The Lure of the Infinite

In “Things you probably didn’t know were happening but now realise you kind of secretly hoped,” I just read a report (from 2011) by Michael Idov on Ilya Khrzhanovsky’s movie about Landau. In searching for ’50s Soviet Union authenticity, Khrzhanovsky went so far overboard that he became a crazy dictator of a totalitarian mini-state, the size of two football fields and permanently stuck in 1952. Or that’s the standard version of the narrative. But Idov, and Khrzhanovsky through him, hint that this is not the real story. Instead, it could be something more interesting: Khrzhanovsky had a vision of recreating a particular past, on a scale both grand and minutely intricate, and found an excuse in the form of a biography of Lev Landau. Khrzhanovsky sounds wistful when asked about what will happen to the “Institute” when filming finishes, and you can tell: the Institute isn’t a set spun out of control, it’s a world, one of whose peculiarities is that you can only get the money to keep it functioning by claiming it’s a movie set. Although the particulars of this story are macabre, it feels almost inspirational that this kind of occurrence is even possible.

It reminds me of Dino Buzzati’s story “The Eiffel Tower”. In it, Buzzati imagines Gustave Eiffel as the secretive leader of a conspiracy to build a tower that was Babel-like in its grandeur and infiniteness. I recommend this story for your immediate enjoyment. Dino Buzzati is probably my “favourite writer” using my dad’s criterion of “favourite” – where your personal opinion about something is most strongly (in a positive direction) at odds with what you think the world opinion is. Thus I’m not sure if you will love it as much as I do. Nevertheless, the parallels of a fantastic creation spiralling in scope while anxiously fearful of when forces of the real world will cause the “plug to be pulled”, so to speak, are both hard to deny and interesting to consider.

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