Andrei Konchalovsky's examination of totalitarianism, and the self-deluded mind-set that allows it to happen, is based on Konchalovsky's meeting with a bureaucratic flunky of Stalin's -- his personal projectionist -- during his early days as a filmmaker. Set during the height of Stalin's rule (1939 through 1953), the story concerns Ivan Sanchin (Tom Hulce), a motion picture projectionist who worships the Soviet leader like a god. He lives in a tiny apartment, sharing his space with a Jewish family. One day, the KGB bursts into the apartment of his Jewish neighbors and carts them away. Later that night, there is a loud banging on his door and standing before him are two KGB agents, who drag him off into the night. While at first Ivan can't understand what he did wrong, it seems the news is good -- Stalin wants Ivan to take over as his official motion picture projectionist. But since his job is high security, he can't tell his wife Anastasia (Lolita Davidovich) what he does for a living. When Anastasia takes an interest in the orphaned child of his former Jewish neighbors, Ivan begins to worry that Anastasia's visits to the state orphanage might have political repercussions against him. When he gets his wife a job serving Stalin's cabinet, he thinks he's solved his political worries. Unfortunately, Anastasia catches the amorous eye of KGB chief Beria (Bob Hoskins), and Ivan's unquestioning faith in the Soviet leaders is sorely tested.