The labyrinthine plot deals with a group of space researchers who left the Earth to find freedom. Their spaceship crashes and they land on the dark side of the Moon. They all die except one and leave a lot of children who eventually turn to shamanism and fire worship. They call the last survivor the Old Man and simultaneously loathe and revere him.
Finally, the Old Man retreats to the mountains, puts his video diary into a small rocket and sends it to Earth. The rocket reaches its destination and the notes fall into the hands of another group of researchers. One of them, Marek, journeys to the Old Man's planet and lands in the mountains.
When he emerges from the hills, the aboriginal inhabitants mistake him for the long-awaited reincarnation of the Old Man and look to him to deliver them from the dreaded sherns -- strange, winged mutants. The making of this film in 1978 was brutally interrupted by the Polish Ministry of Culture.
When about 80% of the shooting was complete, they ordered the filmmakers to destroy all related materials. This decision caused director Andrzej Zulawski to leave his homeland for France, where he spent the next ten years. During the democratization of the Polish political regime in 1986-1987, Zulawski returned to the country to finish the picture.
Having lost the sets, costumes, actors, and momentum, the director chose to complete the film from the spared footage, adding a voiceover for the missing episodes and utilizing other actors to dub the original actors who were no longer available.
Even in this mutilated form, the film appears as a highly ambitious, if overwrought, sci-fi epic that draws upon philosophical concepts rather than special effects.