Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—How I Ended This Summer (2010) ***½

Not Rated, 130 min.
Director/Writer: Aleksey Popogrebskiy
Starring: Grigoriy Dobrygin, Sergey Puskepalis

As humans, we make stupid, stupid mistakes sometimes. A few years ago, I followed my GPS down a gravel road when I was warned ahead of time not to. It was just so much shorter according to the GPS. Then, I could see for my very eyes why I shouldn’t continue to follow the GPS, but I said to myself, “I’ve got four-wheel drive. I can make it.” So not only did I lose an entire day of work because of it, but also I had to disrupt someone else’s day to come and tow me out.

It was a stupid, stupid decision I made that day, which luckily didn’t get anyone hurt, but it sucked. There is a decision made by one of the two characters in this movie that is so ultimately stupid, you can’t help but sit there as you watch and talk to the screen. “No, don’t. Just do it. Please. Don’t be so stupid.” Despite the supreme stupidity of the choice made, writer director Aleksey Popogrebskiy does a good job making the monumentally poor decision by this relatively intelligent person seem plausible. Although it would make this movie so much easier to talk about, I won’t spoil what the decision is even about or the action it entails, but it builds and spirals and grows just like any bad decision made by anyone.

So, what is left? I guess a little context. The action takes place in the Russian arctic. A scientist is stationed at a remote weather station to take measurements. He has an intern for the summer. Don’t get carried away with that term summer. This is an arctic summer, which is worse than most winters, but it is the freest time these men will see at this particular place. They have to carry a riffle or a shotgun with them wherever they go because of polar bear attacks. At one time, many more people used to be stationed there, but most were recalled due to the bear attacks. Now, it is just this two person skeleton crew.

There is a definite generation gap between the two men. The older man pretty much just does his job. He doesn’t let the intern do much but check for telemetry corrections on the computer. Everything else is done the old fashioned way, by hand and regular radio check-ins. After a while, however, a bond forms between the men, kind of like father and son. The isolation leaves little other possibilities.

The movie has much to say about relationships and even possibly some criticism about the Cold War. Responsibility is what everything these men do is about. It is their responsibility to collect the data and report it. It is their responsibility to make sure the information is accurate. They have no other purpose there. If one neglects their responsibility, there is no way for it not to have an effect on the other. Their situation is so extreme it exaggerates the responsibilities we owe to one another in life and to our fellow man.

“How I Ended My Summer” is a powerful film. It is effectively made to involve the audience completely with the two characters that inhabit it. It is harsh, and it is beautiful, much like the landscape in which it takes place. 

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