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Tarkovsky's STALKER

post #1 of 14
Thread Starter 
I just watched my first Tarkovsky film last night, Stalker. I don't know how popular this one is among his fans, and the only reason I started with this one is that I liked the sound of the synopsis on Netflix. I wasn't disappointed.

I love these kinds of stories, the kind that are science fiction in name only, but are really philosophical character pieces. This is an incredibly complex film, not to mention beautiful. We begin with a sepia toned image, the color is the brown rust of hopeless industrial slum life (the color of modern life?), and then our three main characters reach the Zone, and we come upon a beautiful green waste land. Nature runs wild over the civilization that used to be there, and the ruined objects that Tarkovsky draws our attention to are significant: wasted buildings, discarded weapons, sewer drains.

The film really picks up once the characters reach the Zone. The stalker, a guide of sorts and our main character, is taking a writer and a scientist to room deep within the Zone where, apparently, one's innermost wishes are fulfilled. Throughout their journey, we are treated to a bit of philosophical conflict between the writer and the scientist, with the stalker stuck in the middle.

It is a bit hard to really get what Tarkovsky is going for here, especially after only one viewing and taking spoilers into account. But, the stalker seems to represent a common sort of fellow, and his dueling employers (who eventually reach a synthesis of sort against him) are obviously the voices of the intellectual classes. The stalker is a man who dreams and hopes, and his companions eventually try very hard to crush those hopes. And it seems that they do, in the climax, but Tarkovsky's cinematic flourishes toward the end of the film seem to suggest that they are right about the Zone, but ultimately wrong about what that entails.
post #2 of 14
Glad to see you liked your introduction to his work. I've seen this film a few times now, and trust me there are still things that are hard to pick up on as far as exact intention. The Stalker as you said is representative of the dreamer, and those who he guides are as the film delves deeper into the zone more and more representative I think of not exactly the intellectual classes (I like to think of intellectual as more appreciating of ambition), but the comparison I like to make is that if you were to take Andrei Tarkovsky and the way he makes films, and put him into the Hollywood studio system of really any era, than that would make a somewhat fair comparison to the role of the stalker and his employers. They're greedy, unsympathetic and purposely ignorant of anything the Stalker tells them - seeking only what they want. In the end, thankfully, I don't think they get exactly what they desire, but as the sepia indicates nothing really changes for the Stalker, and he is faced with returning to the (well put) "color of modern life." I need to see this again, and soon. I hope to see others chiming in on this.
post #3 of 14
Thread Starter 
What about the stuff at the end with the daughter, though? Not only is she filmed in color, but she's capable of things that no one else is.

I think that the three main characters can also serve as parts of Tarkovsky himself. I'm not well-versed in the man's life or work at all, but I can see the Writer being the part of him that is successful and needs to remain so, with the Stalker being the part of him that struggles and strives to reach something better, for example.

Maybe intellectual class was a poor choice of words. This is also the first film I've seen to come out of Soviet-era Russia, so it was kind of hard for me not to have that in mind.
post #4 of 14
This movie is flat out great. I've only seen it once, but it's stuck with me since then, and just continues to haunt me with its beauty, lyricism, and disturbing themes. I think it's just about supplanted Solaris as my favorite Tarkovsky flick. Glad to hear you liked it.
post #5 of 14
Quote:
Originally Posted by FutekiNa, Irate Pirate View Post
What about the stuff at the end with the daughter, though? Not only is she filmed in color, but she's capable of things that no one else is.

Maybe intellectual class was a poor choice of words. This is also the first film I've seen to come out of Soviet-era Russia, so it was kind of hard for me not to have that in mind.
I'm going to need to refresh on the stuff with the daughter, I'm spacing right now, it's been over a year since I've seen it last.

And you're actually right about intellectual class, I wasn't looking at it in proper context - that being, Soviet Union circa 1980. You're absolutely right, and the oppression of the intellectuals in Russia and other parts of the union is one of the major reasons why Tarkovsky ended up leaving and spending his last years in exile, even making his last film (The Sacrifice) in Sweden.
post #6 of 14
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Tarkovsky View Post
I'm going to need to refresh on the stuff with the daughter, I'm spacing right now, it's been over a year since I've seen it last.

