Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Stalker(1979): the wish granting Zone

Director:Andrei Tarkovsky(1932-1986); language:Russian

The film opens as we, the camera, look at the semi-darkness of a room with a double bed on which some one is sleeping. A glass filled with water begins to vibrate and slowly drifts across the table, as though with a life of it's own. A train clatters by. The only music is that of the train in it's passage.

An abandoned industrial landscape. The streets are swampy, the buildings old and crumbling. There is nobody around except odd militiamen who occassionly appear (and the omniscient camera )  because this is a forbidden zone which has been cordoned off . The threesome is on the run. There mode of conveyance is at times a railway handcar, at others a Landrover as they evade their pursuers in this  moist, still, eerie, urban maze. There is little music but that made by the  handcar, the jeep, splashing water, the patter of running feet and human voices. They seem to be scampering around in circles. Gunfire rattles behind them as they drive out of this forsaken town.

They finally emerge in what looks like moors with cranky electric poles with wires hanging loose, metallic cylinders and other industrial objects overgrown with grass and moss.( The film was shot on an abandoned hydro power station.) It has been a good twenty years since "things" happened and the Zone had to be vacated and cordoned. We are surrounded by a misty, undulating landscape with bodies of still or flowing water and an occasional eery cry from the distant heath.

Thus the three pilgrims progress through an enchanted misty watery world, the destination receding even as the distance reduces.

Ofcourse this is the USSR. The spirits of the totalitarian state  and Cancer Ward are palpable. The sepia tints are reminiscent of  the Dekalog.

The voyagers are named Writer, Professor and Stalker as they continue a philosophical debate. The Stalker represents the film directors viewpoint.

The issue is faith versus knowledge, hope versus cynicism. The Zone stands for the fulfillment of man's deepest desires. It is like that swirling surface of Solaris with its paranormal power.

It is the  inner cosmos  which the film is exploring and   expressing in the language of film  as Solaris or the Zone.

A melancholy journey ends in the triumphant notes of the Ode to Joy.

Tarkovsky is affirming his faith which in 1979 in the Soviet Union must have called for considerable courage. This is the last film he made in the USSR.

He is giving cinematic shape to a distant  music. Some holocaust victims  drew butterflies on the walls as the end approached. It is the hope which appears when  hope has disappeared.

The Zone is here, everywhere.

To quote Tarkovsky:

."....And in Stalker? Perhaps, I don't know. But I wanted to say something else — that what is important is not what one accomplished after all but that one entered the path to accomplish it in the first place. Why doesn't it matter where he arrived? Because the path is infinite. And the journey has no end. Because of that it is of absolutely no consequence whether you are standing near the beginning or near the end already — before you there is a journey that will never end. And if you didn't enter the path — the most important thing is to enter it. Here lies the problem. That's why for me what's important is not so much the path but the moment at which a man enters it, enters any path.",,,,,nostalgia.com


vivek said...

Nice review. It is tough to ignore the camerawork.

vivek said...

I'm not able to get those archives opened here. Could be an issue with my browser.

Literary Dreamer said...

This was the oldest post I could access, vivek, so it's not just your browser. As for this post, it makes me want to see all of Tarkovsky's movies now. I wonder, though: is this film as hypnotic as Solaris in its camera work?

S. M. Rana said...

@Literary Dreamer

You bet, and hypnotic is the word!
He seems to have made just seven or eight movies and I've caught the enthusiasm from Vivek. But Stalker was truly of a mesmeric beauty.

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