Stalker Stalker

It’s cold and grey and January. I’m chilly in my flat and have gifted myself a day of doing nothing. So I’m watching a DVD that’s come to us accidentally. Something that floated up from the bottom of my LoveFILM wishlist. Probably put there in a moment of arthouse ardour.
Tarkovsky’s Stalker.

I thought I’d probably moved away (outgrown?) those very dour Eastern European movies. And Tarkovsky is almost like a joke amongs anyone who went to University in the 90s. Akin to mentioning Derrida or Foucault. Or thinking Morton Feldman was fun.

But actually I’ve grown to love Morton Feldman and while D & F have thankfully dropped off my bookshelf clearly I was meant to watch Tarkovsky at 38 as opposed to 18.

It’s already (an hour later) one of those movies that I want to watch again. It’s all so ridiculously Russian and serious and profound – but as usual I’m most impressed by the unembarassed seriousness of European art. No apologies. Certainly no punchy editing or quick montage. There are shots that last for five minutes. There’s no ripping storyline. There’s lots of poetry and philosophical chat.

I know on paper that sounds dreadful and perhaps I could live without quite so much anguished writhing but the whole film is magical.

It treats on the journey of three men into the Zone, a mysterious area filled with abnormal physical laws, possibly created by a meterorite fall. You would never know this looking at the film. It’s shot without any technical effects or wizardry. It’s the 1979 version of Von Trier’s Dogma. All the mystery and magic is created by the actors and the music.

Outside the Zone it’s all sepia – inside it’s brilliantly colour. Two of the men are being guided by the Stalker, a sort of holy fool who takes people to the Room inside the Zone that allows them to realize their deepest wishes.

God, it all sounds so ridiculous written down. But in fact the imagery of the film is really mentally invasive.

The journey outwards – away from home into the unknown and the magical – is something I’ve experienced in ayahuasca, so the men’s plunge into this strange, scary, colourful, profound landscape is resonant for me. But essentially it is (or might possibly be) an experience of going into the Unconscious, into the bright-dark vegetation of the inner mind. As the film (slowly) precedes, the imagery becomes more striking. The vision more sonorous to some hidden bit of the viewer.

Can’t quite explain it. But the knowledge that Tarkovsky spend a year filming all the outside footage in Estonia and then had all his stock destroyed completely amplifies the film’s power. To know that he went back and started from scratch – refilming every meticulous scene is awful/wonderful. Because even though it looks like it was filmed with no preparation at all – just wandering over a post-Soviet landscape – actually listening to the interviews on the DVD every single shot – down to the last dandelion – was painstakingly created and perfected.

It’s one of those magnetic films that keep dragging your mind back like iron filings.



  1. Hg

    January 10, 2009 at 6:01 pm

    I finally got round to watching Tarkovsky’s Solaris last year, having been intrigued but dissatisfied by the modern remake. I immediately went out and bought Stalker and Andrei Rublev, neither of which I’ve subsequently made time to watch. This is a useful reminder, thanks. You’ve echoed so many of the things that I loved about Solaris: the snail’s pace, the seriousness, the seductive starkness, the devastatingly beautiful cinematography.

    I’ll take “anguished writhing” over the trivia-stuffed hyperactivity that passes for much of Western “entertainment” any day.

  2. Vicky

    January 10, 2009 at 8:41 pm

    ..why? why do you need a poison 🙁
    you do what you feel is best.. it’s your life..
    “We have a chance even now for the time of our life to
    resettle on the Blessed Island only because of ourselves.
    Nothing but scrutiny and consideration can be done there,
    still some among us don’t even feel an urge at least to try
    to resettle anywhere..” It’s fine to find an urge to
    resettle.we are human creatures:it’s in our nature to
    lose and regather our being. Who hasn’t felt drama, we’ve
    all been once lost. But why do you travel somewhere-
    there is no need to poison.. I watched it, with.. an
    unbearable struggle inside me.. to stay indifferent.
    no cancer no other reason to face the risk of that kind –
    what for? Being involved in medicine, I KNOW how dangerous
    that “drink” is to your body. You’ve frightened me.
    It’s not MY life, I am not your angel-guardian
    .. if it means anything to you: I am honestly .. friendly
    It’s January, Janus turned the NEW , his young face towards
    the approaching time. I saw that video ..and I found it so
    .. distressing .
    You have it all ! yet,it’s always grey and cold around you.

  3. Geoff Coupe

    January 11, 2009 at 12:37 pm

    Thank you for this recommendation. I haven’t seen the film (although I’ve seen Tarkovsky’s Solaris more than a few times). I see the story is by the Strugatsky brothers. A further reason for getting hold of Stalker asap.

  4. Tamara

    January 11, 2009 at 12:50 pm

    I haven’t yet seen this Tarkovsky film, but I think I might
    just give it a try.

    I noticed as you were describing the plot, that it seems to
    follow the story of The Wizard of OZ.
    A zone with no color, a zone with brilliant color. (over the rainbow)
    Men being guided by a “fool” (brainless scarecrow)
    Guided to a place where their deepest desires are realized.(The Wizard)

    Interesting, No?
    Can’t wait to see it for myself.
    Hope you are well,

  5. alina

    January 11, 2009 at 7:57 pm

    I was introduced to Tarkovsky at the tender age of 15 by
    our literature teacher. It is a part of standard russian
    curriculum. I didn’t fully comprehend his talent then but
    found Artemiev’s music very beautiful. I still listen to it
    on my Ipod sometimes 🙂

  6. Allen

    January 11, 2009 at 11:50 pm

    You’re welcome to comment on my comment.

    Because I thought your personality on the BBC series was great, I searched out your blog and have read it. I enjoy it, tho it becomes a bit too spacey at times. You were/are the best on that BBC series. I like OLD stuff.

    I seriously recommend you giving yourself a holiday from all that European fluff in film and watch some good ol’ American stuff.

    I’d suggest you, for starters, rent or own STAGECOACH with early John Wayne… it gives you a little sample of what some of the early American pioneers went through. I come from that kind of stock and didn’t even fully realize it until recently. It is an ART film or sorts. You seem smart enough to realize that part of this film is high drama and not totally fact.

    Get STAGECOACH…… and take a vacation from inner “spirituality”– it’s a cruel world

  7. lori

    January 13, 2009 at 5:04 am

    Your journey into the unconscious and this metaphorical Zone in the movie
    must represent essentially the same thing. Then there is the Freudian bit
    about desires that come true in that room.
    The men seek to destroy the room as I recall. I don’t think your perception in this case is too
    congruous with the Soviet mentality or what the film set out
    to do. This is no color spectrum fest; I think some propaganda lies beneath.
    Pardon my ignorance if that’s not so.

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