My final Andrei Tarkovsky film (of those on the list), Stalker sees the director return once again to the genre of science fiction, after his earlier film Solaris. I was actually given a copy of Solaris as part of a Christmas present last year, and I’ve been meaning to rewatch it for some time now. This film was one of the reasons I held off on it; I wanted to see this one first, and then rewatch Solaris for a nice comparison between the two. It’s been a while since my first and so far only viewing of Solaris, however, but from what I remember of it, Stalker is a bit more of soft sci-fi, as opposed to Solaris’ harder sci-fi. I suspect the two will provide an interesting counter-point to each other.
I will say, some foreknowledge of the film and its plot will go a long way towards understanding and thus enjoying it, as a lot of the actual narrative is implied or in the background instead of playing out on-screen, so consider the following plot summary a benefit more than usual. A solitary man, the Stalker of the title, is a man who makes a living transporting people to and through a mysterious region known as the Zone, where physics are only inferred and the natural layout changes on a whim. For this outing (one to which his wife tries to stop him from going on), he takes along two men, known only as Writer and Professor. Their goal: a location at the center of the Zone known as the Room, which is said to grant the deepest wishes and desires of anyone who enters it. I will say, Stalker is only very loosely a science-fiction film; the sci-fi premise is more of a foundation, a structure, upon which the film’s true purpose is able to unfold and unravel. The Book says as much, calling Stalker a “reflection film”, a quote I include (once again) for lack of a better term to describe the film. The actual science fiction elements of the premise are only implied, or take place off-screen; indeed, part of the premise is that the Zone has “traps” that the Stalker is proficient in knowing how to avoid, and thus most of the film is our trio making their way through the landscape deliberately avoiding the sci-fi elements of the Zone, so if you intend to watch this for the sci-fi elements, I will say that you are watching the wrong film. Like most classic and timeless sci-fi, Stalker uses the sci-fi premise to instead explore notions and thoughts pertaining to humanity and its place and purpose; most of the lengthy running time is spent with the trio as they debate between themselves, things such as the men’s true purpose for visiting the Room, what the Zone is and what it means to everyone who visits it, and generally making their way carefully through the environment until it comes time for them to stop once again and muse on various topics. If that does not sound like your kind of film, I’d be willing to forgive you if you skipped on the chance to see Stalker, but it still remains that you’d be missing out on a transformative experience, if one has the right mindset for it. In particular, the visuals are the most striking aspect of the film, with the real world being shown in what can only be described as a washed-out sepia tone, while the Zone itself is fresh with color, mostly greens to emphasize the natural wild landscape. As for the other half of the cinematography, Tarkovsky uses a lot of long takes, where the camera dollies forward or back or along the side of whatever is its focus, and that the film has only around 140 shots in its 160-minute running time is a testament to Tarkovsky’s willfulness to keep the mood and aesthetic of the piece as mellow and introspective as possible.
As I finished the film, I was surprised at how much I hadn’t completely fallen in love with it, like almost every other review I’d seen. Granted, it was an excellent Tarkovsky, and a great example of why I love the filmmaker as much as I do, but I had gone into this expecting a perfect rating from me, and I ended up just short of that, for some inexplicable reason. If I were to try and pinpoint exactly why, I would probably settle on the reasoning that, in terms of pure entertainment value, this doesn’t offer as much as it could’ve, especially if you go into it with the wrong mindset; then, the film will just be an exercise in tedium, which would be unfortunate, as there is an awful lot to be had here from those who seek to mine from the film over a few viewings or so. It is with trepidation that I would recommend this film, as I can see a good number of people who would be unwilling or unable to appreciate what Stalker has to offer, and that reason might also fall into why the film got the rating it did from me. Still, it’s Tarkovsky, so you should know what you are to be getting from him by this point.
Arbitrary Rating: 9/10