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The Dark Charm of Russian Nihilistic Entertainment

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The leader of the Universe gang, Vova, brother of Marat, has just returned from the harrowing Soviet-Afghan war. Despite the horrors he has witnessed, he seems unfazed, and his peers show no curiosity about his experiences. This sets the tone for the series: a world so devoid of meaning that it becomes impenetrable. Director Zhora Kryzhovnikov confines the camera to the stark, rectilinear apartment blocks, never venturing beyond. While the period details are surprisingly accurate, the true essence of Kazan remains elusive. The plot oscillates between frenetic activity and inertia.

The play takes place at a crucial moment in history. Everyone senses the impending collapse of the Soviet Union, but the future remains uncertain. In a rare moment of effective irony, Vova reflects on what lies ahead. “I listened to Gorbachev,” he says. “They say in a year or two we will be like America. Or maybe better.” My family emigrated in 1989, and I vividly remember the disappointment and humiliation of those years. We should have had VCRs, but instead gangsterism filled the void left by collapsed institutions. The “Kazan phenomenon” of the 1980s evolved into the Russian mafia of the 1990s, which ravaged post-Soviet democracy until a frustrated Kremlin ceded power to Vladimir Putin, who essentially turned organized crime into a form of government. Today, his worldview, which emphasizes strength over weakness, is deeply ingrained in the national psyche.

It’s easy to criticize bad Russian TV, but “The Boy’s Word” has a deeply disturbing core: It serves as a warning about the erosion of moral reasoning to the point that violence becomes the default response. In a scathing online review, critic Platon Besedin noted that the series “could only be demanded by a sick, ill-mannered society that walks in circles like a tired, sick pony.” American culture is not immune to such criticism: We may not fight over VCRs, but Besedin would probably find little to praise in “Street Fighter 6” or “Deadpool & Wolverine.” And if he doesn’t know “MILF Manor,” it’s best not to enlighten him.

In the final scene of “The Boy’s Word,” Andrey is in a penal colony, playing the piano while the boys in front of him sing. The scene is tense, controlled, but almost unbalanced, and it may be the best of the show. Andrey emerges as a new man, ready for the new world he has helped shape. He ends with a glissando, his fingers sliding across the keyboard. Then the show ends and Russia begins.

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