This is a film that’s simultaneously about one specific man living in one place at one time and any person living in any place at any time. This is a film that, thousands of years from now, could be shown to people and they would just as easily understand as we do that it’s about them, or about any other human being. It’s a film, like Tarkovsky’s others, that in the most honest way possible shows the need for humankind to have existed and continue to exist.
It is true that without some of the historical and cultural context you might miss some of the background, but I don’t really think it matters. Let yourself be taken in by the sounds and images and what’s being expressed at that particular moment. Don’t worry about anything else. There’s no mystery to this film, I promise. Tarkovsky said it himself. Just watch it and admire it for what it is. And then you can come back to this film any time and it will be waiting for you, this time even better than you remembered.