The film follows real-life cosmonaut and hero Aleksei Leonov, the very first human to “walk” in space. The story focuses on his journey along with fellow cosmonaut Pavel Belyaev.
In the summer of 1965, two Russian cosmonauts – one a former War hero while the other a noted pilot – struggled to make the last five meters back to their spaceship after their first adventure into space. Leonov and Belyaev’s manual re-entry into the Voshod-2 was often considered a prime example of fortitude and human grit.
Dmitriy Kiselev’s compelling sci-fi drama The Spacewalker follows the true story based on Pavel Belyayev (Konstantin Khabenskiy) and Alexey Leonov (Evgeniy Mironov). Of these two Russian astronauts, one was a war hero in the USSR Army, while the other was a prolific pilot.
Though the United States takes the glory as the first country to successfully land on the moon and fulfil a full-fledged space mission, many forget that it was actually Russian scientists who achieved the feat first. Not only with the world’s first satellite Sputnik, but also with Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space. Leonov, the film’s protagonist, was in fact sent on a space mission in 1965, where he was the first human to leave his spacecraft and perform the spacewalk.
The film closely charts Leonov’s story, beginning with 1963, when he actually helmed what was then termed as a Suicide Mission. From the Soviet testing grounds to the outer limit of the stratosphere, the entire film occupies the Interstellar (2014) or Gravity (2013) milieu.
A sincere love letter to Soviet cosmonauts, The Spacewalker establishes the importance of depicting a largely unknown fact to the West, specifically America, often considered the pioneers of the space race. Yet, Russia’s initial dominance over the race was deliberately bypassed by subsequent American adaptations, a fact that The Spacewalker unabashedly portrays in its narrative. Understandably then, the film is steeped in Russian nostalgia.
The Spacewalker is more than just a film about outer space. What it seamlessly achieves to be is a reminder to the world that the USSR’s position in the space race came after multiple sacrifices, both at personal levels, but also at the national level. The film also provides an insider-view into the socio-political workings of a nation largely considered austere for its exclusive reticence.
The Spacewalker tries to rid the world of such generalised perceptions of Russia, including Stalinist terror regime, atrocious national economies that crippled the country, or even the blatant disregard for human rights that took place behind the Iron Curtain.
The film delves deep into the workings of the space paraphernalia. Audiences are made to understand that the chain of command is a sacred fact in such missions. The film spotlights how orders from seniors were beyond reproach and could never be questioned. The other major theme that the film explores is the need to put society over self, especially while following life-threatening instructions in outer space. In a particularly riveting scene, Belyayev reprimands his colleague and schools him to understand certain sacrosanct facts. “We’re here to follow orders, not our dreams,” Belyayev ruefully states. Another example includes Voskhod program head Sergey (Vladimir Ilin) reminding his team of the importance of having the concept of a ‘nation’ binding people as a unit. He tells his team, “Being children of our nation, we all fly in shackles from the moment we’re born. But imagine what would happen if we lost them. We would have lost control and crashed. That’s what kind of people we are.”
The Spacewalker attempts at balancing the America-leaning narrative on space supremacy focusing on what the Russian counterparts contributed. Thus, the film provides the perspective of yet another nation and its unrelenting steel to push the bounds of impossible.
Verdict: The Spacewalker is a keen study on Russia’s space program. However, the film transcends just a retelling of what transpired, into a more socio-political statement on the glorious years of the program. It’s a must watch for anyone interested to witness a Russian version of something like an Apollo-13.