Maria Scholl, the overlooked great science fiction heroine

The DVD cover

A while back I wrote about Meg Coburn (Mira Sorvino) of The Replacement Killers, the forgotten great action heroine. Now I’m spotlighting Maria Scholl, the overlooked great science fiction heroine.

Scholl, played by Cox Habbema, is one of the main figures of Eolomea, a 1972 East German (i.e., Soviet-era Communist) SF film directed by Hermann Zschoche. In a nonspecific future, spaceships traveling to and from space station “Margot” begin to vanish. Professor Scholl, head of the space program’s ruling council, leads the investigation, first on earth and then in space. It dovetails with the story of Dan Lagny, a space pilot doing thankless time on an asteroid station, who also has a past romantic relationship with Scholl.

Like Meg Coburn, much of what makes Maria interesting are the things she doesn’t do. As Erich Kuersten says on the blog Acidemic, she is, “shrewd, kind, and able to have a romance with the main cosmonaut Dan (Ivan Andonov) without it clouding her judgment or weakening her authority. She doesn’t overreact or have womanly issues, or pine for something ‘real’ in her life, something ‘better than command… like a child and a family,’ the way she would have to in the U.S. [at the time the film was made.]” When another council member suggests that her presence on the rescue mission might, ahem, distract the all-male crew, she responds easily with, “The boys have had to get used to many things. They can get used to one more.” And that scene is the only one where it’s implied that her status as a woman is in any way an issue. In everything else, her competence, authority and intelligence are simply assumed.

Dr. Scholl at work...

And make no mistake, she’s a woman. When shown in flashbacks on the vacation where she meets Dan, she’s as free with her sexuality and attractiveness as any other woman on holiday might be. She wears tight shorts, she flirts, and in the one flashback scene where her job does arise, she wears a bikini on a beach while discussing Dan’s duty assignment. The implication is that women in this version of the future don’t have to choose between career and personal life: everything is open to them, and more importantly, no one expects them to pick one or the other.

...and at play, with Cosmonaut Dan.

In fact, Eolomea as a whole doesn’t do what you might expect. The space council is an international organization, and you see more faces of color that you’d ever encounter in an American SF film of the era (or heck, even now). The moments that would seem obligatory, such as the first declaration of love between Maria and Dan, or their reunion scene toward the end, simply aren’t there. The scenes that do exist imply these other scenes happen, but it’s as if the editors (and they’re ruthless: the film is only 80 minutes long) decided that they were too obvious to leave in. The antagonist might look like Blofeld from You Only Live Twice, but his nefarious plan is really…well, I don’t want to spoil everything.

East German cinema isn’t exactly known for its masterpieces, and in the popular Western mind, Soviet-era science fiction begins and ends with Solaris. But Eolomea deserves to be more appreciated, and thanks to a great DVD release (and its availability through Netflix), now it can be.

One Comment on “Maria Scholl, the overlooked great science fiction heroine”

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