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Aelita, or the decline of Mars

With an image gallery and synopsis

Untitled.
Image: Still from Aelita (1924)
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ENGINEER M.S. LOS INVITES ALL WHO WISH TO FLY WITH HIM TO THE PLANET OF MARS ON AUGUST 18 TO CALL ON HIM BETWEEN 6 AND 8 PM AT 11 ZHDANOVSKAYA EMBANKMENT.

This notice is hanging on the wall of a deserted building in Petrograd. A tall, broad-shouldered demobilized soldier named Aleksei Ivanovich Gusev reads the notice and reacts approvingly. An American reporter named Archibald Skiles also sees it and is stunned. He assumes that the author must be either a fraud or a raving lunatic.

Building the constructivist set for Aelita (1924)

Building the constructivist set for Aelita (1924)


The workshop

Skiles goes to the modest shed/workshop where engineer Mstislav Sergeevich Los is constructing his spacecraft, a metallic egg about 8 and a half meters high and 6 meters in diameter. Los estimates that his trip to Mars will take only eight or nine hours, since he’ll be traveling at close to the speed of light. The spacecraft is powered by ultralyddite, a fine powder which is more powerful than any other known explosive (and which was discovered by Petrograd factory workers!)

Skiles asks who is financing the project, and Los says the Soviet Republic is. Skiles offers to pay Los in advance for his travel notes — six articles of 200 lines each at ten dollars per line. Los accepts payment.

Still from Aelita (1924)

Still from Aelita (1924)

A fellow-traveler

Los is beginning to fear that he will have to take the trip to Mars by himself. But then Gusev shows up and volunteers for the mission. He’s a restless sort who served in Budyonny’s cavalry all the way to Warsaw. Once, Gusev rallied together 300 lads and decided to set off to liberate India. However, they got lost in the hills and trapped in a fierce storm, so they never reached their destination.

Gusev asks if they will meet men or monsters on Mars. Los says probably creatures very similar to man. After all, radio stations in Europe and American have been picking up strange, indecipherable signals coming from the red planet, and such radio traffic could hardly be caused by monsters.

Movie poster for Aelita in German (1924)

Movie poster for Aelita in German (1924)


A sleepless night

Los gives Gusev a basic instruction in propulsion and how to operate the instruments on the spacecraft. Gusev proves to be both intelligent and shrewd.

The night before blastoff, Los tosses and turns, sadly remembering his deceased wife, Katya. He fears that even on Mars he will be haunted by the same tormenting memories. He opines, “Why did I have to poison myself with love? Much better to have lived unaroused.”

Still from Aelita (1924)

Still from Aelita (1924)


The same night

At two o’clock in the morning, Gusev’s wife, Masha, sits alone in their room, worried about Gusev’s whereabouts. She hears a noise in the corridor and flings open the door. An old man stands there, glowering at her and wagging a finger threateningly. Masha, terrified, slams the door on him.

Gusev finally comes home, happy and smudged with soot. Masha tells Gusev about the strange old man. Gusev says it is probably a former grandee who used to lived in the building and is trying to scare everyone away.

Gusev tells his wife that tomorrow he is going away for a while. She asks where he is going, but all he tells her is “beyond the clouds.”

Still from Aelita (1924)

Still from Aelita (1924)


The take-off

Just before sunset on the next day, thousands of people gather around Los’s workshop in anticipation of the blastoff. Government officials come, and speeches are made. Finally, Gusev and Los, wearing sheepskin jackets, felt boots, and leather helmets get into the egg-shaped spacecraft. Before closing the hatch, Los tells the crowd, “I’m certain that in a few years hundreds of spaceships will ply the cosmos. We shall always — always be driven by the spirit of quest.” Somewhat enigmatically, Los continues, “I’m not a genius, not a brave man, not a dreamer. I’m a coward — a fugitive.”

A few moments later, with a thunderous din, the spaceship rockets westward over the crowds and into the reddish clouds in the distance.

Still from Aelita (1924)

Still from Aelita (1924)


Black sky

The spaceship begins its journey at a velocity of 50 meters per second. It gains speed second by second. The air thins out, and soon Los and Gusev are choking, struggling to breathe. Los’s heart stops beating. The two men pass out. Then, as planned, an emergency supply of oxygen kicks in, and the travelers are revived.

Now, with the Earth far behind, the ship is tooling along at 500 kilometers per second. Gusev, floating weightless, gazes out a porthole at the pitch blackness on one side of the ship. Los puts a special filter over the window on the other side of the ship so that he can get a look at the sun, which is undergoing a period of sunspot activity.

