Phaeton, The Son of the Sun [Фаэтон сын Солнца] (1972)

17 min.; Russia; dir. Vasily Livanov; produced by Soyuzmultfilm

The Greek myth of Phaeton is the basis for this atmospheric short about the structure of the solar system, which features a variety of animation styles. The subject matter melds the realms of science and myth, and reflects both the prominence and ambition of the Soviet space program during this period.

Cosmonauts are sent on a spaceship called “Phaeton 1” to explore the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. The mission is based on the hypothesis that the belt originated from fragments of a deceased planet. An interlude explaining why the spaceship has this name retells the story of Phaeton and his doomed chariot ride with vivid images and music. It is suggested that the myth is “poetic evidence of an actual occurrence: the destruction of the planet Phaeton as a result of space catastrophe.”

The broader idea is then introduced that connections between ancient events and artefacts and contain the mystery of contact between Earth and other worlds. After the cosmonauts arrive at the asteroid belt, the question of how the planet Phaeton might have been destroyed is considered, and there is a parallel drawn between Jupiter’s gravity and Zeus’ thunderbolt as agents of destruction. The film ends by imagining the alien inhabitants of this planet, the Phaetonians, visiting earth and making contact with ancient native peoples. This film certainly seems to engage with the pseudoscientific theories of paleocontact or “ancient astronaut theory,” which became popular in the 1970s (and remain so today).



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