Time: 162 Minutes
Alexander Kaidanovsky as the Stalker
Anatoly Solonitsyn as the Writer
Alisa Freindlich as the Stalker’s wife
Nikolai Grinko as the Professor
Director: Andrei Tarkovsky
In an unnamed country at an unspecified time, there is a fiercely protected post-apocalyptic wasteland known as The Zone. An illegal guide (Aleksandr Kajdanovsky), whose mutant child suggests unspeakable horrors within The Zone, leads a writer (Anatoliy Solonitsyn) and a scientist (Nikolay Grinko) into the heart of the devastation in search of a mythical place known only as The Room. Anyone who enters The Room will supposedly have any of his earthly desires immediately fulfilled.
I had heard about Stalker for a while. I knew it was a famous film from a director called Andrei Tarkovsky (whose films I hadn’t watched yet), it was Russian, it’s quite long, and it was in the sci-fi genre. After seeing that Stalker has been celebrated as a fantastic movie by many, I wanted to check it out. While I wouldn’t try to pretend that I understand everything about the film, I think it is amazing.
Writing a review for Stalker is very difficult. First off all, it’s really complex and hard to describe. Second of all, it’s very much something that you will have to experience for yourself as each person can get different things out of it. Essentially, Stalker is about a man with no purpose guiding two other men, who are trying to find purpose, towards a post-apocalyptic wasteland known as The Zone to fulfil their desires. While it does sound very straightforward, there’s an endless amount of things in this movie that can intended as metaphors, and definitely source for analysis. It is very deep, intelligent and thought provoking, and takes you on a philosophical and psychological journey. The film takes quite a steady and solemn approach to its existential questions, with the characters’ frustrations and doubts being conveyed through some beautifully written dialogue, and monologues. I also loved the dialogues between the three characters, and there’s a lot of talking. They talk about a lot, especially philosophy, faith, fear, the purpose of existence, life and the meaning of it all. The dialogue is thought provoking and deep, and very relevant to the themes and events that unfold. It presents some themes that are intriguing and thought provoking, some of the standouts being the disconnect between what we want vs what reality will let us have. Stalker definitely takes its time to unravel, at 160 minutes long and with a very steady pace. While I think this won’t work for everyone, I was surprisingly finding it gripping and I wasn’t distracted or bored.
The performances are great, as are the writing of these characters. These three characters involved are quite different – the Stalker, the Writer, and the Professor, played by Alexander Kaidanovsky, Anatoly Solonitsyn and Nikolai Grinko respectively. Each character desires something, which is why they travel into The Zone. Even though these characters make this journey, what they think they want is far from what they really desire. It was quite compelling watching these three talk, again the dialogue between them is intriguing and thought provoking.
This is the first movie I’ve seen from Andrei Tarkovsky, and already I want to watch more of his films because his work here is fantastic. Stalker transports you to an alien world without the use of alien visuals with the help of its non-invasive cinematography, editing, and score. First of all, the film is gorgeous. It is hypnotising to watch, the visuals are both beautiful and haunting, and the camera movement was meticulous. The film presents a dystopian post industrial vision of Russia. All the colour is washed out initially, and when the film enters The Zone, everything becomes luscious and vibrant. The visual storytelling is also excellently done. The score is quite haunting and helps convey the desolate tone of the film. Everything comes together to give such an atmospheric and ambient feel throughout.
Stalker is a film that I know that I will need to watch again to fully understand but I’m still willing to go ahead and call it a masterpiece like others have. It’s definitely not for everyone, it is slow and ponderous, and it asks a lot from the audience in terms of endurance and investment. However, I just found myself wrapped up in the experience. This is my first Tarkovsky film and I’m looking forward to checking out more from him.