In only a matter of hours, they see Mars looming up before them.

Building the constructivist set for Aelita (1924)

The constructivist Martian surface from Aelita (1924)


The descent

As the spacecraft approaches Mars, Los takes note of the canals and sketches out the details.

The ship enters Mars’s atmosphere and lands roughly on the surface, toppling over onto its side.

Los and Gusev stick a mouse out of the cabin onto the surface of the red planet. The mouse twitches its whiskers, washes itself, and runs about, proving that the atmosphere is fit for Earth creatures. Gusev straps on a revolver  just in case, and the two men exit the spacecraft.

Still from Aelita (1924)

The constructivist Martian surface from Aelita (1924)


Mars

The Martian sun is large and firey. The air is thin and dry. The spaceship lies on an orange-colored flat plain. The land is overgrown with tall cactuses shaped like pronged candlesticks. As Los and Gusev set off to explore, they find the walking easy, even though their feet sink ankle-deep into the crumbling soil.

Los sees that the soil has been ploughed and that the cactuses are standing in neat rows. Los also discovers cockleshells, indicating that they are at the bottom of a large, dried-up canal. Animals very much like lizards, bright orange, scuttle underfoot. Strange prickly looking balls scud aside and leap into the tentacled undergrowth. In the distance, mounds of stones, ruins, and snow-covered peaks are visible.

Los and Gusev decide to head back to the ship to get a bite to eat. As they approach the landing spot, they see someone…or something…rooting around their ship. Gusev whips out his revolver and shouts out. The creature spreads out a pair of webby wings and takes flight, circling overhead. After a few moments, the creature descends and lands again. Los and Gusev now see that this is no bird. It is a man-like being seated in the saddle of a flying machine. Two curved mobile wings flap on either side of the rider, and a disc — a propeller apparently — whirls a little below the wings.

The Martian himself is wearing goggles and an egg-shaped helmet with a tall peak. He squeaks angrily at Los and Gusev and wags his long finger at some cactuses which were overturned during the spaceship’s landing.

With gestures, Los indicates that they are hungry and thirsty. The Martian tosses them two metal boxes and a liquid-filled vessel before flying away. Gusev sniffs at the food in the boxes, but turns up his nose in disgust.

The Earthlings use some dry cactus sticks to start a fire, and they warm a can of corned beef over it. They taste the Martian drink. It is like Madeira — sweet and syrupy. 

After lunch, the travelers set off to do more exploring. Soon they have learned how to jump over the cactuses with long, bouncy leaps. Suddenly, Los and Gusev stop dead in their tracks. Three paces away is a pair of eyes, as large as those of a horse, with drooping red eyelids. There is an intense, deadly hatred in their piercing glare. Gusev whips out his revolver and fires at it. It sprints away. Then they see another one, getting a glimpse of its striped brown fat body moving swiftly on long, spidery legs. It is the kind of giant spiderthat is found on Earth on the bottom of deep oceans.

Still from Aelita (1924)

Still from Aelita (1924)


The deserted house

Gusev and Los walk along a dried-up canal. They notice a series of regularly spaced convex disks — the wells an old water main, they assume. They also find the ruins of some houses that, obviously, had been blown up in a battle.

A little further along, they come upon a large stone building which resembles a huge tomb. They enter the building and see a series of mosaics on the walls. The mosaics apparently depict historical episodes — battles between yellow-skinned and red-skinned creatures; a manlike figure immersed in the sea, then flying amid the stars; battle scenes and scenes of combat with beasts of prey; and scenes of domestic life. A strange human head keeps recurring in the mosaic.

Elsewhere in the house, they discover furniture as well as smashed and scattered remnants of everyday life. Gusev picks up what the thinks is a type of woman’s ornament — two dark-gold stones joined by a chain. He intends to give it to Masha.

In another room, they come upon the skeletons of Martians. Apparently a fierce battle raged in this room.

In a corridor is the statue of a naked woman, wearing a haughty expression and a tiara of stars.

Los finds a golden mask of a face with high cheekbones, a pointed nose, and a swelling like a dragon fly’s eye between the eyebrows. This is the same face as the one depicted on the mosaics. Los recalls reading about a similar mask that was discovered among the ruins of giant cities on the Niger in Africa.

Los notices some books with Martian technical drawings in them. He pockets one to peruse later.

