Amphibian 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….