Friday, September 13, 2013

Dream Weaver

Film: Zerkalo (The Mirror)
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

This is going to be a rough one. I don’t wish to imply that I didn’t find some value in Zerkalo (The Mirror) because I did, but I’m not sure how much I got out of it. This is a film that I’m pretty sure is packed with all sorts of meaning but that it can’t be unpacked on a single viewing. I admit I was tempted to watch it again immediately, but I’m not sure I’d have legitimately been able to watch it a second time right away. Even if it’s not packed with meaning, it’s dense with imagery.

Zerkalo’s difficulty exists because it is completely non-linear, and a substantial part of the film is either a dream or something like a hallucination. To borrow a line from Kurt Vonnegut, Zerkalo is unstuck in time. It’s also unstuck in reality. Furthermore, several characters are played by the same actor. The narrator’s mother from his memories is also his wife in the sections that are more present-day. It doesn’t fill me with any sort of pride to say that eventually I simply gave up trying to make sense of anything. It was far too willing to play hob with the narrative—what little narrative there was.

As near as I can gather, a man named Alexei (Filipp Yankovsky as a young child, Ignat Daniltsev as an adolescent and voiced by Innokentiy Smoktunovskiy as the narrator) is dying. What we are seeing is more or less his dream reverie as he nears death. It’s not clear how much of this reverie is real and how much is both a mash-up of memories colliding and how much is pure fantasy. Are his memories of his wife (Margarita Terekhova) and mother (same actor) conflated? The question is particularly pertinent because the mother is played by Larisa Tarkovskaya for the adolescent version, and she evidently has a different name.

Like I said, I gave up. It stopped being something I could make sense of or could even try to make sense of and instead became a series of images. Some were striking, like the burning barn or the mother levitating over a bed. Others were strange, like the young freckle-faced boy enduring military training with bad graces.

I remain convinced that there is something here buried under the layers of convolution and deliberate misdirected fiction. There must be, mustn’t there? I’ve no idea of Tarkovsky’s sense of humor, but I find it difficult to believe that he planned something as image-dense as Zerkalo as a goof on the rest of the world. In fact, I’m pretty sure that because there is so much potential here that there’s too much to see on a first viewing. I came to believe part-way in that this is a fim that must be slowly digested and must be viewed at least twice to have a hope of getting it. Having watched it once, I don’t think I’m any closer to its real meaning or impact than I was before I watched it.

And this brings up an important question. If a film is so opaque that it requires a minimum of two viewings, does it still have the possibility of being a successful film? I’m not sure. Zerkalo is a film I want to watch again if only to see if I can glean something from its intense obscurity, but I would be lying if I said it’s a film I’m looking forward to watching again. It’s far too difficult to follow, to vague, for me to have any real desire to watch it a second time—that is, except for the striking images.

My last refuge in a situation like this—a film that has completely stumped me—is The Book itself. In desperation, I looked over the write up of Zerkalo and discovered that I’m not the only one left holding the bag. There’s a reason the official comment on this film is largely about Tarkovsky himself rather than his film.

I will watch it again one day, and maybe then I’ll have a better handle on exactly what it’s trying to do. Until then, it’s a pretty experiment that left me miles behind it right away.

Why to watch Zerkalo: A very dream-like Tarkovsky.
Why not to watch: It’s a two-watch minimum.


  1. I've seen this one twice, and I enjoyed it SO MUCH MORE on my second viewing, especially because my second viewing was in the theater. There was something about seeing this with zero distractions that allowed me to get wrapped up in Tarkovsky's dreamy world of Zerkalo. Yes, this definitely an Art Film with a capital A, and I would never call this a favorite film or anything, but a second go-around helped tremendously. The simple beauty of wind coming across the plain of grass, the clicking of the mother's heels as she runs down the corridor, the water falling from the wallpaper, these unrelated images somehow made a kind of abstract sense to me in the theater.

    And yet, ultimately, I don't think this is a film that I wanted to analyze, per se. I just enjoyed its images and its rhythm, its gentle beauty and its feeling of nostalgic melancholy.

    1. It's one I'll definitely watch again. I got a glimpse of that sense you're talking about here. It was very much a waking dream, and I often find myself attracted to that sort of imagery.

  2. "I remain convinced that there is something here buried under the layers of convolution and deliberate misdirected fiction. There must be, mustn’t there?"

    And this is exactly why so many critics cry out about how wonderful this film is - because there's nothing there that makes sense. They can make up anything they want. It's like an inkblot test. People make up their own stories about what the inkblots really are, when the reality is that they are just inkblots.

    Like you, I gave up any attempt to make sense of it when I realized it was never intended to make sense. If you can't tell, I thoroughly disliked this movie. There's a certain kind of personality that just loves to tear nonsensical things apart to find the "real meaning" in them. I am not that kind of person. I'm the boy in the The Emperor's New Clothes, not the courtiers.

    1. I knew this was one you didn't like. I can see that. I also get what you're saying about the inkblots, but I'm not convinced this is a case of that--Tarkovsky was too good a filmmaker for that. I'm pretty sure there is something in this one, and another watch will get me there.

      Now, if you want to talk about the Emperor's New Clothes, we can discuss Last Year at Marienbad...

  3. I think your experience here matches mine very well. I know there is something here, but I cannot decide it.

    1. I should probably go back to it. I just haven't had the will to do it yet.