Director: Andrei Tarkovsky
Cast: Aleksandr Kaydanovskiy, Nikolai Grinko, Anatoliy Solonitsyn
My Rating: 8/10
In Short: Excellent and visually superb but a tad too repetitive
If a film is good, and well made, then there is no limit for how long I am willing to sit to watch it. Even if it stretches on for hours and hours; if it is interesting and enthralling, then I will sit through the whole thing no matter what. Stalker, Andrei Tarkovsky’s popular 1979 science fiction drama, is a very good film. And it is not Tarkovsky’s longest; Andrei Rublev and Solaris are both longer, but Stalker feels like the longest of all the films of his I’ve seen.
If there is one thing to praise about the film, it is that the visuals on screen are spectacular. There are long stretches without dialogue (I think the first line in the film is just before the ten minute mark), and Tarkovsky manages to keep us entertained and enthralled by presenting visual puzzles and intriguing, questionable sequences that allow us to both reflect and think properly about what we’ve seen, and be absorbed by what is still happening, without getting confused or distracted from the plot. For the first thirty minutes, there is very little happening and the plot itself remains clouded and unclear. But then things begin to emerge. We understand the motives and emotions of the characters, and become completely gripped in an amazing, mystical realm, easily one of the most memorable landscapes in all of Tarkovsky’s cinema.
Despite this, the plot begins to wear thin in the film’s middle section toward its third act. The sequences where we leave the plot for a while just to focus on the visual complexity of the surroundings, and its effects on the protagonists, are startling, enlightening and beautiful. But the poetic dialogue they spout during these sequences, despite being thought-provoking and well-written, become – dare I say it? – boring after some time. When boredom struck, it was never for long and it was always kept at bay by how impressed I was with the technical side of the film, but the stretches of philosophical and psychological pondering that become more frequent toward the end raise more questions than they answer, and not in a good way.
The actual plot concerns itself with a Stalker, who is accompanying two men through the Zone, a treacherous and dangerous land that is heavily guarded and has a thick atmosphere of danger and foreboding. He is leading them to The Room, a place where supposedly your fondest wish gets granted. But as the tumultuous journey wears on, they soon begin to lose sight of what’s important, and the closer they get to the Room, the more the psychic beings that live there begin playing with their minds and causing them to lose track of what’s real.
Despite the criticisms I spoke of, on a whole the film is actually a tremendous achievement, and one I believe I need to rewatch a second time before I can judge it fully. After two viewings, it still remains an enigmatic, puzzling mystery that continues to convince me it is smarter and wiser than I am able to comprehend. It is truly an amazing picture, that I will be contemplating for a long time to come. Even the sequences I found boring are actually so impressively shot that I cannot remove my eyes from the screen. With Stalker, his final foray into science fiction, Andrei Tarkovsky has hand-carved and slaved to create a poetic vision of a future where selfishness turns us into fickle beings, destroyed by our own temptations and wants, and imprisoned by the God of some sort of unspeakable or incomprehensible religion, to be confined in a lonely, suffocating world, forced to reexamine our motives and desires.