Gusev calls Los into another room where, where a large mirror is mounted on the wall. Gusev pulls a knob, and an image of large buildings appears on the mirror-screen. A shadow passes over the image, then the screen goes blank, the result of a short-circuit…or so Los assumes.

Still from Aelita (1924)

Still from Aelita (1924)


The sunset

As Gusev and Los head back to their ship, the sun sets and night falls. High in the sky they can see Earth, their native planet — it shines like a reddish star. Suddenly, an eerie, horrifying howl tears through the night. Terrified, the men run panting back to their space ship. Gusev climbs inside for safety. Los, tarrying outside, sees the winged outline of an airship sailing among the stars.

Still from Aelita (1924)

Still from Aelita (1924)


Los looks at the Earth

As Gusev goes to sleep, Los ponders all they saw today. He gazes sadly up at Earth and wonders if coming here to Mars was what he wanted. Had he succeeded in escaping from himself? Eventually, Los falls asleep, too.

Still from Aelita (1924)

Still from Aelita (1924)


The Martians

The next morning, a silvery Martian flying-ship appears and land next to Los’s ship. Numerous Martian soldiers in egg-shaped helmets and silvery jackets and carrying rifles pour out. They are followed by a distinguished looking Martian in black robes and with a knobby head.

The Martian approaches Los and Gusev and raises his hand in greeting. The Martian and the Earthlings attempt primitive communication, naming the Earth, Mars, sun, and various other simple objects in their respective languages.

The Martian examines Los’s ship with great interest and apparently comes to grasp its principle. He makes a sketch, suggesting that they build a tent over Los’s ship and post a guard next to it. Gusev is suspicious, but Los agrees, feeling that, really, they have no other choice. The Martian then invites Los and Gusev into his flying ship. Not really certain if they are guests or prisoners, Los and Gusev enter the flying ship.

Still from Aelita (1924)

Still from Aelita (1924)


Beyond the mountains

The flying-ship heads northeast. Los stays on deck with the bald Martian. Gusev goes below with the soldiers, who stare at him with amazement. Not the least bit constrained by hisignorance of the Martian language, Gusev regales the soldiers with (embellished) tales of his exploits. The Martians are horrified when Gusev takes out a cigarette and starts “swallowing smoke.” The Martians offer him a brown liquid smelling of musk. Gusev takes out his flask of vodka and passes it around. Soon, everyone is chattering excitedly. They all exchange various trinkets.

On deck, Los surveys the scenery below. Everywhere are ruins and ribbons of dry canals. Los gestures to the Martian, trying to indicate his surprise that there is such desolation everywhere. The Martian doesn’t seem to want to talk about it.

Los is surprised that the motors on the flying-ship are completely silent. He asks the Martian to name a few objects. Then Los takes out the technical book he took from the deserted house. The Martian looks at the book in surprise and disdain. The Martian takes the book from Los’s hands and deliberately throws it overboard.

They fly over some rocky cliffs, strewn with the skeletons of numerous wrecked flying-machines. Obviously, a fierce battle took place here.

After they pass some mountains, the landscape changes dramatically. A broad shining plain, which the Martian calls “Azora” is dotted with sparkling lakes, rippling canals and jolly canary meadows…all like the little spring meadows one dreams of as a child. Wide metal barges ply the canals. Little white houses with pretty garden paths are ranged along the banks. The ship continues on over a large reservoir of water and then toward a gigantic shimmering city. The Martian utters the name of the city: Soatsera.

Still from Aelita (1924)

Still from Aelita (1924)


Soatsera

As the flying-ship floats over Soatsera, Los and Gusev look down in amazement at the fantastic city. East of Soatsera are ruins of an ancient city.

Hundreds of Martians, eager to get a glimpse at the Earth-aliens, come flying by in winged boats and saddles, canvas birds, and parachute baskets. They rain flowers and colored paper down on our adventurers.

The flying-ship lands in front of a massive red-black building. Again, throngs of Martians surround the visitors. On the steps of the building, clad in black robes and round caps, stand the Council of Engineers, the supreme government of Mars.

Gusev greets the crowd in typical hale Soviet style: “Hello, Comrade Martians! We bring you greetings from the Soviet republics. We’ve come to make friends with you!” The crowd gasps in amazement at this incomprehensible human-talk.

A grim-looking man among the Council of Engineers pronounces some words, and the flying-ship takes off again, transporting the Earthlings northward.