And you're actually right about intellectual class, I wasn't looking at it in proper context - that being, Soviet Union circa 1980. You're absolutely right, and the oppression of the intellectuals in Russia and other parts of the union is one of the major reasons why Tarkovsky ended up leaving and spending his last years in exile, even making his last film (The Sacrifice) in Sweden.
I know almost nothing about Tarkovsky, so that's very interesting. Stalker is a very layered film, so it is kind of hard to tell whether the criticism of the intellectuals in the movie is completely genuine. What they say about the room when they get to it (and don't even go in!) rings true to me, and I think that we have a statement about making something real in this film. The main character could go on living as a dreamer, but I think that his final decision to return to his family speaks volumes. This line of thought makes the film pretty subversive for it's time and place, actually, making it a criticism of the revolutionary ideals of the USSR (hell, maybe even the USA!). The lingering shots of the daughter in the last chunk of the movie convey this, I think, and she represents Stalker's sacrifice of the ideal and a renewed commitment to reality, and the final shot of the film (it's in color, a lingering shot of the daughter moving some glasses around with her mind may even illustrate a marriage between the fantasy of the Zone and the real.

Thematically, I think this is something that is extremely relevant for a post-Obama America. During the campaign, we were besieged by a sort of revolutionary, inspirational rhetoric. Hope and change are the new buzzwords in our political realm. The new president is coming under fire for not bringing the change he promised, etc., as if he were meant to be its lone harbinger. This film has something to say about that: Hope is a type of fantasy, and will remain so unless we manifest it, and not simply in a political way.
post #7 of 14
Quote:
Originally Posted by FutekiNa, Irate Pirate View Post
This film has something to say about that: Hope is a type of fantasy, and will remain so unless we manifest it, and not simply in a political way.
I think you're actually advocating for direct action, because any change will be political. An elected representative will never get enough shit done.
post #8 of 14
Thread Starter 
Well, I am sympathetic to elements of Rousseau's political theory, mainly the stuff he expounds on in his first two discourses and Emile. Mainly the theory that the development of personal virtue and the health of systems that we typically think of as outside the political milieu (friendships and families, for example) are central to truer notions of human progress, happiness, and freedom.

I suppose that I can see this reflected in this film to some extent with regard to some feelings toward the USSR, especially taking the last half-hour or so into account. The main character, if we take him as a common man-type, is dependent on a dream, and notions of happiness that are rooted in the satisfaction of deeply rooted desires. He seems to stand for a philosophy of receivership, and before the climax of the film he is extremely neglectful of the things that he has created, his marriage and his daughter. By the end of the film, he has excepted his family, and seems to have given up going to the Zone (the hope-driven dream world).

The film doesn't seem to say that this makes him ultimately free, though. Stalker still lives in his sepia world, but it has a splash of color in it, his daughter, and this only happens when he accepts and begins to live with what he's created.

The film seems to be saying something about the politics of receivership inherent in all as yet existant political systems. There's a call here for the dreamers to wake up and start creating their own lives. It's odd, though, because it doesn't do this in a "revolutionary" way, but rather a cathartic way, if that makes sense.
post #9 of 14
Was fortunate enough to see this in 35mm a couple of years back. (I think that was my seventh viewing?) Films do not get any better than this. It's like if Dostoevsky wrote a science fiction screenplay.
Can't possibly decide between this, The Mirror, or Andrei Rublev as my favorite Tarkovsky, but all are must-sees.
post #10 of 14
This is a film that definitely rewards multiple viewings.

I've found the Stalker's mysterious motivations to be the most interesting part of the film to me. He is in a way addicted to the zone -and yet, why does he not choose to live there? I think he understands the danger of this sort of dream realm, and that it can only be entered by people who "want." For what other reason would The Room, and perhaps the Zone itself, exist, except to fulfill our wants? The writer and scientist seem to believe they know exactly what they want from the Zone, but the Stalker professes ignorance throughout. His want is perhaps an abstract want? Regardless, it's probably safer to take the stance of the "Stalker" and want only in a general way -a want for nature, for clean air, for solitude, for the happiness of mankind. Perhaps The Room, in its apparent sentience, turns more superficial wishes against the wishmaker? It grants the darker, the more subconscious, but no less real wishes.

