Cerebral Sci-Fi – STALKER
STALKER is a contemplative movie you can really sink your eyes into.
Serene and meditative, like a puzzle slowly unraveling, Andrei Tarkovsky‘s Stalker (1979) – adapted for the screen from their “Roadside Picnic” by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky – is unlike any other science film you’re likely to come across in your lifetime – even more abstract and metaphorical than the director’s previous Solaris (1972). Spanning nearly 3 hours, it’s the tale of a bleak future, where the government has cordoned off a mysterious area in the wilderness called “The Zone”: an unstable, supernatural geography that’s never fully explained except to say that it’s ever-changing, like a living space, and that within it there is rumored to be a room that grants your every wish. No one is allowed entry, soldiers ordered to kill all trespassers – but there are individuals you can hire – “Stalkers” – who can smuggle you in at great risk to themselves and the traveler. And once inside, things get weird – because if the Zone doesn’t like what you’re doing or how you’re doing it, there are consequences. A highly personal film about fulfillment, deliverance and salvation, the film follows three characters – a “Writer,” a “Professor,” and their “Stalker” as they enter the Zone, each with his own agenda. The room at the heart of the Zone isn’t far – but you don’t travel there directly, and only the Stalker knows how to get you there. Like Alain Resnais‘ Last Year at Marienbad, this is a movie which deconstructs not only cinema but reality itself, its sci-fi conceit serving to motivate the deconstructive act. But unlike Resnais, Tarkovsky eases you in slowly, not in any hurry to get anywhere, lingering on shots, slowly zooming in and out of others, suspending his dialogue between what feels like hours of silence, urging us to savor every nuance. The characters are often shot from behind, insinuating that we are passengers along on the quest, and Eduard Artemiev‘s soundtrack lends a hypnotic quality that punctuates the strangeness of the otherwise commonplace setting. By no means an easy movie, the viewer must invest in order to stay interested, his return being the experience itself – a complex film about the nature of reality, our interaction with the world, and the wonder of cinema – where editing and shot sequence tames the wild, unstable world of the Zone and gives it meaning. Let’s just say that Transformers this ain’t, and I’d safely wager that if you’re a fan of Michael Bay or ADD sci-fi you’re not going to make it – in other words, the Zone will kick you out. But for adventurous travelers who enjoy films that capture the strangeness of the world we live in, this is the perfect action movie – one for the frontal lobe – filled with conceptual fireworks rather than CGI robots and explosions.