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Old 21st September 2022, 03:31 PM
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MacBlayne MacBlayne is offline
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Join Date: Sep 2010
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STALKER


In the near future, forbidden zones exist where paranormal activities are alleged to happen. Rumours abound that in one Zone, there is a room in which your greatest desire can come true. Three men, a Writer, a Professor, and their guide, the Stalker, set out on a dangerous journey to find the Room.

Andrei Tarkovskyís film is a very loose adaptation of Roadside Picnic, but where the short novel had aliens visit Earth visit for a short while, Stalker never explains what actually happened. The novel explores humanityís worth in the grander scheme of things. Stalker is more a meditation of humanity in general.

You may notice that this is a shorter review than usual from me. Thatís because of what Stalker is, and its directorís approach to filmmaking. Tarkovsky came from the school of thought that cinema was an emotional exercise, and not of intellectualism (if you were ever in doubt of Tarkovskyís Soviet background). Tarkovsky had little time for montage and plotting, as he felt they prevented the audience from truly opening their hearts and minds.

Thatís not to say that Stalker is French New Wave deconstruction. The plot is simple, but it is a scaffold to allow characters to discuss religion, morality, and philosophy. Sometimes, there is no dialogue, but trancelike visuals accompanied by Eduard Artemyevís ethereal score. Itís hard to decipher what emotion these moments are supposed to evoke, but they stir the soul nonetheless. When the Stalker rolls in the grass in the Zone, weeping, while the synth music creeps in, I donít know how I feel. Is the Stalker relieved to be back home again? Or to be surrounded by nature? Or being close to what is possibly Heaven? Is he secretly full of joy because he is close to having his dreams come true? Is he scared that what he wants is not what he truly desires? I donít know, but I know I was moved.

At 161 minutes, and full of long takes with little dialogue (one shot goes over four minutes), Stalker may seem like a daunting watch, but the aforementioned imagery lull you into a hypnotic state. Alexander Knyazhinskyís camera slowly tracks in and out, that you forget that you just saw a wide shot transition to an extreme close up. And the imagery Tarkovsky produces is beautiful. Itís not just lighting, but texture.

The scenes outside the Zone are sepia tone, and convey industrial collapse. Puddles of water cover the floors in the Stalkerís home. His kitchen (bathroom) looks like a collapsed factory room, with stained walls and broken tiles. The local pub looks like a prefab held together by planks. In addition to that, the visuals have harsh sharpness to them.

It's only the scenes inside the Zone that are full of colour, and these scenes are softly lit. The colours are vivid, and the industrial grinding from outside is replaced by comforting winds, trickling winds, and rustling grass and trees. But donít compare the Zone to paradise. Even without comparing to the sepia scenes, the water sparkles and shimmers more than it would in reality. Corpses and rusted tanks and cars litter the landscape. Remnants of the people who lived there pollute the rivers. From the outside, it is the Garden of Eden. Look closer, and itís something from Hell. To achieve this look, Tarkovsky shot in an area that were extremely toxic, and cost him and many crew and castís lives.

Stalker is full of these contradictions, and makes it almost impossible to summarise. What is Stalker about? I have no idea, but itís not important. What does the ending mean? Again, I have no idea, but itís not important. Tarkovsky isnít interested in telling you what is happening. Heís more interested in asking you what is happening, and hearing your answer. Why did you come to that conclusion?

For the record, I do have my own interpretation of the ending. My reading is relatively optimistic. When discussing it with my friend, he had a completely different interpretation, and it was extremely pessimistic. We discussed our readings, and came to two conclusions: that neither of us was wrong; and that it doesnít matter.

Stalker is extraordinary, and is one of the most beautiful works of art within the genre.

NOTE: My recent rewatch was on the Criterion BluRay. It is a gorgeous restoration that cleans up the audio, and restores the colour to its true majesty. I only mention this, as I used to have the Artificial Eye release, and it is a very lacking disc. If you can, pick up the Criterion release.
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