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Stalker: A Film by Andrei Tarkovsky

Art House & International and Science Fiction & Fantasy movie directed by Andrei Tarkovsky

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Do we have the courage to face our innermost desires? - a brilliant, unsettling, poetic journey into the Zone

  • Jan 6, 2010
Tarkovsky's fifth feature film, and the last one he made in the USSR, depicts a profound and unsettling journey into the mysterious regions of human desire. Probably his best film and likely the best introduction to his work, the film employs the trappings of science fiction in order to explore the relation between literature and science, between reason and faith, and between the individual and the state.

A strange region, of unknown origins, is created in the midst of an unnamed authoritarian country. Unable to destroy the "Zone" through force, the authorities sealed it off, guarding its borders; only a few have the courage to enter, inspired by legends of a hidden room in the depths of the zone where one's deepest desires can be granted. A scientist and a writer solicit the help of an outlawed "stalker" to help them find their way through the zone. Only they can determine whether they have courage to face their own deepest longings.

The film exhibits many of Tarkovsky's distinctive stylings - long, slow takes with subtle camera movements, spare and inventive use of soundtracks, obsession with the ruins of human dwellings, quotations from his father's poetry, alternation between color and monochrome photography - but here these are very much in the service of the story, and the story is very much in the service of creating a mood and atmosphere for reflection that evokes the concerns of the characters, who serve both as types (scientist, writer, spiritual guide) and as very distinctive individuals. The world outside of the zone is depicted in a high contrast sepia, while the inner regions of the zone are in vivid color, for example. Tarkovsky suggested that his composer not create an orchestral soundtrack, but rather to draw upon the natural sounds of the scenes depicted in order to make music of them, most evident perhaps as the three travelers enter the zone on a train car, and the rhythms of the rails create an otherworldly music.

What makes Stalker so remarkable is that it works on so many levels. As a science fiction voyage, it is inventive and unusual, and creates a real atmosphere of wonder and dread, and brings the mysteries of the Zone to life through creative use of real locations. As a poetic exploration of human desire, it is subtle and powerful and the beautiful imagery creates the right atmosphere for and the long takes give the space for real reflection on nature and civilization and possibilities for transcendence. As a philosophical investigation, the dialogue is sure to stimulate reflections on the relation between art and science, between faith and reason, and between the individual and community. Highly recommended for seekers of truth and stalkers of exciting cinema.

On the DVD: it looks quite good, and I'm glad to see that Kino put some care into this release, though it seemed to me that sometimes the color balance was off, and that when there was a shift from long establishing shots to medium or closeups the lighting levels didn't match precisely. As I recall, I didn't notice that issue in the older VHS copy - even though the picture and especially the sound in this version are superior to that one in other respects - or when I saw this in a theater from a 35mm print about 15 years ago. The extras are valuable - a few interviews with people who worked on the film. The interview with Eduard Artemyev regarding Tarkovsky's ideas about sound was interesting. And I thought "Memory," a rare short film depicting the ruins of Tarkovsky's childhood home in Moscow, was quite provocative. Most intriguing, perhaps, was the interview with production designer Rashit Safiullin. He lived with Tarkovsky throughout the two years of production, with the first year ending in disaster when the experimental Kodak film they had used could not be developed, so that the film had to be remade completely, with a much smaller budget, and in a very different way. He describes that period as like being in the zone, where you speak only the most honest words about the most important subjects. Outside the zone you dissimulate, you seek to impress; inside your inner truth is revealed, whether you are superficial, whether you have something to say, what it is you really want. He claims to have experienced such intimacy during his time with Tarkovsky.

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About the reviewer
Nathan Andersen ()
Ranked #68
I teach philosophy at Eckerd College, in Saint Petersburg, Florida.      I run an award-winning International Cinema series in Tampa Bay (www.eckerd.edu/ic), and am co-director of … more
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Challenging, provocative, and ultimately rewarding, Andrei Tarkovsky'sStalkeris a mind-bending experience that defies explanation. Like Tarkovsky's earlier and similarly enigmatic science fiction classicSolaris, this long, slow, meditative masterpiece demands patience and total attention; anyone accustomed to faster pacing is likely to abandon the nearly three-hour film before its first hour is over. On the other hand, those who approach Tarkovsky's work in a properly receptive (and wide awake) frame of mind are likely to appreciate the film's seductive depth of theme and hypnotic imagery. Set in what appears to be a post-apocalyptic future (although the time-frame is never specified), the eerie and unsettling story focuses on the title character, Stalker (Aleksandr Kajdanovsky), who leads characters known only as the Writer (Anatoli Solonitsyn) and the Scientist (or Professor, played by Nikolai Grinko) into a mysterious region called The Zone. Tarkovsky films their journey as a long odyssey, or religious pilgrimage, and center of The Zone--said to be under an alien influence--is where each of these men hopes to find a kind of personal transcendence. Despite obvious parallels toThe Wizard of Oz, Tarkovsky's film is devoid of special effects or any fantastical elements typically associated with science fiction or fantasy. Instead,Stalkermakes astonishing use of sound and bleak-but-beautiful imagery to envelope the viewer into the eerie atmosphere of The Zone and the dank, ...
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Director: Andrei Tarkovsky
Genre: Foreign, Sci-Fi, Fantasy
DVD Release Date: November 7, 2006
Runtime: 163 minutes
Studio: Kino Video
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