Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.
Films like Stalker drive me nuts. I know there’s something here, something I should be divining from it. There’s unquestionably something very deep here, but I don’t know that I have the vocabulary to describe it. I know at a very deep level that Andrei Tarkovsky is saying something here, but I feel like I’m just too damn stupid to know exactly what he’s getting at.
The world of Stalker is something like our world, but in a very degraded form. Much of the initial section of the film is in a strange black-and-white that doesn’t feel like black-and-white. It’s almost a sepia, but there’s an odd sensation of color, almost as if it was filmed in color and then stripped of 95% of it. Naturally, since this is a Russian film, we’re somewhere in the Soviet Union, but not somewhere like Moscow. We’re instead in an industrial wasteland, a place that looks and feels toxic. It is here that we meet the Stalker (Alexander Kaidanovsky), who is leaving his wife (Alisa Freindlich) to make a trip somewhere, and she doesn’t want him to go.
The Stalker meets up with his two clients, who he names by their professions rather than their actual names. These men are Writer (Anatoli Solonitsyn) and Professor (Nikolai Grinko). The Stalker is going to lead them into the nearby area that has been cordoned off and guarded by the military. This is The Zone, a place where something mystical or unexplainable has happened. Rumors include events like a meteor strike. It is a wasteland where people once lived, at least based on the structures and the debris in the area. Somewhere in The Zone is The Room (and not Tommy Wiseau’s version). Allegedly, anyone who steps into The Room receives his deepest desire. The Professor claims that he wants to win a Nobel Prize; the Writer wants inspiration, since he’s run dry.
And the men begin. Throughout, the Stalker warns the other two men to follow his instructions. The Zone is a place of danger and is loaded with traps. Slowly, they make their way across the blasted landscape, and as they do, they begin to explore their true motives for entering The Zone and what they truly desire from The Room at the end. Frequently, we learn about Porcupine, another stalker who used The Zone to kill his own brother, came into a great deal of money, and then hanged himself. So, while this began as a journey to get two men what they really want, it ends as an exploration of what all three of the men truly want, and how this may be at odds with what they believe they want. I’d love to go more into this, but that’s all I feel safe saying in terms of the plot, lest I let slip something as a spoiler that I don’t even know is a spoiler.
What strikes me most about this film is precisely how much it reminds me of a number of other films, some of which came from before Stalker and some which I merely saw before I saw this one. There are elements of Alphaville, for instance, and there’s no getting away from Tarkovsky’s own Solyaris, particularly with the destroyed technology and garbage of the world strewn across the destroyed landscape. But there’s also a sense of the existential strangeness of Cube. Most strange of all, there is a real sense of horror films in this, which seems very much to fit in with the fantasy elements of the film—all fantasy has a sense of the horrific. And, as the picture above indicates, there are some religious references here as well.
So where do I stand with this film? It’s hard to say. It’s one that I need to watch at least one more time, and probably multiple times to start teasing out what I think Tarkovsky put here and what I get from it even if Tarkovsky didn’t intend it. I don’t think there is a single correct interpretation for this film, nor do I think that anyone who watches it carefully will limit him- or herself to a single interpretation. The film is simply too deep and too dense to be limited to a single idea.
Stalker is also a film that separates the real science fiction fan from the poser. Plenty of people claim to love science fiction and fantasy, but on further review are just action junkies. After all, the vast majority of science fiction is something all about things blowing up. It’s I, Robot for those willing to watch anything, or Inception for those who still want a little thinking with their explosions. The story of The Lord of the Rings is epic and involving, but there are also tons of awesome battles. Stalker is nothing like this. This is a thoughtful film, one that is more concerned about the internal of these three men. There are no explosions, no aliens, no laser guns, again very much like Solyaris.
So what do I think? Stalker is true art, a film that is more than simply a story, but one with multiple possible, realistic, and believable meanings. It’s also far too much for a single viewing to reach a lot of conclusions. I need to watch it again at least once, but it’s a film I want to watch again, a film I look forward to watching again, and a film I expect to enjoy exploring further.
Why to watch Stalker: You should never say no to Tarkovsky.
Why not to watch: You may not have a single clue what any of it means.