Stalker (1979)

5/5

Stalker

URSS; Andrei Tarkovsky

All Audiences

 

In a tiny, dreary industrial town, a local (Aleksandr Kaydanovskiy) makes a livelihood as a “stalker”, escorting men into the Zone, a forbidden wasteland where it is said that all wishes are granted. The Stalker is one of a handful who has a mystical connection with the Zone, thus being able to avoid the myriad deadly traps awaiting human beings out there. One morning, he sets out in this arduous journey with a cynical popular writer (Anatoliy Solonitsyn) and a deadpan science professor (Nikolay Grinko). But no matter how often they have had meetings with the Zone, this impulsive, frightening, beautiful entity remains even for the best of stalkers a fearful challenge…

Tarkovsky’s every single film reinvented the grammar of filmmaking, displaying a wild originality relayed with an unerring, staggering sense of cinematic poetry. The Mirror (1975) was a visually stunning maze of symbols and emotions, a surrealist and gratuitous sensorial feast, pitched somewhere out of the reach of mainstream cinema. Although less nihilistic and heightened, Stalker is of the same breed: a tangled knot of haunting imagery and philosophical concepts, colliding to give birth to something almost as elusive and fascinating as the Zone itself. Establishing an allegorical micro-universe with an overwhelming density of visual details, it ebbs and flows, animated by a life of its own, expanding and growing before our very eyes.  It never reaches a climax in the usual sense of the word, but rather explodes into a crescendo of raw emotion, blending a palsying sense of dread with luminous beatitude.

Tarkovsky effortlessly stands out as the most remarkable and keen world-builder in cinematic history.  Stalker’s universe is aesthetically unforgettable: it is a world where mud and grime have deep shades of gold, where color and lack of color impart a feeling of pure magic, where the wealth of details, hues and contrasting textures shoots straight into the retina like in a Gustave Moreau canvas.

The hallucinatory richness of the imagery is what first strikes the eye, but Stalker goes much deeper: on a deeper layer of meaning, the movie sets out to chart a spiritual journey to the ninth circle of the human mind’s Inferno. The fear and dread oozing from the screen is not the fear of falling prey to one of the lethal traps, but the fear of what lies ahead. In a shattering climax, the whole metaphysical subtext interwoven into the very texture of the film seeps to the surface, channeled by an explosion of raw, untethered emotions that will leave you shaken and swimming in cold sweat.

Films like Stalker make any such review pointless. Their power defies words. Such experiences are less about what we make of what we’ve seen than what the film makes of us.

 

Stalker          Still from andrei tarkovs 001

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