Dead Man’s Letters is the first feature film of the masterful director, Konstantin Lopushansky. It deals with a popular theme of the late Cold War years – the contemplation of a post-apocalyptic nuclear winter.
The film is set in an unnamed city in an unknown eastern European country in the aftermath of a nuclear war. The cause of the war? A nuclear missile operator fails to stop a launch caused by a computer error because he chokes on his cup of coffee.
Our main protagonist is a Noble Prize-winning scientist, the “Professor,” played by Rolan Bykov. He escapes from the consequences of the initial nuclear fallout by hiding in the dungeon of the history museum in which his wife worked before the war. She, however is not so lucky, and is clearly dying from radiation poisoning. Surrounding the Professor is a cast of personalities, each with its own tragedy and search for meaning in this difficult time.
An outlet for the Professor is a series of letters that he writes in his head for his most likely dead son. In them, he struggles with trying to justify the meaning of living under their atrocious circumstances. Meanwhile, survivors are preparing for resettlement in the central bunker, maybe for decades. However, there is no room for the sick children who the Professor’s friend used to teach. And so, he refuses to evacuate to the central bunker in order to stay with the children…
A post-apocalyptic wasteland of a landscape, a Professor character central to the plot – you’re probably thinking this is Stalker, the sequel. Well, upon graduating film school in 1979, Lopushansky did actually work on set for Tarkovsky while he directed Stalker. So, it makes sense that there was some inspiration going on from one great film director to another. Certainly, if you love Stalker, you’ll for sure greatly appreciate Dead Man’s Letters as well as Lopushansky’s 1989 work, the also-apocalyptic A Visitor to a Museum.