“Stalker” is the 43rd best movie ever made, according to Sight and
Sound and therefore clearly a movie that brings something to the table. However,
Tarkovsky is in my book a man of missed opportunities and it may therefore not
be my table he brings it to.
of “Stalker” is a very promising one. In an unnamed country, something came
from space, a meteorite perhaps, and changed an area. Uncertain how to deal
with it the authorities have sealed it off. Strange things happen inside the “Zone”
and there is a certain “room” inside the Zone where visitors can make anything
happen. The route to this room is tricky and fraught with danger and only the
Stalkers can guide visitors to this room. Alexander Kaidanovsky is “Stalker”,
guiding the two visitors, “Writer” (Anatoly Solonitsyn) and “Professor” (Nikolai
Grinko) through the Zone to the Room.
great, but Tarkovsky does not catch the ball. The movie he wants to make is a
study of the human soul. What are the reasons for seeking a place where you can
get your innermost wishes fulfilled? Why is such a place ultimately dangerous? How
essential is such a hope to us being human? Fair enough, those are interesting
questions too and that could still work. But the characters in Tarkovsky’s
movies talk and talk and very little actually happens. The endless dialogue is
often useless bickering or inconsequential ranting to an extent that I never
remember anything of it. “Stalker” is exactly like that.
From a plot
perspective it is a huge let down that after two hours of getting there, nobody
actually enters the Room. Rewinding a bit, the dialogue would reveal both the
Writer and the Professor has realized that they are not ready to risk revealing
themselves, either because they know they are wanting or because they prefer to
keep that part of themselves private.
line is that all these considerations are hugely interesting but presented in
so immensely boring a format that I lose interest in it and I do not remember
anything of their argumentation. That is likely my problem. Critics of the
world think this is the best thing since sliced bread, but I cannot help it. I
was waiting for something to happen, waiting for the penny to drop, some clues,
but only in hindsight do I get a glimmer of what the movie wanted to do and
that is just not good enough.
in the movie was tickled in other ways though. The zone, or indeed the world,
is presented as a decrepit industrial ruin. Chemically polluted water, broken concrete
and rusty cannons. This is in fact, and to no surprise, a real landscape in
Estonia, then part of the Soviet. I have worked on projects in Estonia where the
Russians left only ruin, and this was not unlike such sites. It was so
poisonous that large portions of the crew, including Tarkovsky himself, died
from cancer allegedly caused by working on this set. Did Tarkovsky intent this
as a critique of Russian desolation or was it merely a suitable backdrop to a
place of hope? For me, it says more about Russia than anything else.
I do not
think I can say that I have liked any of Tarkovsky’s movies and in this case,
it feels extra bitter, because both premise and the questions raised are so
promising. But at least he made somebody else happy. Not a recommendation from