Still from Aelita (1924)

Still from Aelita (1924)


In the azure copse

The flying-ship lands in a meadow. The bald Martian leads Los and Gusev into a luxuriant copse, filled with weeping, azure-blue trees. A peaceful herd of short-legged, long-haired animals grazes nearby. Water gurgles, completing the idyllic scene.

They descend a moss-covered staircase to the shore of a lake. A slim, young woman in a yellow pointed cap appears on the stairs. The bald Martian whispers, “Aelita”, covering his eyes and dragging Los and Gusev off the path and into the copse.

The Martian whistles. A short, chubby Martian appears in response. When the bald Martian tells him who the visitors are, the short Martian gets a terrified look on his face and starts to flee. The bald Martian stops him with a commanding voice. Shaking with fear, the short Martian obediently leads the group to a house.

Still from Aelita (1924)

Still from Aelita (1924)


Rest

The short Martian, who is the house steward, fusses about, filling baths for Gusev and Los, then feeding them and showing them to some beds.

After a long and restful sleep, Los is awakened by the steward, who gives him a bunch of blue flowers and says something about “Aelita.”

Still from Aelita (1924)

Still from Aelita (1924)


The ball of mist

At breakfast the next morning, Gusev gets restless. They didn’t come all this way to smell flowers, he says. Since they are the first men here, he claims, that means that Mars is now a Soviet planet. Gusev insists that they not leave the planet until they get a signed document from the Martians asserting their desire to become part of the Russian Federated Republic. If the Martians don’t give the document willingly, Gusev is ready to fight for it.

Los says what they really should take back is wisdom.

The steward comes and humbly takes the Earthlings to the young woman they saw yesterday — Aelita. Aelita holds a pale green ball of mist in her hand. it changes into a perfect model of the Earth, and it begins to reflect the Earthlings’ memories. Los’s memory produces images of Petrograd. Gusev’s thoughts summon up disturbing images of war and death.

Aelita then turns on a large screen which shows various objects of everyday Martian life. She begins a lesson in the Martian language. Unaccountably, the Earthlings fall into a trance, and when they come back to their senses they hear Aelita say, “You better get some rest,” in words which are strange yet understandable.

Still from Aelita (1924)

Still from Aelita (1924)


On the stairs

Los and Gusev continue their Martian lessons with Aelita for seven days. They sleep through most of the eighth day. Towards evening, Los awakens and goes to the stairs by the lake. There he meets Aelita.

Aelita asks Los if he was happy on Earth and what happiness is. Los says happiness is escaping from oneself: “He is happy who is imbued with fullness and accord and with the desire to live for those who provide this fullness, accord, and joy.” Further, Los says, happiness comes from loving a woman.

Aelita asks Los why he left Earth. Los says, “The woman I loved had died. I didn’t have the courage to stay with my despair. Life was torture. I’m a runaway, a coward.”

Aelita reveals that she has “ash kkheh”, or second sight. It is wisdom incarnate. But Aelita has never known happiness.

When she was a girl, Aelita used to have dreams of a land with green mountains, rivers, rain, and clouds, like Earth. Her teacher told her that these dreams were an indication of her second sight. The teacher also warned her that she would perish because of khaothe defeat of reason by emotion.

Still from Aelita (1924)

Still from Aelita (1924)


Aelita’s first story

Twenty thousand years ago, Tuma, or Mars, was populated by a people called the Aols, the Orange Race. Some were hunters, some were fishermen, etc., etc.

One day, one of the tribes of Taltsetl (the Earth) came to Mars. They descended for forty days and forty nights in bronze, egglike machines that were propelled by the power released in the disintegration of matter. They were clad in armor and helmets and carried swords. They had come from a continent which sank to the bottom of the ocean (Atlantis).

They entered the towns of the Aols, took what they wanted, and killed those who dared oppose them. They enslaved the Aols, ordering them to go to the plains to dig canals and reservoirs. Some Aols resisted, but the Magatsitls (Atlantians) were fierce and wiped out the opposition.

Then the Aols remembered the prophecy of a shepherd who advised them to “Become a shadow to evil.” So they went to live in the hills, searching only for the good in themselves and in others.

Many years passed. The Magatsitls did not molest the followers of the shepherd. Then, one day, the Magatsitls send a peace messenger to the Aols. The Magatistls had come to Mars without women. They now proposed that the Aols give them their virgins. In return, the Magatsitls would permit the Aols to live on the plains again and share in the great building projects underway. They Aols agreed and handed over the virgins.

