Recently I was going through the vaguely organized mass of material I’ve accumulated over the years, stuff I’ve been reluctant to get rid of because who knows when you’ll need it, right? While I was doing that, I came across a copy of a letter dated December 17, 1991 that had been sent to the film journal Cineaste. At the time, I was working at Cinema Guild, a film and video distributor here in New York. My supervisor, Gary Crowdus, was also the founder and editor of Cineaste. He’d brought the letter to the office to show me. It was rather unusual, as you’ll see. A Russian woman had written that she had an important message for Bruce Willis that she hoped would get passed on to him. She wanted him to know that he had “infected the Russians with the virus of disobediance through the films Die Hard I & II.”
Even though this goes back 30 years, the fact that it was announced a month ago that Bruce Willis has aphasia, which affects language expression and comprehension, and was retiring from acting, along with the current Russian invasion of the Ukraine, makes the letter somewhat timely now.
There’s something very charming and totally sincere about the letter, which you can read in full below. I’ve transcribed it exactly as she wrote it, odd word choices, sentence constructions, and all.
December 17, 1991
My dear Americans,
My name is Tamara Maximenko. I am from Murmansk. It is a large port city in the North of Russia, on the coast of the Arctic Ocean.
My purpose in writing is to ask kindly to pass on an important message to the American famous actor Bruce Willis. I think it might be interesting to him. I would like Bruce Willis to get to know that he has infected the Russians with the virus of disobedience through the films Die Hard I & II, by John McTiernan and Renny Harlin. This virus has spread for a short time all over Russia while inculcating deeply in our mind. Even Russian intelligentsia were affected by the disease, though they had been trained by classic writers and also by the sad fates of the previous Russian generations in the spirit of resignation and non-resistance any evil with violence. We caught your “disobedience,” Bruce Willis, approximately 1.5 – 2 years ago. It was the time of the mass delivery of video equipment to Russia. In since that time we have been existing in new condition with great delight and a bit of astonishment. As thing turned out it was most pleasant to be not only the member of the collective, in which the minority had to obey the majority, but to be the person expressing one’s own opinion. Bruce Willis, you seemed as if you were among defenders of Russia in the days of the August’s putsch. It was a though you were standing next to our fearless Russia’s President Yeltsin under probably enemy fire and both of you were to be ready to die hard. I was being proud of you, so were my friends. I don’t know really what result our own “disobedience” will lead us to. I even sense with destruction delight that it is “up with us” (these words from our famous poet). But I am not sad because I believe your films, Bruce Willis: verte! If you and we are affected by the same disease – disobedience. Therefore. We shall be waited for the same end. And happy end of your Die Hard encourages us.
Now something about myself. I am a doctor. I work for a large hospital. I am specialized in rehabilitation patients for serious neurological illnesses with the methods of physiotherapy. I am married. There are 3 main loves in my life. They are:
1. My angel-like daughter Luba, it means “love” in English.
2. My learning English, though it is very difficult to study the second language without the teacher-native-speaker. But may be I am a bit dull.
3. My favorite American films. I dote on 9 ½ Weeks by Adrian Lyne; Wild Orchid by Zalman King, because their refined décor and attractive sophistication. I am enjoyed by unattainableness of Mickey Rourke. I am fond of Falling in Love by Ulu Grossbard, because I am crazy about the verbal expression of love. I love Postman Always Rings Twice by Bob Rafelson. This film makes me sympathize to sin, while shuddering at my own morality.
I could write very much, but I am afraid you are exhausted by me.
I would like to hope you to read my letter, and it would be over my desire to receive a few words from you (as I am not sure you will get my letter).
And finally, Happy Christmas my dear Americans.
Here is the actual letter.
As I said before, I find the way she expresses herself in the letter charming and sincere. I especially like the part that begins “Now something about myself.” We find out that she’s a doctor, a wife, a mother, and that the three main loves in her life are her daughter, her learning of English, and her favorite American films. She’s careful to cite the names of the directors of each film, which I think is interesting. That the choices she mentions include films with Mickey Rourke should not be held against her. This was 30 years ago, after all, when he was cooler.
I think Tamara put a lot of thought into her letter. The idea that Bruce Willis in the Die Hard films could somehow inspire free thinking and “disobedience” in her fellow Russians says a lot about the power of cinema in popular culture.
I don’t know if an effort was made to forward the letter to Bruce Willis, but I think he would have liked it. Maybe it’s not too late. And by the way, I’ve heard that he has eight completed films scheduled to be released in 2022 and 2023, so he’s not going away quite yet.
That’s all for now. See you at the movies. Stay safe. We’re not there yet. — Ted Hicks