I was happy to see that Tarkovsky‘s great film “Stalker”, indeed all of his films, are available for viewing through YouTube, thanks to the saner copyright laws that exist in other countries. I hadn’t seen Stalker in something like thirty years, and had only recently reread the book it is based on (“RoadsidePicnic”), so I was glad to see the movie again this morning. (I had tried to rent it recently in New Zealand but it was hard to come by there).

There is much to be said about the film, more than I can muster at the moment, so I will only jot down a few impressions here.

One, there are very few shots in this fairly long film. Many of the shots are slow and lingering, lasting far longer than practically any single shot in any contemporary film. It made me feel that most modern culture has been subjected to a general speeding-up process, as if the puppeteer controlling our musician/filmmaker/writer/dancer artist-marionettes has been ordered to jerk them around faster and faster and faster.

It’s a thoughtful and contradictory film, about faith and lack of faith, that wants to believe in miracles but doesn’t see anything good in them. Grace is only for the most wretched and even then only to help out them out of their misery.

The Zone is a place of unnatural wonders and yet we see absolutely none of them in the movie. The only supernatural occurrence we ever see is in the final minute when the Stalker and his companions have already returned and they have nothing at all to do with it.

The movie has much more in common with the book than I remembered, especially on its emphasis on The Room – the place where one’s deepest desires are fulfilled. In the book, only the unselfish wish is granted, and selfish ones are punished. In the movie, your deepest desire truly is granted, but you cannot know what it is. No one really knows themselves. This has such awful consequences on one character (Porcupine, a Stalker who is not present in the movie except as legned) whose own experience is so daunting that none of the others dare enter The Room. To even ask for one’s deepest desire to be fulfilled is terrifying. This is the heart of the movie.

In the film, the Writer is asked what he writes about – the reader, he says. It doesn’t make sense to write about anything else. When Tarkovsky was asked about the audience for the movie, he said “I am only interested in the views of two people: one is called Bresson and one called Bergman”. In this way Tarkovsky belittles the commercial artist in favor of the genuine. Of course, some figures are both – Picasso comes to mind.

The black dog in Stalker is a wonderful red herring. Mysterious and menacing in the Zone, it turns out to be just a dog who follows them home. We imbue strange things with their strangeness. Once familiar they become family.

The three who venture into the Zone naturally come face to face with themselves, in the end. As the old saying has it, “wherever you go, there you are”. Even in the middle of the most unusual place on Earth, it’s just you and your own little life. On the one hand, how pathetic! On the other hand, merely existing ought to be miracle enough for anyone, and everything else – love, joy, beauty, your deepest desires – all of that is extra.


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