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October 24, 2015

Stalker (1979)
Director: Andrei Tarkovsky
Actors: Aleksandr Kaydanovskiy, Anatoly Solonitsyn, Nikolai Grinko

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Synopsis: A stalker (Aleksandr Kaydanovskiy) takes two ‘clients’, Writer (Anatoly Solonitsyn) and Professor (Nikola Grinko), to The Zone – a fenced-off hinterland which has a developed a mystique over its seeming power to either sanctify or damn the lives of those who enter it.

Review: One of the most mesmeric visual and sonic scapes ever committed to celluloid, Andrei Tarkovsky’s stunning Stalker is a true existential parable – with its huge maguffin of ‘The Zone’ nothing more than a genius dramaturgical blank canvas around which Tarkovsky wraps another of his epic musings on what it means to be human.

One of the great facets of Stalker is how people frequently valorise it as one of the great Science Fiction movies (which it is), yet there isn’t a single supernatural and/or hokum otherworldy effect – the universe that Tarkovsky creates is entirely founded in recognisable urban and country phenomena. The overall effect is implicit, not explicit. The closest we come to a sci-fi ambience is in the hypnotic scene where Stalker takes Writer and Professor across the ‘border’ into the Zone on a small tram, with the synthesiser score suggesting the ethereal realm that the personnel are entering. Tarkovsky also makes one of the great cinematic essays on colour. In many respects it’s as rapturous and thematically profound as The Wizard of Oz, with Stalker’s tough life characterised by a monochrome, ruinous hue before symbolically moving into colour as he enters The Zone.

Of course, all this technique is fine, but wouldn’t be nearly so effective without the philosophical depth to compliment it. Here, Tarkovsky doesn’t disappoint either, with what I read as a parable of the eternal, holistic power of nature (note the soothing effect that the water and fire elements have on Stalker, Writer and Professor when they enter the nature-reclaimed realm of The Zone).

In retrospect, Stalker has certain prescient echoes. Many other commentators have noted the haunting harbinger Stalker was to the Chernobyl accident which was to occur some seven years later, and I also detected a similarity (who knows, maybe even a ‘borrowing’) of Samuel Beckett’s classic existential fable ‘Waiting for Godot’, as The Zone is essentially an arena of nothingness, and simply a mirror for the three protagonists to play out their philosophical malaise. (October 2015)

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