Stalker – 1979

To start the third, and most recent strand I’ve gone for:

 “Сталкер” (Stalker)

Dir. Andrei Tarkovsky, 1979

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 Three men in a zone.

There are a good few places where the two and a half hours of Stalker can be found to watch online, with or without English subtitles. Here is one – with subs – in four parts.

And, unsurprisingly, there are a vast number of reviews, analyses and critiques around the web. A few interesting ones can e be found here, here and here.

Until I came to choose a film for this year, I really had no idea that Stalker was as recent as it was. The first (and only) time that I saw it was in the early days of UK’s Channel Four, which started in 1982, so it must only have been a few years old by then. At the time, I had accepted it as an established classic. Nowadays, of course, it is.

The imagery and tone of the film are simply unforgettable and have stuck with me from that time, although I understood very little of the meaning(s) and remembered only the stark opening scenes and the mood of the Zone. My appreciation of it this time around was, as could be expected, very, very different.

Spoilers ahead

The initial, intense and dark, monochrome photography sucks one into the squalid dystopia of the mundane world, punctured by musically cacophonic trains, only to be replaced by colour once the Stalker reaches his true home in the Zone, where he drifts towards a quasi-messianic role. Thereafter it is a thoughtful, contemplative film, despite the brooding, eerie sense of intangible threat posed by the Zone. The zone is in many ways still as squalid as the outside world – moreso, perhaps, but through its abandonment is given the feel of a paradise in comparison.

The atmosphere throughout the film is aided greatly by the sound design which, in the early scenes seems intrusive and overblown, almost amateurish, but, once in the zone, become utterly vital. The Wikipedia page has a good section on this.

The Christ-like role of the Stalker is hinted at in many reviews, and in the film itself. We see him transformed in our perception from the distant, confident pathfinder to be revealed as a damaged and vulnerable figure, who can only find meaning in the Zone.

To me, rather than messianic, he seems to me to be more of a “Holy Fool” – the fool who travels through the Tarot pack (complete with dog). He has stepped over the cliff’s edge and, rather than fall to destruction in the drowned ruins below, he walks on, embracing them, being there!

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It so happens that I live and work on a nature reserve in the UK that was a military base and weapons testing area for much of the twentieth century. It has more than a passing resemblance to the Zone, and I can understand and empathise with, the Stalker’s attraction for it very easily.

There are so many excellent sequences to choose from throughout the film that it difficult to pull one out, but I think that I must go with the panning sequence over flowing water, somewhere around the middle of the film. Beneath the stream all manner of artefacts from former occupation lie abandoned, cataloging so many human endeavours, and ending on the dreaming Stalker himself. I think that if Tarkovsky had chosen to make a film of this length composed only of a shot like that I would happily watch it.

I could carry on enthusing about this film at great length, but would simply be covering ground well trod by many others. So I will end here with the simple summary: sit down and watch it.

Next up, I’ll go back to 1914 and “Gertie the Dinosaur

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