It's not rated, but this doesn't really shock me. It's bleak. I mean, it is almost hard to say what I would rate this because this movie is fundamentally bleak. I don't think that there's any bad content. There's always the threat that any of them could die at any time, which is pretty nerve-wracking. They get shot at a bit, but none of this is of any consequence because it is about the experience as a whole.
DIRECTOR: Andrei Tarkovsky
Cinefix might be doing a better job of keeping me honest than some of my film books. I'm not saying that Stalker isn't in my film books. I'm sure it is. But it is buried in those film books. The fine folks at Cinefix won't shut up about Stalker and they've made me feel inadequate for not having seen it. The problem with reviewing this movie or analyzing this movie, especially right now, is that this movie almost requires a lifetime worth of viewing. All I can offer here is a first impression, which is wildly inappropriate for a movie like Stalker.
I've seen Solaris by Tarkovsky once. I know how I feel about Tarkovsky. I like him a lot, but I'm also wildly intimidated by him. I've also only seen Andrej Rublev precisely once. These movies are just so challenging. I'm not saying that they are inaccessible. There's a bit of that going on, but I don't feel like I've just watched a Bergman or Ozu film. Tarkovsky somehow makes these really nerdy sci-fi narratives, which tend to be in my wheelhouse, but doesn't exactly present them as easy films. Like many of the longer Russian films I've seen, they are more about philosophy than character development or plot. I suppose that I should have seen that coming really early in Stalker. The main characters are named "Writer", "Professor", and "Stalker." I knew that this movie was going to be metaphysical and ethereal and other "-al" words, but this moment locked it in for me. That sold it as hard as it could be sold. That's the tone of the film. It isn't a science fiction story outside of the realm of setting. I suppose, and this is making everything involving Stalker a bit cheap, that this is the precursor to The Twilight Zone. Stick with me for a second. This is the kind of story where the setting is an excuse to analyze the psychology of the individual and the psychology of society. I think that me being me, I still watched it from a plot perspective for much of the film. I understood that this was not a special effects film, but I was waiting for something bizarre to happen in the Zone, even though I kind of guessed that it wouldn't happen on camera. But much of the movie, like much of the Russian literature I consumed, is serviced towards character vocalizing major psychological concepts in the form of character evolution. Here's where the break in audience happens. If you kind of dig that, it goes a long way with Tarkovsky. He's really good with this kind of stuff. He really pushes the limits of what is acceptable about pacing in a movie.
In preparation for writing this, I actually did my homework. I watched some of the special features. I googled it. I read the Wikipedia article (no help!) and watched a few Cinefix videos. I honestly wanted to know what the interpretation was supposed to be. Tarkovsky leaves a lot of this up to the viewer, but I didn't want to seem like an idiot when it came to talking about this movie. Oddly enough, as cryptic as the movie is, the bulk of the movie commentaries are devoted to the construction of the film as opposed to the artistic meaning of the film. Everything I saw or read focused on this insanely long tracking shot that leads into a very abrupt transition from a sepia-tone into a world of color. People love this shot. Heck, I didn't mind it one bit. I don't think it blew my mind like the beginning of The Third Man or Baby Driver, but I was also pretty engrossed when it came to this shot. It's very effective. The thing I didn't notice, although I noticed this feeling at other points in the movie, is how long that shot really is. I have to give Tarkovsky credit (and myself, as well, for having a decent attention span) for pretty much captivating me with almost nothing going on screen. Rather, the use of foley in this scene is hypnotic. He manages to shift you from a viewer to the near comatose state of mind that these tresspassers experience. There's lots of moments like this. I especially applaud the same thing in the tunnel. Again, I kind of figured we wouldn't see the Zone attacking the men. The vibe of the movie screams that there wouldn't be a moment of spectacle. But there is still the strain of experiencing these longer sequences. Perhaps I have been programmed by other films to simply expect the worst when the camera refused to jump all over the place. But as such, and this is even true in the slower dialogue moments, that there is no real respite for the viewer. It isn't nailbiting, but that's not what Tarkovsky is going for in this. The same is true with Solaris. Instead, it is about having high blood pressure for the duration of the rather long film.
