I’d like to share a few words about one of my favorite Soviet films, Vladimir Bortko‘s Heart of a Dog (’88). I will also try to explain you what Russian Intelligentsia means.
The film is based on Mikhail Bulgakov‘s same-titled novella, which was written in 1925. But the manuscript was confiscated during a search in the apartment. Bulgakov became a persona non grata among the Bolsheviks for his critical views of the perversions of power and his commitment to Tsarist Russia. “Heart of a Dog” was published in English in 1968, and wasn’t published in the Soviet Union until 1987.
I read the book in 1988 and watched the film a year later. It was one of the rare occasions when a book and a film using the same material seemed equally accomplished.
“Heart of a Dog” is a philosophical and satirical work in which the author reflects on bolshevism, the proletariat, the bourgeoisie and human nature.
I re-watched Bortko’s film yesterday, and was reminded that one can repeatedly watch deep and powerful films and discover something new with each viewing.
The setting is 1924 Moscow. A frosty winter. A homeless dog, Sharik, wanders around in search of food. Men beat him with sticks, douse him with boiling water, chased him from everywhere. But one day Sharik meets Professor Preobrazhensky, who takes him to his place.
Preobrazhensky is a world-class scientist. Together with his assistant Bormenthal, he transplants hypophysis and seminal glands from a criminal guy (who was killed in an accident) into Sharik’s body. The dog gradually turns into a human. The sensational news instantly spreads across Moscow and brings the professor another portion of recognition.
However, the joy turns out to be short-lived, and very soon Professor Preobrazhensky comes to regret his scientific experiment. For after all, the ignorant Sharikov turns their life into a living hell.
Using Sharikov’s example, we observe what happens to a Russian person when he suddenly becomes a Soviet person. He throws his strength and devotion to following imposed ideas. But are they close to him?