The Magatsitls and the virgins produced the blue Mountain Tribe.

New towns rose up. More canals and the 16 great reservoirs were built to collect the water that flowed down from the polar summits during the thaw. They build the great city of Soatsera, using amazing technology.

All the great knowledge of the Magatsitls was written in books in a language known only to them. When the last of them died, the knowledge died with him. Only 20,000 years later did the descendents of the Mountain Tribe learn to decipher the mysterious books of Atlantis.

Still from Aelita (1924)

Still from Aelita (1924)


A chance discovery

Gusev wanders around and comes upon Ikha, the niece of the steward, who is peeling vegetables. Finding her cute, Gusev kisses Ikha. She runs away.

Gusev catches up to Ikha. Either forgetting or not caring that he is already married, Gusev tells Ikha that he’ll marry her if she wants. She turns away and pouts.

Gusev asks Ikha who is the master of the planet. She tells him that it is Tuscoob, Aelita’s father, who is head of the Supreme Council.

Ikha shows Gusev how to operate a large wall-mounted video screen in one room. They watch a festival of khavra-smokers. Khavra fumes are referred to as the fumes of immortality. Those who smoke it have wonderful dreams. Smoking khavra at home is punished by death. Permission to smoke it is issued by the Supreme Council. Ikha and the others in the house are allowed to smoke khavra just 12 times a year. They change channels and watch a lottery. The winner will never have to work again.

Ikha changes channels again. She accidentally tunes in to a broadcast of a meeting of Tuscoob and the Supreme Council. Gusev understands enough to realize that the Council is angrily and threateningly debating about the Earthlings. When Ikha realizes what they’re watching, she quickly turns it off. No one is allowed to watch the secrets of the Supreme Council, she says, adding that she’ll be exiled to the snowy regions if anyone ever finds out.

That evening, Gusev warns Los that something might be afoot with the Council.

Still from Aelita (1924)

Still from Aelita (1924)


AELITA’S MORNING

Aelita wakes up early in the morning. Her sleep had been restless, disturbed by snatches of strange and alarming dreams. She feels a longing in her blood, which she sees as deplorable. She muses to herself, “Longing in the blood, confusion in the mind — a futile return to the experiences of the past…a return to the caves, the herds, the camp-fires…the longing and the anguish of motherhood. Futile, blind reproduction.”

After bathing, Aelita has her usual morning conversation with her father, Tuscoob, over a video phone. He asks how the Earthlings are doing and if they are anxious to leave the house. Aelita asks Tuscoob what he intends to do with the visitors. Tuscoob gets angry and ends the conversation.

Confused and disturbed by her sense of longing and inability to think clearly, Aelita uses the video phone to contact her old Teacher. Sensing that it is Los that has disturbed Aelita, the Teacher suggests that Los just disappear. Aelita hastily rejects this notion. The Teacher warns Aelita to be wary of whatever feelings Los may arouse in her. He reminds her: “The frigidity of wisdom alone, Aelita, calm contemplation of inevitable death — the death of matter steeped in sweat and lust — and the anticipation of the time when your spirit, perfect, no more in need of the paltry experience of life, quits the boundaries of your consciousness and is no more–that, and that alone, is happiness.”

Aelita remembers that Los told her about something on Earth higher than reason, knowledge, and wisdom…something called “love.” The Teacher has no idea what this is and tells her to ask Los about it…only be careful!

Still from Aelita (1924)

Still from Aelita (1924)


Aelita’s second story

Aelita goes to Los in the library and tells him a second story, which her people had learned by deciphering the colored books of the Magatsitls:

At some distant time, the hub of the Earth was the City of a Hundred Golden Gates. The founders of the city were African negroes of the Zemze tribe. The Zemze were powerful and tall and could sense the nature and form of things at a distance, just as a magnet senses the presence of another magnet.

The Zemze built walls and pyramids, and subjugated the red-skinned tribes living to the west.

Many centuries later, the red-skins, commanded by their leader Uru, arose and conquered the city. From the Zemze they took the virgins for themselves. They turned the former rulers into servants.

The red-skins of the Uru dynasty expanded their kingdom and built the hundred golden gates around their city.

Many tribes from the entire world, drawn by greed and curiosity, flocked to the city. Among these tribes were the olive-skinned, hooked-nosed Sons of Aam. Clever and cunning, the Sons of Aam mastered the ancient wisdoms, built a subterranean temple dedicated to the Sleeping Negro’s Head, and eventually overthrew the Uru dynasty.