But I refuse to cop out like many of my commentaries did. I'm going to give my interpretation. Part of me believes that I'm going to be wrong. A large part of me actually believes this. Again, I've only watched the movie once. It's unfair of me to do this, but that's also what makes it kind of interesting. (Oddly enough, my trepidation to actually explain my thoughts on the movie might be what the Room is all about.) Another part of me believes that there is no right answer, and that's why few are forthcoming with a straightforward interpretation. The movie is about these guys going to this room that grants man's desires. Those desires, kind of like the monkey's paw, tend to go askew. A man's desires are fairly dark. I know that I wouldn't want to go to this room because my desires could be horrible in the grand scheme of things. But there's far more to this story. These are three men who have the intention of going to the Room. The Writer actually makes a B-line for the Room, despite protestation. He wants to go that much that he almost sacrifices his life. So what shifts in him? The Professor, same deal. He's actually kind of a lunatic with his intentions. (I'm avoiding spoilers, but some of this can be construed as "light spoilers".) But what changes them? They undergo all of this danger. The Zone seems to allow them through when it has taken others. Why do they get to the gate to the Room and then quit? Part of me thinks that they have the same epiphany that I did. I don't want my deepest desires to actually come true. They are probably selfish and evil and would cause me more misery than I'd want. I mean, that is constantly repeated throughout the film. The Room is more of a curse than a miracle. But Stalker talks about faith then. No one really has the faith that used to exist. I can get behind this. If the Room is God, there's that inherent fear of Heaven. Everything (ideally) that I've done in life is in the hopes of getting to Heaven. I'm not touting my own morality, but it has been a moral compass in my life. That said, I hold my life as precious. The journey is something that is still to be completed. Heaven is a reward for a life well lived, but the journey is vital. I have known nothing but the journey. Is the Room the end of the journey? It is so much more than I'm explaining here. I'm doing a C- job trying to explain the depth of what I'm getting at, but it is the beginning of a straw. But that leads me to the absolute end of the movie. I don't get this one bit. The Stalker, at one point, is accused of having the same fears that the Writer and the Professor have, but he hides behind his position of being a Stalker. He then says that he's going to move his family to the Zone because there is nobody there. I know that he goes, but I can't figure out why. The Zone is lethal. That has been established. His daughter seemingly gets abilities. Is this what the Zone gave her? Why is this important. I can't figure it out, but that's okay for right now.
I can't get over the prophesy of this movie. I kept rechecking the year that this was made. I mean, this movie is just a Chernobyl allegory, but Chernobyl hadn't happened yet. It's very eerie. Aesthetically, both inside and outside of the Zone, it is Chernobyl. The sepia toned world is littered with cooling reactors and misery. Everything is dirty and uninhabitable, despite the fact that it is populated with the poorest of the poor. But the Zone is an urban sprawl where nature encroaches and re-establishes its authority. The Zone as a metaphor for death works on a haunting level knowing the events of Chernobyl. It really is something disturbing. I'm not the first person to talk about this,but it gets my wheels turning when it comes to figuring out the value of this movie. Am I allowed to give it value as a piece about Chernobyl? It isn't the author's intention, shy of him having insider information. But it does give the movie so much greater value than what I thought a movie could have with a first viewing. My mom was heavily involved with Chernobyl in the '80s and it hit really close to home looking at the imagery in this film.
I get why people love this movie. I think I love it as well. But like Tarkovsky's other films, I don't think I'll ever get it as much as I should. I feel like a simpleton in these moments, but that comes from knowing my own limitations. I know that I am interacting with a work of genius and that I don't have the capacity to put up a proper response.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.