(1979, Andrei Tarkovsky)
“What was the point in coming here?”
I’ve watched two Andrei Tarkovsky movies before here on SvTM, and both times I was struck by how much Tarkovsky’s style seemed to be based around actively avoid telling an actual story and spending half his time navel-gazing. So here’s Stalker, another Tarkovsky movie, this time with a vaguely interesting premise, so perhaps this is a case of third time’s the charm?
Stalker starts by letting us know that something fell from space, and the area where this mysterious object landed became the site of various disappearances, causing the government to cordon it off and label it as “The Zone”, with access only allowed in special circumstances. Special people who become aware of how to navigate The Zone without weird stuff happening to them begin to guide lost souls to the mysterious room in the centre, which will allegedly make your innermost wish come true.
The movie focuses on one particular “Stalker” (Alexander Kaidonovsky) who leads two men into The Zone with their own purposes – The Writer (Anatoli Solonitsyn), a sarcastic and bitter man, and The Professor (Nikolai Grinko), an old and somewhat nervous man.
So, the movie starts promisingly. We get a clear explanation of the premise straight away (which took Solaris a whole hour to do and The Mirror never even bothered), the world is a nicely designed Gilliam/Besson/Jeunet-style dystopia, and the central concept is generally interesting. Stalker doesn’t waste its time early on, bringing us to The Zone pretty quickly via a long sequence of tense action and suspense as the trio evade the police patrols around the area.
Sadly, this doesn’t last long and the movie falls right back into typical Tarkovsky territory. The mine cart they use to travel into The Zone seems to be a relative of the car from Solaris, as we spend about ten minutes looking at the men’s moody-looking faces as they whizz along the tracks and the movie suddenly switches from sepia to full colour.
Things don’t get much better from there. Much of their journey through The Zone is a repetitive slog of The Stalker chucking things to test for invisible traps, determining their route, and then walking some more before The Stalker repeats the process. During all this there is a lot of mundane dialogue that does little to make things more interesting.
When they finally reach somewhere of note, the trio decide to stop right outside the room and reel off philosophical quotes, ramping the navel-gazing to eleven. It seems like The Zone is a metaphor for Tarkovsky movies themselves – the deeper you go into them, the more bored and confused you get by the whole thing, ultimately leading you to wonder what the point was.
And yes, really, there is no point to this movie, as there is no real conclusion. I’m not going to spoil the scenes where the trio reach the Room, but let’s just say the entire previous two hours of the movie may as well have not happened. What’s worse, even after we’ve reached this conclusion, the movie decides to follow The Stalker home and we get to watch Family Time With The Stalker. Why? Because of reasons, obviously!
Okay, there is one mildly interesting bit in the midst of all this when the Professor’s true intentions are revealed, but ultimately even that turns out to be a minor distraction. It’s a Tarkovsky movie, so baffling tedium is the order of the day, and you’re getting nothing else out of this.
So, Stalker is a movie with a genuinely interesting premise and a strong opening that warrants attention, but it loses its way part of the way in and becomes yet another navel-gazing philosophy exercise to entertain nobody but Tarkovsky and the arthouse crowd. Massively disappointing.
Starring Alexander Kaidonovsky, Anatoli Solonitsyn & Nikolai Grinko
Written by Boris & Arkadi Strugatsky
Produced by Aleksandra Demidova
Music by Eduard Artemyev
Cinematography by Alexander Knyazhinsky
Edited by Lyudmila Feiginova
Favourite Scene: The setup at the beginning.
Scene That Bugged Me: The complete lack of reveal of what The Room is all about. Thanks for wasting my time, Tarkovsky.
Watch it if: You like long-winded Tarkovsky movies
Avoid it if: You realise there are more interesting movies with similar premises out there
Posted on April 24, 2014, in 1970s, Drama, Russia / Soviet Union, Sci Fi and tagged Alexander Kaidonovsky, anatoli solonitsyn, andrei tarkovsky, movies, Nikolai Grinko, stalker. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.