Hey everyone, I need some help here.
My third Andrei Tarkovsky film (after Andrei Rublev and Solaris), I watched Stalker on a DVD borrowed from friends. I generally don’t mind long or slow films (or long AND slow films), but with this, I’ve hit a wall wondering what people see in it. Very little happened for three hours: water dripping and people wading through sewers and wreckage. One scene had the actors wandering around the woods stopping for unseen forces – not unlike a mime imagining a box or children playing pretend. Another scene is 20 minutes of walking through a curved sewer tunnel. I understand the point of emphasizing fear of the unknown, but isn’t it a little repetitive? Is the final shot of the daughter with psychic powers tacked-on? Where did it fit in with the bulk of the film? The film didn’t strike me as having a point to justify the runtime.
Could somebody help me understand what is so great about Stalker, so maybe I can watch it again with a different perspective? I don’t mean to be the philistine on an internet rant here; I like long and slow narratives (or nonnarritives for that matter) when I can dissolve into the story or mood and be hypnotized by it. That hypnosis draws me into the world and gets me in the same psychological space with the characters. Andrei Rublev and The Sacrifice are two of my very favorite films for this reason.
First, I bet you watched this on a small screen. That’s pointless. On a visceral level, Stalker is like an amusement park House of Post-Apocalyptic Horrors. Tarkovsky wants you to feel lost, confused, barren, nostalgic, weary and self-doubting. He wants you to walk among the ruins of civilization and the wild wasteland, with the sound of water and footsteps as your only companion. It’s a trial. A pilgrimage. A journey of the soul between worlds. The thoughts you have while watching and being bored or confused and frustrated are all part of Stalker’s emotional canvas.
Why? You have to figure this out for yourself. For me it has something to do with the deepest, darkest secrets of our souls, like “Can ignorance protect us from misery?” and “Are the sublime moments of life worth its suffering?”
Don’t see it again unless its on a big screen.
I’ve seen Stalker once and I know I need to see it MANY more times in order to discuss it with anything resembling certainty, but like you, I don’t know anyone who has seen it. So, at the risk of making a fool out of myself, here’s what I took away from my one and only viewing.
The Stalker takes a writer & a scientist through the zone to the final destination, the room. Upon entering the room, the things that you long for most, are realized. All you have to do is believe. (Heaven?) Along the way, we learn the real reason the two men are making the journey. The writer intends to expose the room as a fraud in his writings, and the scientist’s plan is to destroy it. (Words and actions) Whether or not these characters are mean’t to be seen as products of a political system that denies the existence of God, is open to debate. What they are, is spiritually bankrupt. So much so, that when they reach the room, and all that it promises, they can’t bring themselves to enter, to believe, and are left sitting outside in the rain, lost.
The final scene is a poser. In the next to last scene, the Stalker questions whether what he is doing is worth it. (A crisis of faith) He makes the point that he can barely provide for his family & laments the condition of his disabled daughter and how her condition may be the result of their living so close to the zone. The film ends with a display of the girls telekinetic abilities. Because we are shown the girls “powers” immediately after the Stalker expresses his grave doubts about the worthiness of what he’s doing, and his anguish over the things his daughter is unable to do, I saw the abilities as possibly being a gift from God, an affirmation that what the Stalker is doing is righteous.
I know everything I’ve written is a bit dubious, I never claimed to be Pauline Kael.
“One scene had the actors wandering around the woods stopping for unseen forces – not unlike a mime imagining a box or children playing pretend.”
Y’see, when you say something like this, it provides quite the challenge to the people who also saw the same thing and that’s exactly what they like. You perceive the forces, the characters react to the danger, and yet we’re all just going around this woodland with the faith that the Stalker is leading us somewhere, right?
… hint hint…
…and then all that dialog about what that very act of trust means to all three characters….
Don’t see it again unless its on a big screen.
Yeah, and that is why hookers dress the way they do….get what I’m saying Dave?
To add to what Polaris said:
What makes Stalker great is the number of portentous dynamics at play.
Also, there are many threads here at Mubi that discuss various interpretations – specifically the girl’s telekinetic abilities.
go to the library and get some books on Tarkovskii, or Sculpting in Time (which he wrote). Look for more threads on MUBI. Read more on the internet. There’s a great website called nostalghia.com at
that would have some articles you could read. Once you see what the director is trying to say filmicly (is that a word?) you might have a better understanding. Certainly Tarkovskii’s films aren’t for casual viewing. Then post your views and we’ll all chime in….
It’s hilarious that there are six or seven threads that people separately made complaining about Stalker or asking why people think it’s a great film. I go back and forth whether Tarkovsky or Ivan’s Childhood is his masterpiece but I’m not as much of a Tarkovsvky buff as many of you (I can’t get into Andrei Rublev).
That said, I think Geoff Dyer is one of the better critics out there even if he isn’t a film critic. And I’m curious about his new book, Zona.
“From a writer whose mastery encompasses fiction, criticism, and the fertile realm between the two, comes a new book that confirms his reputation for the unexpected.
In Zona, Geoff Dyer attempts to unlock the mysteries of a film that has haunted him ever since he first saw it thirty years ago: Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker, widely regarded as one of the greatest films of all time. (“Every single frame,” declared Cate Blanchett, “is burned into my retina.”) As Dyer guides us into the zone of Tarkovsky’s imagination, we realize that the film is only the entry point for a radically original investigation of the enduring questions of life, faith, and how to live.
In a narrative that gives free rein to the brilliance of Dyer’s distinctive voice—acute observation, melancholy, comedy, lyricism, and occasional ill-temper—Zona takes us on a wonderfully unpredictable journey in which we try to fathom, and realize, our deepest wishes.
Zona is one of the most unusual books ever written about film, and about how art—whether a film by a Russian director or a book by one of our most gifted contemporary writers—can shape the way we see the world and how we make our way through it."
Anyone read it?
Sounds like a winner.
Yeah – if somebody’s read it, please post and let us know how it is!