The Sons of Aam expanded even further the power and influence of the land now known as Atlantis. They propagated their cult of the Sleeping Head, but its teachings were too complicated for many, who continued to worship their own strange gods. It became apparent that, if the world were to be united, they would need a single, easily understood faith. So the Sons of Aam created the cult of the Sun. The leader of Atlantis and high priest of this new religion was called the Son of the Sun. He was supreme sovereign over all the world.There was no private property — everything belonged to the Sun. Labor was deemed sacred. The idle were put to death. Lasting peace was established. Mankind was forgetting war.

Eventually, the land was again conquered by a yellow-faced, slant-eyed tribe called the Uchkurs. They pillaged the cities. It was the downfall of civilization. Over the years, however, the Uchkurs rebuilt the cities and reintroduced knowledge and learning. Bounty and peace returned.

There then came a split in the philosophy of the land. Two groups formed: the Blacks and the Whites. The Blacks believed that there was no way of extracting the seed of evil and said that evil was the sole power engendering existence. The Whites held that evil was outside nature, a deflection of reason from the natural, and they sought a counteragent to combat it.

The struggle between the Whites and Blacks was fierce. When an earthquake struck, the Blacks said that it was the Whites and their rituals which were to blame. The Blacks turned the masses against the Whites andslaughtered them.

The wealthiest citizens of the Black Order, called Magatsitls, or ‘the Ruthless’, seized power. They staged drunken orgies of wantonness and excess for the masses. While the masses were thus debauched, the Magatsitls came with firebombs and swords to slay them all. Then, as another great earthquake came to submerge the land of Atlantis, the Magatsitls got in their spaceships and took off for Mars.

Still from Aelita (1924)

Still from Aelita (1924)


Gusev observes the city

Feeling that he and Los are in some kind of danger, Gusev decides that he must escape to the city. With Ikha’s help, he examines a flying boat and learns how to operate it. He also spends a lot of time at the viewing screen, studying all sections of the city of Soatsera. In the central section of the town, there are many idle, loafing, fashionable rich. But the workers’ districts are dismal and hopeless.

On his 14th day on Mars, Gusev observes something strange on the viewing screen. A group of soldiers — sinister, stone-faced puppets — in triangular formation, march into the central square. The colorful parasols disappear. Citizens scurry around, whispering excitedly. A crowd of workers at a factory stand scowling fiercely.

Still from Aelita (1924)

Still from Aelita (1924)


Tuscoob

The city is in a state of unrest and abuzz with rumors. Some said the storehouses of dry cactus are ablaze, that the polar stations were to be turned off, that the magnetic field was going to disappear. There was an explosion to the southwest.

In the workers’ districts, they react with a mixed feeling of malicious pleasure and worry when they hear that a reservoir had been blown up. There are reports that there will be a clash that evening in the Supreme Council between Tuscoob and Engineer Gor, the leader of Soatsera’s workers.

That night, the Supreme Council meets. Tuscoob says that the anarchy gripping the land stems from the immorality of the city — the questionable entertainments, indulgence in khavra, bright lights, luxurious golden boats, women with bare backs and bellies and tantalizing perfumes, restaurants, brothels, the thirst for intoxication.

To stop the anarchy, Tuscoob asserts, the city must be destroyed! The sound section of the populace will be resettled in the countryside. Such a course will not save civilization, Tuscoob says, but it will help the Martian world die with dignity and in peace.

Given the current birth and death rates, Martian society is doomed to extinction. Tuscoob contends that his plan will allow them to live out their final centuries in luxury and joy.

Gor jumps to his feet to denounce the plan, saying it’s merely an attempt by Tuscoob to hold onto power. Mars is dying, Gor agrees, but he says there is salvation in the Earthmen. But, according to Gor, Tuscoob fears the Earthmen, has hidden them away, and has issued dark orders concerning their fate.

Tuscoob tries to use his sorcerer’s powers to silence Gor. Gor manages to shove Tuscoob off the speaker’s platform and declares: “If you want death, let it be death — but for you!”

Gor then manages to escape from the chamber.

Still from Aelita (1924)

Still from Aelita (1924)


Los is alone

Gusev, watching the view screen, learns of the incipient revolution. He suggests to Los that they go to the city and take control of things. Los doesn’t want to go just now because he is waiting for Aelita, with whom he is smitten. So Gusev goes by himself, promising to return in the evening.

