There is a lot watching Andrei Tarkovsky’s films can do to open up our minds as artists and art analysts. The often dark and dismal worlds we are taken to through his films draw us into intellectually heavy musings of arguably the most popular film maker within the Soviet Union. The influence of Tarkovsky’s work is still felt amongst today’s generation of arthouse cinema and film makers across the globe such as Lars von trier and Terrence Malik.
Tarkovsky’s films are often transcendent and deep experiences influenced by his own spirituality and philosophies that reflect and capture his own life as a film maker east of the iron curtain. This often turns out to be quite the eye opening experience for film makers on the west of it. Stalker, released 1979, is a tale of three nameless characters we label only by their profession; the writer, the professor and the stalker, and their journey into “The Zone”. The Zone is an area hit by a meteorite; the meteorite supposedly disappearing before scientists were able to recover it.
Since contact, the surrounding area of the crash (now the aforementioned Zone) has become the subject of strange phenomenons. Most notable of these is the area itself becoming an apparently sentient being, capable of protecting itself through traps and other means kept tastefully mysterious throughout the film, and tales of a room somewhere within the Zone that has the ability to grant the innermost and sincerest wish of those who enter. Armed forces have thrown formidable walls and barbed wire around the area in a feeble attempt to control such power.
This of course doesn’t discourage the interests of those who desire to taste the power of such a place, and thus brings us to the plot of the feature. Two men have planned an expedition to this room in search of its power; the writer in pursuit of inspiration and the professor in search of admiration. To help navigate their way inside of the Zone they enlist the help of a stalker. Stalkers are strange men who have an affinity with the Zone capable of maneuvering it and sensing its own presence and feelings.
Tarkovsky is one of the masters of atmosphere and Stalker may be the most substantial pieces of evidence we have of this. The setting is comparable to that of David Lynch’s Eraserhead or any one of Ken Loach’s depictions of 60/70’s northern England. Damp, depressing and honest to those familiar to such an environment. This is helped tremendously by the films exceptional camera work and cinematography, whether it is the extremely involved “escape” scene at the beginning or the iconic sand mounds within the factory nearer to the end, you are always drawn into the derelict world that is portrayed.
What makes Stalker’s environment so interesting to analyze is not only how it is used as a tool to build tension, but how it is utilized to portray and enhance the narrative. For instance, the state of society and the world is never outright told to the audience i.e. no scene where x remarks to y about a past nuclear blast or anything of that ilk. Instead we are shown the decrepit buildings, poor living conditions and militaristic police force in control and left to fill in the blanks ourselves. It’s subjectively interoperable enough for the audience to invest themselves into the narrative and lore using their own imagination but wound tightly enough as to not leave any glaring plot holes or unsatisfying gaps.
Another thing to note about the film is its excruciatingly slow and deliberate pace. It takes it’s time to dissolve the audience into its heavily oppressive world, especially in consideration to how juxtaposed the film is in relation to its two parts. The aforementioned opening within the industrial area closes with the men breaking into the zone in a tense but subtle and drawn out scene that ends with an excruciatingly long train ride. The length of these sequences really emphasizes the feeling of a journey into the unknown and forbidden on a level equal only to “heart of darkness”. Bold steps such as deliberately dragging out your film to create tension I feel have been lost amongst a lot today’s film makers in fear of alienating the audience, so it’s always nice to see a director molding a film to really be their own.
The Zone itself of course is where the real meat of the film lies. Abandoned is the greyish brown filter and in its place colour is born. The air is still and peaceful with not a sound to be heard. The genuinely hospitable nature is genuinely felt as a pleasant and unexpected surprise. From here the three make their way to the metaphorical belly of the beats and what follows can only be described as a whirlwind of philosophy and psychology. Questions of true desire, the free will of an individual and the illusion of a single consciousness pair person are all pondered in great detail and prove will prove to be quite the conversation piece for philosophers and film makers for years to come.
To talk more about the film would be to ruin the point of the shear philosophically stimulating mysteries the film holds so allow me to summarize by saying Stalker comes highly recommended. A beautifully shot and very well acted masterpiece, its setting and near “Lovecraftian” messages and themes of the pursuit of higher knowledge and understanding the cosmically unidentifiable and unknown are timeless. A real treat to ponder throughout and after the credits role.
The only time Stalker would not come recommended is to those just looking for just entertainment. If you are not willing to play along with Stalker, it may very well confuse and, dare I say, bore you. For those of you looking for a piece of science fiction that breaks the conventions of the genre check this film out. Once you are assured of the genius of Andrei Tarkovsky I would recommend watching his entire filmography (Solaris and Nostalgia come especially recommended).
A timeless piece of thought provoking art from a director who is never to be overlooked, There’s not much out there quite like Stalker.
Book tickets now to see Tarkovsky's Nostalgia - showing tonight at 6.15pm