Gloomy River – an allegorical masterpiece of Soviet cinema

I recently watched an old Russian four-part film based on a 1933 V. Shishkov novel set just before the 1917 revolution: Ugryum Reka, or “Gloomy River”. I was dismayed to find that no English subtitles exist for it, for I would so strongly recommend it to any of my friends interested in politics and the human condition… therefore I decided to synopsise it in (very) brief. My Russian is far from perfect, so some of the details might be inaccurate and the quotes are heavily paraphrased, but the meaning shone through to me almost like an epiphany, despite linguistic obstacles (my god, was it chock full of beautiful literary Russian). Here it is anyway. There is a whole religious theme running through the piece as well which I did not mention for lack of thorough comprehension.

A film about the inherent corruptibility of man.

The film starts with an old bandit on his deathbed, warning his son not to follow in his footsteps. First thing the son does is dig up his father’s ill-gotten goods.

Years later, he has built up a successful enterprise and sends his own young son on a long adventure up the Ugryum river to help expand trade. The father sends a Circassian guard with him: a brutal, slavish man with a wild accent. The man who rows their boat (carved out of a single tree trunk) tells them the story of a ghostly shamanic woman who lives in the woods by the river and appears at critical moments in people’s lives.

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The Unholy Gods of Convenience

Free markets may have been paved with good intentions, but they failed to take into account man’s vulnerability to the dangerous drugs called Comfort and Convenience. Of course we honed in more and more on tools that made everyday life effortless, and our devotion to the democratic concepts of capitalism only cemented our delusion.

We pretend like dehumanisation is a terrible crime, and yet our tech-obsessed society persists in its mindless pursuit of ever more advanced technologies that spare us the “burden” of interacting with each other.

I grew up an introvert, almost any interaction requiring at least an initial effort on my part. Even calling an old friend can be an ordeal. My neurosis is such that if the conversation turned out merely neutral, it felt like a failure. Am I boring? Can I not entertain my friend like I used to? Have we lost our touch? Why can’t I just relax? Maybe if I could relax, that conversation would have been of some value to us. As it stands, it was dull, surface talk that neither of us could bring to an end as we helplessly tried to make it into something at least mildly memorable. Maybe she will never talk to me again.

That would probably be a relief, actually, a tiny voice tells me cruelly.

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My very personal lament against the forced vaccination programme

I am fully aware that this will read like a crybaby manifesto to many, but I don’t think I am alone in saying: if I take your shot now it will only be because you have broken my spirit. In the current and upcoming dire economic circumstances, that was pretty much all I had!

All right, moral citizens of the modern world, you win. I am no longer so conceited as to consider myself a “free thinker”, for all my contrarian views and nagging doubts about everything that’s been pushed down our sore throats over the past twelve months. Maybe this whole crisis was purpose-made to uncover the real filth in society: us childish, oppositional assholes (actual quote from an acquaintance’s social media post) that need to be taught a lesson and given a good extra-hard jab in the arm. Sorry, I didn’t mean that as a conspiracy theory or anything. Just a figure of speech.

Look, what I mean to say is, I’m one of those assholes. I am hesitant about getting the vaccine, at least for the time being. My reasoning goes along the same lines as ignoring the annual flu jab – I simply don’t think I need it. As for the effect on those around me: despite ongoing uncertainty as to the amount of inoculations required to bring overall deaths back down to pre-pandemic levels, it is clear enough that that number is less than a hundred per cent. Since so many are willing to take it, what difference does it make to you if I choose to wait a little? You never gave me such a hard time for not taking the flu shot every year. This may sound crazy, but I don’t think it takes a medical degree to look after yourself: what feels necessary, and what doesn’t. Every body is different.

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