Sputnik might seem like a curious name for the new sci-fi horror film, which is set in 1983. The film is about a Russian cosmonaut who returns to the Soviet Union after a spaceflight — and brings an unwelcome visitor back with him.
Anyone who knows the history of the Cold War space race knows that Sputnik was the name of the first human-made satellite to orbit the Earth. The USSR’s ability to launch a satellite before the United States could was a shock to the U.S.’s notions of technological supremacy. It spurred the U.S. to work harder and faster on its own space program.
“Sputnik brought home that the Russians weren’t quite the backward oafs Americans had thought,” The New York Times wrote in 2007, on the 50th anniversary of the launch. It is hard to exaggerate the impact the first Sputnik had on an America enmeshed in the Cold War.”
But the real Sputnik shot into orbit in 1957, 26 years before the events of the movie Sputnik. The title of the film does a good job of signaling to viewers that they’re about to watch a Soviet space story – and successfully conjures up Cold War tensions, given Sputnik’s role in aggravating them.
But the film, again, isn’t about the first Sputnik flight. So the title might seem a little haphazard.
Until you consider what the word “Sputnik” means.
As Sputnik director Egor Abramenko told MovieMaker, “sputnik” translates roughly into “fellow traveler” or “companion.” And that meaning of the word makes it a perfect title for the film.
SPOILERS FOLLOW, COMRADES.
The film opens with two cosmonauts chatting aboard Soviet spacecraft Orbit-4. They see something flitter outside their tiny window. Then we see Orbit-4 crash to Earth. One cosmonaut is dead, with his helmet mysteriously shattered. The other, Konstantin Veshnyakov (Pyotr Fyodorovas), seems disoriented and confused.
Psychologist Tatiana Klimova (Oksana Akinshina) is recruited to figure out what’s wrong with him — and soon learns that he has carried a terrifying creature with him, back to Earth.
Though no one uses the word, this alien — or traveling companion — could be called a sputnik.
So the film will lure in people who are up on their Cold War space-race history, but also make sense to people who know or learn the meaning of the word, even if they have no prior information.
Though the word “sputnik” terrified American scientists, because it reminded them that they were lagging behind their communist rivals, the word sounds, at least in English, cute. And the creature does have cute roots.
The movie was inspired by a short film Abramenko released in 2017 called “The Passenger.” It was a hit at the Fantastic Film Festival, which helped Abramenko get enough attention and money to make Sputnik.
But his vision for the creature changed. At times, the Sputnik sputnik can be a bit endearing — he appears to have cute ears at points, though the film makes clear that he actually doesn’t. And he can seem docile and vulnerable.
In the words of another cute movie alien, “It’s a trap.”
“In The Passenger our goal was to make him look like a pet,” Abramenko told MovieMaker. “We wanted to achieve sort of sentimental bond between the creature and a main protagonist. In Sputnik it has to be a war machine, a terrifying creature that could take on an armed squad of soldiers.”
Sputnik is now playing in select theaters, and is available on digital platforms and cable VOD.