Stalker (Andreï Tarkovsky, 1979)
In a not so far dystopian future, a man called the stalker (Alexander Kaidanovsky) guides people to pass in an area called the Zone to access to a room where men attain their most cherished dreams. The Zone is a place where the laws of physics don’t apply and it is an ever changing place. The stalker brings with him two men; the professor (Nikolai Grinko) and the writer (Anatoly Solonitsyn). The writer wants to regain his inspiration and the professor wants to win the Nobel price. This journey to find the center of the Zone and access to higher learnings brings them to not only an eerie and desert place but a journey into the meaning of their lives and the presence of humans of earth.
This is a metaphorical tale of the size of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave and director Andreï Tarkovsky wanted to make a Science-Fiction movie of the Aristotelian scale. His philosophy and monologues are deep in meanings and the slow pace of the movie helps the viewer to think about the dialogues and their reach. Obviously, it lets more open doors than it actually closes ones but it is one of the greatest stories ever shot on film. Just like Stanley Kubrick said one day; if it’s written it can be filmed. Tarkovsky with his response to Kubrick’s 2001 : A Space Odyssey, Solaris, already demonstrated his ability at the genre while giving it a depth never achieved before or afterwards. With Stalker he joins the spiritual with the subconscious and the metaphysics.
On a more grounded level, the cinematography by Alexander Knyazhinsky is haunting and near perfect. The locations of filming are taught to have been contagious because of the old Power Plants that were the settings of the zone were very poisoned by toxic waste in the water and the air. Some sayers related it to two crew members and Tarkovsky’s cancer and eventual death because of the shooting of Stalker. In fact, the film was shot three times. Once with cinematographer Georgy Rerberg but the footage was improperly developed and they had to throw it away. Rerberg got out of the project and they were forced to re shoot every coloured scenes of the movie. The black and white scenes representing urban settings and the life outside the zone was shot in sepia overexposed browns that give an extra dreamlike atmosphere to those images. It is also very obvious that filmmakers like Béla Tarr and Lars Von Trier have been influenced by the work of Tarkovsky and most notably Stalker.
Seven years after the release of Stalker happened the worst Nuclear catastrophe known to man in Chernobyl. The metaphor of the zone deserted by humans looks like a premonitory dream to this tragedy. Even the stalker’s daughter, a deformed child that was caused by his state looks like a shadow over the USSR’s nuclear negligence. The many effects of Chernobyl are still perceived but it resulted in many cancers and deformations in babies to be born.
Let’s return to the film itself, Stalker is often considered as one of the best films of all time. Myself, am an admirer of Tarkovsky’s work. Topping my list of his best films is Nostalghia as my personal favorite. It is more and more difficult to categorize movies as masterpieces, near-masterpieces, excellent, very good, good, average, less than average, having some interesting aspect, and total dud when seeing thousands of films and trying to figure out an order of preference. With that said, in my eyes Stalker is a masterpiece because, for me, it represents everything I want in a movie, great imagery of subtle and beautiful framings, a deep and meaningful story, and a feeling of being transposed and entertained. It completely fulfills this cinephile’s needs.
To complete my knowledge of Tarkovsky I now have to watch The Sacrifice and I’ll finished his entire filmography. A Tarkovsky completist I’ll be.