Stalin's "Loss of Sensation": Subversive Impulses in Soviet Science-Fiction of the Great Terror

  • David Christopher University of Victoria - Department of Art History and Visual Studies


Stalin's rise to power was largely concomitant with the rise of cinema. The history of the nascent field of cinema art is dominated by names like Eisenstein, Kuleshov, and Aleksandrov, alongside Western icons like Edison, Meliés, Keaton, Chaplin, Griffith, and others. In these earlier stages of the industrial era, it is no surprise that early Soviet filmmakers experimented with science-fiction as much as their Western counterparts. However, a cursory survey reveals that early Soviet science-fiction, aesthetically similar to both Meliés' works and Fritz Lang's Metropolis (although predating the latter by a few years), was all but quashed by censorship under Stalin's nascent regime. Astonishingly, however, even during the height of the Great Purge, at least two Soviet science-fiction films emerged that seem to have eluded the censor. Gibel sensatsii (Loss of Sensation, 1935) and Kosmicheskiy reys: Fantasticheskaya novella (Cosmic Voyage, 1936) both seem to have found modest audiences in the Soviet Union without suffering the demise of immediate censorship. While both Loss of Sensation and Cosmic Voyage are distinctly science-fiction, they remain generic anomalies, sui generis in their own right, for their otherwise unconventional content. This paper proffers a comparison of the two films to elucidate the political, historical, and ideological context which gave rise to these films and to explore the films for evidence of dissent or subversion in their science-fiction narratives that appears to uphold conservative Soviet ideology but that, by virtue of the already subversive generic conventions of science-fiction, contain criticisms of Stalinist ideology.

Author Biography

David Christopher, University of Victoria - Department of Art History and Visual Studies

David Christopher is currently a Ph.D. Candidate (ABD) in Cinema and Cultural Theory in the Department of Art History and Visual Studies at the University of Victoria under the tutelage of horror cinema expert Lianne McLarty and anarchist cultural theorist Allan Antliff.  His dissertation takes an anarchist theoretical approach to depictions of the apocalypse in recent Canadian cinema. David also holds an MA in Film Studies and Cultural Theory and an MA in Theatre History from the University of Victoria, an honours degree in English and a degree in Economics from Carleton University, diplomas in Teaching English as a Second Language and Radio Broadcasting, and has done substantial work in the University of Victoria's departments of linguistics and education. David has recent publications in the Intellect Group's Horror Studies and Film International, The Word Hoard, CineAction, The Online Journal of Arts and Humanities, and Theatre Notebook.  Areas of study include post-structural anarchist theory, psychoanalytical theory, cultural theory, apocalypse theory, apocalypse and dystopia cinema, Canadian cinema, simian monsters in cinema, eco-cinema, dreams and cinema.