Left alone, Los feels the futility of ardent love. It is preposterous, he says to himself, that he has traveled to another world just to sit on a couch and wait for a woman.

Los goes for a walk. He longs for Aelita, but fights the feeling. He decides that tomorrow he will go to the city and fight, perhaps even die — as long as he is no longer tormented by these feelings.

Suddenly, Aelita lands in front of Los in a flying boat. She tells Los that she has been longing greatly for him. But now they must flee.

Still from Aelita (1924)

Still from Aelita (1924)


The spell

In the flying boat, Aelita tells Los that her father has ordered her to poison him and Gusev. Falling under Los’s spell, Aelita leans against him. She tries to understand her feelings, but it is no use.

When they arrive at the lake house, Aelita brings Los into her chamber. She is afraid that Los will shun her because she doesn’t know how to love. Los kisses her eyes.

Tuscoob calls Aelita on the view screen. He wants to know if the Earthmen are still alive. She says she has given them the poison and they are dead. Tuscoob angrily shouts thatshe lies! Gusev is in the city, leading the uprising.

Still from Aelita (1924)

Still from Aelita (1924)


The song of long ago

Aelita, Los, and Ikha get in a flying boat and flee to the Liziazira Mountains. Along the way, Aelita monitors radio transmissions to make sure that their flight is undetected. She picks up snatches of Gusev giving revolutionary speeches.

When they land in the mountains, Aelita leads the group deep into a cave where there is a large sarcophagus made of blocks of gold — the tomb of the Sleeping Martian.

Later that night, under the stars and by a campfire, Aelita plays a stringed instrument called an ulla and sings an old song to Los. She then tells him that it is the custom on Mars for a woman who plays and ulla and sings a song to a man to become his wife.

Still from Aelita (1924)

Still from Aelita (1924)


Los flies to Gusev’s aid

Around midnight, Los flies back to Tuscoob’s estate. He finds a crashed air boat there and the corpses of several Martians, who obviously died in a fire fight. Los then comes upon one Martian with his belly ripped open but still alive. This Martian bears a note from Gusev, saying that Gusev plans to storm the Supreme Council building.

Suddenly, bad Martians open fire on Los. With his Mauser, however, Los manages to capture his attacker and force him to fly him back to the city.

Still from Aelita (1924)

Still from Aelita (1924)


Gusev’s activities

Earlier that day, as Gusev flew toward the center of town, he was challenged by a military air ship. He blew it up with one of the hand grenades that he had smuggled onto Mars without Los’s knowledge.

Gusev lands in the workers’ district. He rouses the workers to action. He leads 40,000 rebels to the arsenal. They overpower the guards and seize the weapons and air ships there. Gusev calls the Supreme Council todemand their surrender. The government responds by sending a flight of air ships to attack the arsenal. The rebels turn back the onslaught. The sky is now controlled by the insurrectionists.

Gusev and the rebels then go to the square in front of the Supreme Council headquarters. They capture the building, but Tuscoob and the engineers manage to escape.

Still from Aelita (1924)

Still from Aelita (1924)


Events take a new turn

The mutineers seize all the important posts in the city. It is cold. On Gusev’s orders, bonfires are lit to keep the Martians warm. This is unheard of — no fires have burned in the city for 1,000 years.

Gusev wonders where Tuscoob, the government, and their 15,000 troops are. Gor says they are no doubt underground in Queen Magr’s labyrinth, an intricate series of caves and tunnels which run all around the entire planet. It would be useless to go in search of them there — only Tuscoob knows the layout of the labyrinth.

Los arrives with bad news. The city is surrounded with government air ships.

Still from Aelita (1924)

Still from Aelita (1924)


The counterattack

The government airships bomb the workers district, setting all their homes ablaze. Then the arsenal is targeted and destroyed. All the rebel airships are lost.

Hordes of government troops swarm into the central square, overwhelming and massacring the rebels. Gusev and Los engage in hand-to-hand combat. Gor, who received a mortal head wound, tells Gusev and Los to flee into Queen Magr’s labyrinth.

Still from Aelita (1924)

Still from Aelita (1924)


Queen Magr’s labyrinth

Gusev and Los wander around in the underground labyrinth. They run out of matches, and get lost.

They ponder death. Gusev sadly considers the devaluation of life which has taken place since 1914. Despite it all, Gusev still wants to live.

Suddenly, a mass of gigantic spiders — millions of them — begin surging up out of a dark, bottomless well. Gusev and Los flee blindly in the tunnels. Finally they emerge from the labyrinth in the vicinity of Tuscoob’s estate.

