“Who ever will get to know the world will find a corpse.”
Three astronauts – two men and one woman – escape Earth for un-specified reasons. They arrive at an Earth-like planet, and they begin breeding. Their children grow at unnatural speeds. Soon, only one of the astronauts is left. He is now called “Old Man,” and he is worshipped and loathed by the primitive civilisation birthed from the astronauts’ loins. This society is enslaved by a bird-like race from across the sea. Another astronaut arrives, tempted by the Old Man’s video messages. The religious society reaches a breaking point of cultish devotion and insanity, and everything verges on collapse.
This is the basic story of Andrzej Zulawski’s science fiction epic ‘On the Silver Globe’, which started production in the 70s before being shutdown by the Polish government when the film was approximately 80% completed. Zulawski was able to gather the remaining footage 10 years later, piecing together what was left with new footage and voiceover narration (by the director himself) that explains what was supposed to have been filmed.
Needless to say, watching ‘On the Silver Globe’ is a confusing experience. In addition to the production issues, the narrative is sprawling and complex, featuring multiple generations and races, baffling rituals, and heady philosophical themes. It’s also 157 minutes long.
With ‘On the Silver Globe,’ Zulawski seems to posit that religion is created simply to justify the inevitable violence of man, or that religion is a futile and ultimately destructive attempt to explain the unknowable universe. Many interpretations are valid, the only thing I could really pin down definitively was the negative connotation of religiosity. The film matches these themes with manic, fevered imagery that rivals ‘The Devils’ (which shares many themes with this film) in intensity. A beach covered in impaled men. An army of swirling bird men. A pre-war orgy. A graphic crucifixion. All of this presented in a nightmarish cerulean hue and disrupted by constant jump-cuts. Again, like ‘The Devils,’ it is exhausting.
However, where ‘The Devils’ was able to mar its anger and passion with real, human characters, ‘On the Silver Globe’ has basically none of the sort. Everyone acts with the typical Zulawski fire and screams, but none of them say anything revealing of a person. Everyone goes on and on about the nature of humanity, but not the nature of a human. The last hour and half has numerous monologues that get to the heart of Zulawski’s thematic concerns without illuminating anything else. There’s a passion here that is entirely laudable, and I guarantee that I will be haunted by some of the scenes. I want to say that I was so swept up in the visuals and emotion that I was able to overlook my complaints. I imagine that this is perhaps the reaction of someone more attuned to Zulawski’s sensibilities (I am not, and am mostly indifferent what his apparently his most accessible film, ‘Possession.’)
Ultimately, for me, all of the manic and inspired imagery truly cannot compensate for the nearly continuous philosophical diatribes that make up the latter half of the film. I applaud Zulawski’s ambition and ideas more than I enjoy what he’s done with them. Even without the cuts created by the shutdown, I doubt ‘On the Silver Globe’ would be easy to follow. It’s a 3000 page philosophical treatise stuffed into a film.