The Stalker returns to the Zone because it grants him his general desires easily. The Scientist and Writer, both of whom seem representative of modern man, fail to notice the Zone's beauty. Their wants and demands remain those of people who have impotently watched their world decay.

Anywise, that's a bit of a ramble. Needless to say, the film provokes many thoughts.
post #11 of 14

Saw this last night and was pretty much blown away.  I can't say I fully understant what Tarkovsky is trying to say here, but it definitely doesn't give any easy answers.  I was leaning towards The Room, with all it's biblical connotations actually being more representative of something along the line of being the opposite of God.  In the sense that, because the people that have visited The Room either die after entering or, or before even making their way to it, that what they find in the room is something deeply negative.  They mention that it makes dreams come true, but, to paraphrase, it grants "wishes" that would "not be shouted out to everyone, but ones that are hidden deep inside" and reflect the persons truest wish.  Kind of like if you are someone who says they want to create a great work of art, but deep down really want to punish your father for beating you as a child, the dream of punsihing your father would be the one that actually comes true.  A truth that most people who enter are not ready to face.  I would compare this almost to a deal you would make with Satan.  He grants your darkest wish, and when he makes it come true, you lose yoursefl, or your soul.  It is telling that the Stalker's mentor went into the room and died shortly after achieving his dream.  From Wikipedia:

 

" At times he refers to a previous Stalker named "Porcupine" who led his brother to his death in the Zone, visited the Room, gained a lot of money, and then hanged himself. It appears the Room fulfills all of the wishes of the visitor, the problem being that these might not be consciously expressed wishes, but the true unconscious ones."

 

"As they recover from their exertions Writer has a timely revelation about the room's true nature. He explains that despite the man's conscious motives, the room fulfilled Porcupine's secret desire for his brother's death, and that Porcupine's suicide was inspired by the resulting guilt. He further reasons that the Room is useless to the ambitious and is only dangerous to those who seek it."

 

After reading up on it online, most people who have written about it tend to admit that they don't know what the movie is about, but most tend to suggest The Room is a Garden of Eden or a "good place", where good things happen, but I don't really see how this is supported by the quotes above.  Almost seems like they are projecting their own views on what they want out of The Room, more so than what it actually represents.  Most seem to view the Stalker as a Christ like figure leading the damned to salvation, but I saw him more as someone who is led by an unseen force that he doesn't completely understand and almost follows out of obiligation(again, suggesting that The Room could actually have negative intent for those that enter, if such a thing is possible, and it is using a proxy to lure power/greed/fame seeking people to their doom).  Overall, a very interesting movie and one well worth checking out if you are into philosophical movies that don't give any easy answers.

 

EDIT: Maybe, like the cup of Christ in Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade, however, the power is meant to be acknowledged, but is in no way intended to be wielded by men, who view themselves above animals(there is a whole speech about how we are not like them), when in fact we are no different than an animal, plant, water, dirt, etc.  We are all part of the same thing, and that part is infinitely small and, ultimately powerless.  Wanting to "live for more than 100 years" is laughable in the context of not realizing what we really are.

 

On a side note, I couldn't help but think about a movie this well thought out makes a movie like Prometheus look infinitely more sloppy and lazy.  This is great sci-fi cinema and wants you to join in the conversation, where Prometheus thinks it is smarter than you, when actually it has nothing of true importance to say about anything, other than confusing you because you are not as steeped in it's references as it thinks you should be, thus putting the filmmaker in a place above the viewer instead of engaing them on the same level like a movie such as 2001 or Solaris, or this.


Edited by RCA - 3/6/13 at 12:21pm
post #12 of 14

It's worth pointing out that Stalker was, technically speaking, a remake of a remake of a (possibly better) book entitled "Roadside Picnic" by the celebrated Russian sci-fi writers - Arkady & Boris Strugatsky.

