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April 18, 2009

stalkerMatt, from Diva Abrasiva, told me that Stalker, by Andrei Tarkovsky, is one of his favourite films, so I added it to my LOVEFiLM queue and waited for it to arrive. I’ve only seen one other Tarkovsky film, Solaris, which I thought was pretty great (although the person I went to see it with fell asleep during it), and deserves its reputation as a Soviet answer to 2001: A Space Odyssey. Stalker I thought was even better, and in revealing its plot I don’t think I’m taking anything away from the enjoyment of viewing it, as the actual events of the film are secondary to the imagery and subtext. 

The titular Stalker is a guide, who leads people through an ambiguous deserted region know as `The Zone’. The film offers few clues to the nature of The Zone, but it is said to contain a room in which the inner desire of anyone who enters will be realised. Perhaps for this reason, it is patrolled by an armed guard, and slipping past these soldiers is the first trial for the Stalker and his two customers; a scientist (referred to as The Professor) and a writer.

Both of these men profess self-interested reasons for seeking the power of the room, and take it in turns to doubt the Stalker’s opaque warnings about the dangers of The Zone, as he leads them on a baffling route which seems to take them further away from their final destination. He tells them of `Porcupine’ from who he learned of The Zone, and who was undone by having his own inner desire granted, hence why the Stalker will never enter the room himself.

 The Professor’s true motives for travelling through The Zone are eventually uncovered, when his thermos flask (for which he backtracked against the Stalker’s instructions, who claimed his subsequent survival was a sign that The Zone considered him `worthy’) is revealed to be an explosive device with which he intends to destroy the room, fearing that its power could too easily be harmful to mankind. He eventually declines to destroy the room, and the three leave The Zone, with no indication of whether they entered the room or not.

The cinematography of this film is tremendously beautiful, with Tarkovsky’s trademark long takes allowing time to absorb the scenes of crumbling decay and human detritus within The Zone. One particularly impressive scene lasts for several minutes as the protagonists watch as a rain shower falls through a collapsed ceiling – the shower is captured in its entirety from beginning to end as the camera slowly zooms out. There are many threads of meaning throughout the film; on the usefulness of belief in the absence of evidence, the limits of self-knowledge, and our reliance on roles to provides us with purpose, but any attempt to impose an overall interpretation on the film would be horribly reductive, as ambiguity is its essence.

The abandoned town of Pripyat in the Ukraine

The abandoned town of Pripyat in the Ukraine

It also has tragic added resonance following the Chernobyl disaster, the eerie images of the abandoned town of Pripyat reminiscent enough of the film for it to be nicknamed The Zone by those who work there, and for them to refer to themselves as Stalkers. The children of the fictional Stalkers also suffer from genetic abnormalities, sadly mirroring the fate of many children born following the disaster.

 In short, this film is a goddamn masterpiece and should be enjoyed by anyone with an interest in cinema as art. I’ve now added some of Tarkovsky’s other films, Mirror and The Sacrifice, to my queue and if they impress me even half as much as this I’ll be very happy.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Ben permalink
    November 23, 2009 3:20 am

    This movie looks crazy, i wanna watch it

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