Stalker (1979)

In my Andrei Rublev review, I stated that I liked the idea of director Andrey Tarkovsky more than I liked his actual films. Well, Stalker might be the meeting of the two. I initially saw Stalker a couple of years ago and while I found it fascinating to look at, the characters, story and dialogue never drew me into the film, I always felt a cool distance from everything.

To a degree, I still feel that distance; it just isn’t as much of an inhibition as it was before. This film still presents a bizarre world with little explanation, characters that, on the surface, have little background, and ends in one of the most drawn out sequences I’ve ever seen in a film. And yet, this time, things began to clicks, to fall in place, connections were made, glimpses of something more began to emerge.

The film still presents the Stalker (Aleksandr Kaidanovsky), a man who makes a living by guiding people through the Zone, a strange place which is full of mysterious and unexplainable happenings. His latest trip guides the Writer (Anatoli Solonitsyn) and the Scientist (Nikolai Grinko) through the dangers of the Zone in order to find the mysterious Wishgranter, which promises a chance to gain whatever it is you desire.

With this second viewing, the characters and their conflict became more realized. The film leaves a lot unsaid, leaving outlines and suggestions of the pasts these characters might have. And as they venture, the conflicts become more meaningful with the ever present feeling that there are ghosts of the past lingering throughout the Zone.

The Zone itself is also a curious phenomenon in this film. It’s an inexplicable place quarantined off from the rest of the world, very risky, but also very rewarding to those who know how to venture through it. Whether this is simply an interesting sci-fi universe, or the suggestion of a sort of metaphysical or spiritual state of existence is up for debate.

The film opens in black in white, with a series of astounding images that look like ink impressions of reality. One marvels at images that are wholly unique in film. But as it reaches the Zone, the film emerges into color, suggesting that the characters have entered an entirely new spectrum of reality. While the black and white photography is more tantalizing, the color shots can be just as breathtaking.

And with the strong images and characters, the film comes a lot closer to being a Tarkovsky film I can get behind. I think the film still has some missteps in a few of the overindulgent, densely philosophical conversations, but they’re a lot stronger with the weight of these characters behind them.

While I still hold this reservation, Stalker reminds me that often the best filmmakers are the ones with the most challenging films, one that requires multiple viewings to begin to grasp. That doesn’t always make their films great, Stalker is still just a peg bellow greatness for me, but it’s still a film I want to revisit and possibly a sign that I need more than just one viewing to begin to grasp at Tarkovskiy’s films.

© 2011 James Blake Ewing

  • Excellent review, far better than mine!

    I liked Stalker a lot, it’s the film that really started my love for Tarkovsky and I ended up seeing all his films afterwards. It’s not my favourite of his, that would be either The Mirror of The Sacrifice, but I still think it’s a pretty unique film.

    • Thanks. Tarkovsky is one of those directors that is making something so dense and profound I’m not even sure if I can begin to grasp any of his films the first time around, so I felt much better writing about this film after seeing it again.

  • I like his earlier films way better than the later more philosofical ones. Andrey Rublev and Ivans Childhood are masterpieces especially Rublev.