe we are in agreement about this for the most part.
      If I read the novel, it would have to be an English translation. I did not think it would be available, but there is a publication from 1986 that is at my local University Library!
      Also, it appears Sergei Bodrov was/is planning a new film of the story for sometime in 2014.

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