The Soviet Union, or Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), was formerly composed of fifteen republics that interacted and coexisted within an ethnofederal structure. The Soviet ethnofederal structure was characterized for having a socialist regime typology. Some individuals may assert, or view, socialist systems as being structures associated with uniformity and devoid of diversity. This is not a justifiable assertion to make in regards to the USSR because when one engages in the rich cinematic history of the post-Soviet region, it is easy to visualize the diverse cultural, social, and political practices that were evident in the Soviet Union and are still persisting in the fifteen post-Soviet states. My experience with the region’s diverse cinematic history is limited, yet after viewing 12, which is a Russian film produced in 2007, one can visualize and better understand several aspects of the diverse cultures that continue to thrive in the post-Soviet region. Specifically, I argue that the post-Soviet region is diverse and 12 is illustrative of the region’s cultural diversity because it displays several key cultural practices that are associated with modern Russia (which is a former republic of the USSR) and other former Soviet states. This film allows individuals, who are not experts on the region and have not visited it, to understand the unique culture that exists in Russia by providing a dramatic cinematic experience that highlights several key features of the state’s distinct culture.
In the first part of this essay, I will provide a short summary on the production and plot of the film. Next, I will briefly analyze and provide an overview of Russia’s diverse and distinct culture. Following that, I will then illustrate how the film, 12, highlights several aspects of Russia’s culture. In concluding, I will offer a brief recap and in doing so, I hope to demonstrate how movies can provide a beneficial experience that allows individuals to recognize and appreciate the diversity in the post-Soviet region.
The title of film that I chose to view and analyze for this essay is 12, which is a Russian movie that was produced in 2007. This film was directed by Nikita Mikhalkov and is a Russian remake of the play, 12 Angry Men. In the movie, a young Chechen boy is on trial for the murder of his adoptive father. Twelve jurors, the majority of which “are grim, bearish men of later middle age who carry the scars of historical and personal traumas,” are responsible for deciding the verdict of the case that could ultimately mean life in prison for the accused.1 The room in which the jurors convene to delegate and vote is part of a school that is rundown and in much need of repair. At the beginning, the case seems to be closed with the verdict being guilty beyond reasonable doubt (meaning life in prison for the young Chechen). This is not the case, during the first vote “11 of the jurors, eager to resume their daily lives, unthinkingly vote guilty…”2 The jurors were missing the one guilty vote that they needed for a unanimous decision, which would allow them to return to their normal schedules. The lone juror who decided to not cast a guilty vote did so because he felt more discussion and thought was needed because he, like the other eleven jurors, was tasked with deciding a verdict for this young man that could potentially impact the rest of his life. The duration of the rest of the movie is filled with arguments, experiments, and personal narratives given by individual jurors. Overtime, more and more jurors begin to realize that there are some ambiguities concerning the evidence of the case and that there is in fact room for reasonable doubt. The jurors, having all been convinced of certain guilt at the start of the film, finally come to a unanimous decision of not guilty (after some debate with the presiding juror at the end). The film and discussion amongst juror members is often interrupted by the dilapidated conditions of the school and by the recurring “murky flashbacks of the accused killer’s harsh childhood in war-torn Chechnya.”3 With a brief analysis of the film given, I will now provide a short review on several aspects of Russia’s diverse and distinct culture.
Russia is an independent state located in the post-Soviet region and is a former republic of the USSR. Russia, as well as the other states in the post-Soviet region, is full of diversity and distinct cultural practices. The fall of the Soviet Union had profound effects on Russia’s infrastructure and the state’s economic sector was arguably the most negatively impacted. Russia’s economy, which was industrially based, was basically broken when the state became independent. The Russian state was filled with abandoned and broken factories and also had ill-equipped infrastructure to efficiently compete in the modern, globalized economy. Russia’s failing economy had large impacts on the cultural and social practices within the state. Several impacts included a decrease in employment and disposable income for Russians, while the state’s educational system also continued to suffer. These economic impacts increased the already popular Russian cultural practice of drinking. It also caused many Russians, who were old enough, to reminisce on their experiences under the Soviet Union when their living standards were improved and Russia’s economic conditions and infrastructures were thriving. Thus, Russian culture and social practices are associated with alcoholism and a preference for authoritative governance because many Russians could recall the good experiences they had under Soviet rule. I have not provided a comprehensive account of Russia’s diverse culture, yet I have only touched on several aspects that I believe to be commonly known and associated with Russia.
The film, 12, directly referenced and highlighted the Russian cultural and social practices that I referenced above. During the movie, several juror members recited personal narratives. These narratives or stories often made references to one of Russia’s most famous cultural practice, the act of consuming large amounts of alcohol. On one occasion, a juror talks about his uncle and describes him as this sort of mad man who drinks way to much vodka. At other times in the movie, during the different conversations between the jurors, some jurors (who all mostly seem old enough to have lived under the Soviet Union) talk about how Moscow really is not Moscow anymore. The jurors seem to be reflecting on the glory days of the Soviet Union when Moscow was a prosperous city and something to be proud of. Metaphorically speaking, it has been stated that “the 12 jurors are dispatched to a decrepit high school gymnasium next to the courthouse, whose condition suggests Russia’s crumbling infrastructure.”4 The decaying gymnasium as a metaphor for Russia’s crumbling infrastructure is a very logical and convincing connection to make with Russia’s struggling economy. This metaphor, coupled with the different stories given by the juror members (that reference drinking and the glory days under the Soviet Union), is an excellent portrayal and representation of Russia’s cultural and social practices by the film.
The post-Soviet region has a rich cinematic history, which when analyzed, proves beneficial in illustrating the diverse social and cultural practices in the region. The Russian film 12, as I hope I have shown, is illustrative and informative of Russia’s diverse culture. This is true for other films produced in Russia and elsewhere in the post-Soviet region. Movies have the ability to provide individuals with a unique experience; individuals can visualize a region’s culture and geography without actually visiting it. This allows many people who are unable to travel and are not students, to learn about the different cultural and social practices around the world. The film that I analyzed allowed me to gain a better understanding of Russia’s distinct culture and it allowed me to obtain a better connection with the citizens of Russia and the greater post-Soviet region.
1 Holden, Stephen . "Movie Review: "12"." The New York Times, , sec. Movies, March 3, 2009. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/04/movies/04twel.html?_r=0 (accessed February 22, 2014).