I’ve had a bad cold, and spent part of the afternoon yesterday watching Stalker, a film by the Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky. The film redeemed the afternoon. It’s an extraordinary presentation of the Russian soul as affected and afflicted by Soviet and modern life. I can’t believe the censors allowed it to be produced and presented in the Soviet Union in 1979. It’s hard to imagine anything more anti-Soviet: more opposed to everything scientific, materialist, utopian and messianic. It’s also hard to imagine anything more prophetic of the collapse of Soviet society and even particular events like the Chernobyl disaster.
It has all the Russian themes: the holy fool; noble ideals and sordid realities; self-centeredness and self-sacrifice; complete impracticality; people howling on the floor in grief or self-abasement; the self-destructive man—in and out of jail or drinking himself to death—and the long-suffering woman keeping things going somehow. It also has themes that are broadly modern or universal as well as Soviet and post-Soviet: the quest; the believer; the absurd; the pragmatist; the writer; the scientist; life in an industrial and post-industrial wasteland; atomic weapons; environmental catastrophe; the detritus of technologized war. It has quotes from the Gospels and the Tao Te Ching and constant references to God. It even has rumors of a UFO landing and a mutant with apparent telekinetic powers.
All of which makes it sound like a hodge-podge, a cut-and-paste job thrown together to jam as much weirdness and Deep Significance as possible into 2-1/2 hours. That’s not it, though. Everything grows organically out of the premise of a journey though a special walled-off zone, full of hidden dangers and perhaps explained by extraterrestrial intervention, that contains a room in which one’s inmost wish will be granted, and of the significance of that zone, journey and room in a modern or post-modern spiritual desert.
It also has good acting and great visuals. It’s technically rather unusual—long shots and even a soliloquy to the camera—but the technique is subordinate to the human interest. Since it serves a function it’s not annoying. Those interested can find out more about Tarkovsky and Stalker online. You can even watch the movie online, at Google videos.