On a whim, I ventured out to IFC Center for a late night screening of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker. I’d never felt a strong desire to see the film, but I’ve been reading a whole lot about it lately (probably due to Criterion’s upcoming Blu-ray release), so I decided to give it a shot.
It’s an interesting, offbeat sci-fi odyssey. Three men—a writer, a scientist, and their hired guide—journey into the Zone, a forbidden area littered with the ruins of a mysterious disaster, in search of the Room, which is rumored to grant one’s deepest desires. Although occasionally interminably slow-moving and intolerably navel-gazing, the movie nevertheless offers a thoroughly compelling dialectic on the nature of truth, hope, and faith, especially as it becomes apparent that the title character represents a religious counterpoint to the professor’s logos and the writer’s pathos. The Stalker constantly warns his companions of vague perils, observes bizarre rituals as they navigate the most needlessly circuitous routes, and reveres—almost deifies—the Zone despite its seemingly arbitrary cruelty. Refreshingly, the filmmakers do not cast any judgment, either positive or negative, on this spiritual perspective; it is merely another piece in the larger philosophical conversation.
The real star, though, is Tarkovsky’s hypnotic, atmospheric style. The camera itself becomes something of a stalker as it creeps through vast fields, decaying swamps, and claustrophobic tunnels. I particularly enjoyed the director’s thematically appropriate switch from a monochromatic to a realistically vibrant color scheme—which may very well have inspired one of my favorite sequences in Mamori Oshii’s Avalon. And while a few of the long takes are a bit too bloated (not all 160 minutes of the running time feel strictly necessary), Stalker is ultimately a triumph of tone and visual poetry. I’m not sure I’ll be revisiting it very often, but it was worth experiencing at least this once.
[Originally written June 18, 2017.]