American novelist Thomas Pynchon is the great chronicler of the counterculture. There is a strange scene in his novel Against the Day. It describes the Russian airship captain, Padsitnov, throwing bricks and masonry from his wondrous aircraft – “always in blocks of four fragments”. Padsitnow’s airship is called “The Big Game”; what is meant is the classic game Tetris, a speed puzzle in which geometric chunks fall from the screen.

With Padsitnow, Pynchon has erected a monument to the Moscow nerd Alexej Paschitnow. Paschitnow programmed Tetris in 1984 on a Soviet Elektronika 60 computer, and if you believe “Tetris”, the film that can now be seen on Apple’s streaming service, then Paschitnow also hit the very real wall with his virtual stones. The Cold War ended not only in Berlin, but also symbolically on Nintendo’s Gameboy, which is also a child of 1989. After all, the aim of the game in Tetris is that the wall at the bottom of the screen explodes.

All the better that the story of “Tetris” is largely true. It is all the more understandable that the film tells them in a mix of contemporary melancholy and historical high spirits – as if Super Mario, the other great hero of the Game Boy, actually put an end to the Cold War and really completed the story.

The film’s Super Mario is played by Taron Egerton, who slips into the role of Dutch-born, New York-raised, then Tokyo-based software entrepreneur Henk Rogers, and makes him as angular as the early, still pixelated ones with a mustache, cowboy boots, and shoulder pads Mario is playing. Rogers fell for Tetris at the Computer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in 1988 and decided to buy the rights, which started an almost unbelievable licensed crime.

“Tetris”, the film, appropriately sorts it into “levels”, although the story actually has more of a theater play: the various Tetris hunters pass each other on the stage of a Moscow institution called Elektronorgtechnica, ELORG for short. At that time, ELORG was responsible for the rather improbable export of Soviet software (and sounds like it was made for a Pynchon novel to this day).

Rogers’ competitors in 1988 include a shady games manager named Stein and London tycoon Robert Maxwell, who has ties to Mikhail Gorbachev; among Rogers’ allies are the heads of Nintendo, who want to acquire a right that only a dozen or so insiders have any idea how to apply at this point. In one of the most beautiful scenes of the film, Rogers gets to see the first Gameboy of all.

The actual rights holders – for ELORG a man named Nikolai Belikow, who represents the developer Alexej Paschitnov, who was disenfranchised under communism – are groping in the dark; Last but not least, “Tetris” tells how a tsunami of cunning capitalists floods the dark corridors of helpless Russian authorities. But there are capitalists in good (Rogers) and evil (Maxwell), so “Tetris” also tells the story of a friendship that transcends borders. As Rogers and Paschitnow (Nikita Efremov) get closer, another utopia that has since been resolved comes true: an otherworldly paradise for nerds who speak the same programming language.

Tetris was filmed before Russia attacked Ukraine (not in Moscow, by the way, but primarily in Scotland), so you can’t help but watch the film against a backdrop of director Jon S. Baird and screenwriter Noah didn’t know pink. The film stands up remarkably, largely thanks to Rogers’ and Paschitnov’s darkest adversaries.

Igor Grabuzov plays the KGB officer Trifonov as a quasi-Putinesque figure who is already transforming the sinking Soviet Union into the kleptocracy that Russia has become under Putin. Confronting him with an idealistic KGB agent – ​​for free. The fact that the ELORG man Nikolai Belikow was an honest broker, however, corresponds to the facts: “We are turning into a nation of thieves”, is his best sentence.

Incidentally, the real Belikov emigrated to the USA a long time ago, as did Tetris inventor Paschitnov. Russia’s digital counterculture, however, has been swallowed up by the troll farms of Yevgeny Prigozhin, a convicted thief who now commands the Wagner mercenaries. Thomas Pynchon seems to have guessed. His Russian airship captain is already listening to the command of a St. Petersburg “parallel organization”.

“Tetris” can be seen on AppleTV.