 

I say "remake" because this was the second Stalker directed by Tarkovsky. The first, which was closer to the novel and filmed with a significantly bigger budget, was never seen in public. Tragically, the only print in existence was removed from the can and exposed to daylight destroying all but everything. Officially this was reported as the accidental action of a blundering member of the crew. But in private Tarkovsky pointed the finger at the KGB after high-ranking Soviet bureaucrats had warned him repeatedly about using public money to criticise the state.

 

Tarkovsky suffered a complete mental breakdown and it was many months before he was fit enough to begin raising funds for a second attempt on a smaller and more intimate scale. In truth the project seemed cursed. To achieve Stalker's signature look of dilapidation and decay the crew were forced to film long periods in environments which were highly toxic and often carcinogenic. Two members died on set whilst many more (including Tarkovsky) had their health irreparably damaged.

 

Both the novel and the first cut explicitly posited the question (common in Russian SF): how can we divine the motivations of alien beings when we find it impossible to understand ourselves? The book's title is taken from a debate over the unknown purposes of those (often lethal) artefacts which have been recovered from The Zone: 

 

Quote:

"If you don't  know  simple things  like that....  All right, the hell with  reason. Obviously, it's a real quagmire. OK. But  what about the Visitation? What do you think about the Visitation?"

"My pleasure. Imagine a picnic."

Noonan shuddered.

"What did you say?"

"A picnic. Picture a forest, a country road, a meadow. A car drives off the country road into the meadow, a group of young people get out of the car carrying  bottles,  baskets of food,  transistor radios,  and  cameras. They light fires, pitch tents, turn on the music. In the morning  they leave. The animals, birds,  and insects that watched  in  horror through the long night creep  out  from their hiding laces. And  what  do they see?  Gas  and  oil spilled  on the grass. Old spark  plugs and old filters strewn around. Rags, burnt-out  bulbs, and a  monkey wrench left behind. Oil slicks on the  pond.

And of  course, the usual mess--apple cores, candy wrappers, charred remains of  the  campfire,  cans,  bottles,   somebody's  handkerchief,   somebody's penknife, torn newspapers, coins, faded flowers picked in another meadow."

"I see. A roadside picnic."

"Precisely. A roadside picnic, on some road in the cosmos.  And you ask if they will come back."

 

FWIW and contrary to popular belief "The Zone" was set not behind the Iron Curtain but in Canada. 

post #13 of 14

I haven't seen this, but I've seen Tarkovsky's other work and was alternately awed and bored. It appears this will be showing around the country before arriving on Criterion Blu-Ray. The restoration looks incredible - http://www.indiewire.com/2017/04/the-stalker-trailer-criterion-re-release-andrei-tarkovsky-sci-fi-classic-watch-1201806940/

post #14 of 14

Went to see this at the NuArt last night and...well... hm.

 

The thing that I've landed on is that it's entirely about faith, and religion. Other than the Dry Tunnel loop, we never see anything remotely paranormal happen in the Zone. The Stalker has this blind faith in the Zone as almost sentient, but ultimately unknowable, and that leads to these bizarre ceremonies for navigating it: you never walk in a straight line to the Room, you throw the nuts before you walk anywhere, you don't bring weapons, Stalkers are forbidden to enter the Room, etc. And every time the Writer breaks the rules and nothing bad happens the Stalker's response is 'Oh, well, you're really lucky and you must be a good person and the Zone has forgiven you,' which is very 'God of the Gaps' logic.

 

And the idea that the Room is this place where you're wishes come true is coming from the Stalkers. The Writer asks the Professor where he heard about the Room and what it does, and the Professor says 'from him (the Stalker).'

 

And in the end, nobody enters the Room. His whole crisis of faith breakdown in the end is about how nobody he's brought there really needed it, which sounds to me like either everybody has a change of heart like the Writer and doesn't go in, or they go in and nothing happens, which instead of being proof that the Room is bullshit, it's proof that their faith is lacking. He won't take his wife because he's afraid of the same thing happening.

 

The Stalker is a priest pushing a religion that he knows can't be true, but it's all he knows, and he can't let it go.

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