Today, Oct. 1 at 8 p.m. is your last chance to see a provocative Danish documentary, “The Man Who Saved the World” at the Arena Cinema Hollywood. The documentary shows us that heroes do not have to have superpowers, and they sometimes aren’t charming or easy to along with. Harking back to the years of the Cold War, the documentary tells the story of Stanislav Petrov who on Sept. 26, 1983 went against protocol and ignored a report that five American nuclear missiles were heading toward Russia.
The Cold War was a time of high alert and new technology, but in this case, the technology failed. Petrov’s duty was to monitor satellite surveillance equipment information and report signs of missile attacks. Had he reported five nuclear missiles heading toward the Soviet Union, it is likely that the top leadership would have ordered a counter attack on the U.S. Judging that this was a false alarm despite what the new equipment programs indicated, he did not make a report of an attack and was proven to be correct. Instead of being honored, Petrov was reprimanded.
Using convincing recreations, the documentary mixes narrative film feature with actual footage of Petrov as he was in 2006 when he came to the U.S. to receive the second special World Citizen Award at the United Nations in New York City. During that time, he had three goals:
- Visit the United Nations
- Meet Kevin Costner
- Meet Robert DeNiro
He did all that and more with the help of an interpreter. At the time Costner was on the set of a movie with Matt Damon and Ashton Kutcher. Petrov has no idea who Damon is, but is told by his interpreter that Damon is a famous actor. Kutcher’s approach is humble.
Petrov is not an easy man to love. We hear his interpreter complaining about him to a friend. We also see him drinking too much. There are wounds, deep emotional wounds. His wife died of cancer. We see him caring for her in the re-enactments. When asked, he tells us he never loved again, he answers no. There’s a sense of tragedy, but also some closure.
Petrov doesn’t consider himself a hero, but he illustrates how sometimes one’s achievements aren’t immediately recognized and that an otherwise ordinary man can do something extraordinary and have an effect upon millions.