In Phantom Pain: The 1991 Russian Film Adaptation of William Faulkner’s “The Leg”
“The Leg,” seemingly a marginal piece of Faulkner’s Gothic written in the mid-twenties and first published in 1934, was translated and pirated into the Soviet Union along with the rest of the Collected Short Stories of William Faulkner in 1977. Over a dozen years later, Director Nikita Tyagunov spotted “The Leg” as a perfect story to be made into his first major film. The screenplay of Noga (Russian for “leg”) by Nadezhda Kozhushanaya powerfully transfers the original plot and characters to the Soviet Union and Afghanistan of the early 1980s, into the heart of the traumatic experience of the Russian soldiers at the Soviet-Afghan War. In this article, I deal with the issue of equivalence, regarding Noga as an adaptation of “The Leg” that simultaneously generalizes and specifies both the explicit and potential meanings of the Faulkner story. I focus on the major transgressions/developments of “The Leg” in its film version and the ending that moves the original plot another step “beyond,” without reducing the initial Faulknerian ambiguity. The phantom limb phenomenon, which is mystical rather than medical in Faulkner, becomes a universal metaphor for the intolerable pain of meaningless violence in Tyagunov, who died shortly after his film was released, and Kozhushanaya, who only lived for several years longer. I provide some cultural and historical commentary to the dense texture of the film, which breaks away from the genre conventions of the war action movie and/or mystical thriller, and speculate on some political implications of this early post-Cold War cinematic project.