Xkarie XB-1(Jindřich Polák, 1963)

One of the intentions of this blog, from where it takes it’s name, was to think about the idea of the future, and the way future orientation, and utopian (or even progressive) thinking has declined.  I feel a nostalgia for idea of a visionary future, one that inspired and encouraged us to dream. A lot of political thinking of the past seemed to have this “utopian trace” and I feel that this absence is keenly missed in current politics.

I recently watched Xkarie XB-1, another Eastern European gem from Second Run DVD. It struck me afterwards what a forceful example of this future orientation this was. It”s set aboard the titular spacecraft, in the year 2163, as it makes the first manned mission beyond the solar system, to Alpha Centurai. The trip will take 15 years or so, but due to the effects of relatively this will only seem like 28 months to the crew.

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The plot, the story and the mission aren’t the major drivers here however – much of the film simply seems an attemtpt to give you a sampling of life aboard. An astronaut grapples with the fact he won’t see his daughter grow up,  a Robbie the Robot take off stumbles about, and there’s a brilliant “space disco” scene, where couples dancing in 2163 is envisaged. The modernist set design is great as well, lots of stark, sleek lines and geometric patterns.

And if the photo above reminds you of 2001: A Space Odyseey, well, there’s a reason.. Kubrick viewed a lot of classic SF before writing his classic, and Ikarie was clearly an influence. The climatic sequence on the ship, where HAL is shut down, owes much to Ikarie. Kubrick wasn’t the only one  paying attention either.  With it’s mission to “boldly go”and its ensemble cast, it was clearly an influence on Gene Rodenberry’s Star Trek.

The plot is kinda secondary, only leaping into life at the film’s end: the crew are lulled into sleep by a dark star and one crew member is sent mad by space radiation and experiences complete existential panic – “There never was an Earth!” – I was hoping the director would really make something strange and Tarkovskyian out of these moments ,but it was not to be.

It’s implicit in the film that the culture that have launched this mission is a Communist one. This is perhaps made clearest when  the crew chances on a 20th Century spacecraft – the spacecraft is complete with evil nuclear weapons and what caused the mission failure was an outburst of  intercine homocide. The name of the craft is  the “Tornado” and signage in American English is prominently displayed, signalling those bad old capitalist nations! Later, two characters debate the bad old days of the 20th Century and it’s achievements in art and culture are presented as perhaps the saving grace.

I found this “looking back” from a more highly evolved standpoint very poignant. There’s an implied certainly that violence and war would just pass away. Such hope for humanity! And …

 

(SPOILER)…

 

… the film’s closing frames imply (perhaps) that Communism has spread amongst the stars. Ikarie’s crew are – maybe – just bringing humanity into the already existing galactic fellowship.

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This rare optimism is a compelling reason for watching. The fact this optimism itself grows out of a compelling political context, now vanished,  is another.

 

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