Andrei Tarkovsky (director)
Criterion Collection (studio)
24 July 2017 (released)
06 August 2017
Whether this Russian Sci-Fi from 1979 really is a masterpiece is of course in the eye of the beholder. It is without doubt, visually astounding while the film’s psychological and philosophical themes open up a multitude of different and interesting angles. However, for all those whose idea of a Sci-Fi movie don’t journey beyond Star Trek or Star Wars, Tarkovsky’s wordy, incredibly slow-paced and almost meditative approach may feel more like an anti-climax rather than a ripping sci-fi adventure!
Set in a post-apocalyptic landscape that may well be remnants of WW2 judging by the look of it, the plot concerns a so-called Stalker (Aleksandr Kaidanovsky) who has been hired to lead a professor (Nikolai Grinko) and a philosophically inclined writer (Anatoli Solonitsyn) in the ‘Zone’ – a site restricted by the government and a place where a disaster took place long, long time ago. Somewhere in this zone is a bunker and in the bunker there is a so-called ‘Room’ – a place, so rumour has it, where ones most deeply held desires are finally fulfilled. No wonder that such a place is restricted by the Russian government!
The movie starts with the Stalker lying in bed next to his wife and their kid – a scene that takes up a whopping five minutes as the camera pans over the faces from left to right and back while zooming in and out ever so slowly. Quite what the opening scene is supposed to establish this reviewer can’t figure out but during the movie viewers will find themselves confronted with many more similar shots – all contributing to the total running time of 161 minutes!
Despite his wife’s plea not to go, the Stalker calms her down and meets his two clients in a ramshackle looking bar in a train station before embarking on a curious and unnerving journey in search for the Zone – all the while discussing and arguing about the meaning of existence and more. Gradually, the landscape seems to shift into something more organic and alive – or is it just the imagination of the three men? Eventually our trio reach the Zone and Bunker 4… but once inside, what will happen to each of them?
STALKER is an allegory and a meditation on politics, the state of the human mind and all that comes with it including anxieties, hopes, dreams, desires and disillusions – all facets make for fascinating arguments while at the same time it seems like a very long and very intense journey… The fact that the dialogue is in Russian (with English subtitles) won’t make things any easier – one can only imagine what an intense mind-fuck the novel ‘Roadside Picnic’ (by the Strugatsky Brothers) is, on which this movie is based.
The new 2K restoration is marvellous to look at, rarely has a desolate landscape looked so enticing! This Special Edition release furthermore includes interviews and an essay by critic Mark Le Fanu.