Perhaps it is hard to be a god, according to the title of this sprawling Russian epic. But everybody else looks miserable, too. We are in a world called Arkanar, invented by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky for a speculative 1964 novel that must be easier to understand than this film. Arkanar is a pigsty, a horror show, a decadent party at James Franco’s house. It resembles the muddier years of Earth’s Middle Ages, but we are told it is a planet where the society has developed more slowly than ours. We are also told—and this is important to grasp in the movie’s swirl—that our main character, Don Rumata (Leonid Yarmolnik), is actually a visitor from Earth. He pretends to be a god in Arkanar, passing through the squalid society and observing it.
The film’s 170 minutes are oozing with bodily fluids, casual brutality, and complete disdain for anything like conventional suspense or storytelling.