Still from Aelita (1924)

Still from Aelita (1924)


Khao

Gusev and Los make it back to the caves where Aelita and Ikha are hiding. Los goes to Aelita and gazes at her, overcome with love. Aelita says she wants to learn how to love, but she fears Khao, the supposed chaos which results when feelings defeat reason. Los is enflamed, and Aelita submits to his caresses.

Meanwhile, a government warship lands outside the cave. Tuscoob and soldiers disembark. Tuscoob points into the cave and gives the order, “Take them.”

Still from Aelita (1924)

Still from Aelita (1924)


Escape

A short while later, Gusev and Ikha come to the cave entrance. They find Los’s blood-encrusted body lying on the ground. Aelita is missing.

Knowing that he might not get out of this alive, Gusev bids a fond farewell to Ikha. He then tosses Los’s body into an airship and heads out east, toward their hidden spaceship. Ikha hurls herself on the ground and sobs.

A Martian warship begins to pursue Los. But Gusev evades the pursuers by using clever evasive tactics. He gets out over the desert area of the planet, but then his airship runs out of fuel. Gusev drapes the seemingly lifeless Los over his shoulder and trudges through the sands.

When Gusev arrives at the spaceship, he sees that some Martians are pounding on it with hammers, trying to destroy it. With a mighty bellow and a heavy club, Gusev beats away all the Martians before they do any serious damage. Gusev drags Los into the spaceship and blasts off from the surface of Mars.

Still from Aelita (1924)

Still from Aelita (1924)


Oblivion

Los — who wasn’t really dead after all — finally regains consciousness. He and Gusev rocket through the vast blackness of outer space. They cannot get a bearing on Earth, and they are in fact racing away from Earth and the solar system. Their supplies begin to run out, and they fall into the sweet oblivion of sleep.

Some time later they are awakened by crashing sounds…they have become ensnared in the tail of a comet. Los says they must escape the comet or they’ll be drawn right into the sun.

Still from Aelita (1924)

Still from Aelita (1924)


The Earth

The gravitational field of the comet gradually brings the spaceship back on a course for the solar system and Earth. Their food and water run out. Gusev and Los are barely clinging to life when Earth finally comes into view.

They manage a crash landing on a grassy hill on the shores of Lake Michigan in the USA. On Earth, almost four years have passed since Los and Gusev first blasted off into space.

When Los regains consciousness, he is in a hospital with Skiles sitting next to the bed, eagerly waiting for Los’s notes, so they can be published in his newspaper.

Movie poster for Aelita in Russian (1924)

Movie poster for Aelita in Russian (1924)


The voice of love

Six months later, Los and Gusev are back in Leningrad. They are feted and fed at 150 banquets, suppers, and scientific gatherings. Gusev establishes the Society of Dispatching Military Detachments to the Planet of Mars for the Purpose of Saving the Remnants of Its Toiling Population. Los goes to work at a factory trying to build a universal motor of the Martian type.

Despite his work, Los is basically glum and sad. One winter evening he gazes into the sky and suddenly recalls a memory which he had repressed since leaving Mars. He was with Aelita in the cave when they heard Tuscoob’s voice say, “Take them.” Aelita says, “Farewell, my husband.” She tells Los that she was a virgin dedicated to Queen Magr. The punishment for such a virgin who has broken her vow is to be thrown into the well in the labyrinth [home to the millions of giant spiders]. Despite it all, she is happy that Los has taught her to love. As the Martian soldiers enter the cave, Aelita drinks from a flask of poison. Los grabs the flask and drinks from it, too — but it’s not enough to kill him, just knock him out for a long time.

As Los remembers this scene, he suddenly thinks, “She’s alive!”

Los walks home. Gusev arrives for him in a car. He tells Los that a radio station has been picking up strange signals which apparently come from Mars. They cannot decipher them and have invited Los to come and listen.

At the station, Los sits down at the wireless and puts on the earphones. The transmission begins and Los reacts in shock. It is the voice of Aelita, calling, begging, imploring: “Where are you, where are you, my love?”

THE END

2 thoughts on “Aelita, or the decline of Mars

  1. Pingback: Paletleme Amirliği – Mayıs 2013 | Emrah Göker'in İstifhanesi

  2. Pingback: Ivan Kudriashev’s interplanetary-dynamic abstractions (1917-1928) | The Charnel-House

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