Stalker by Andrei Tarkovsky (1979) (Russia, Soviet Union) was Tarkovsky’s last film in Russia. Stalker is a Science fiction film loosely based on a book called Roadside Picnic by Boris and Arkady Strugatsky (Tarkovsky, Stalker DVD). Stalker is more like a dream even though it encompasses reality. It has many thoughtful moments that makes you question weather you are dreaming or awake.
Tarkovsky uses metaphysical themes such as materialism, realism and idealism in Stalker to question reality. Each character embodies a certain philosophical quality and different beliefs that is seen through their dialogue and interactions (IMDb, The Zone). Writer is cynical and unhappy with the world he lives in. Having has lost his inspiration, he wishes to get it back. Professor tries to understand everything by science and logic. Stalker is tied to faith and spirituality, fearing and worshipping in The Zone as if it was alive.
The whole film brings out the conflict of cynicism, science and materialism against spirituality, faith and freedom (IMDb, The Zone). The Zone is a sacred place full of beauty and danger. There isn’t much explanation of what The Zone is, but more interpretation.
The production of Stalker had many hardships in the beginning. The film was almost abandoned due to the film stocks being unusable. The Soviet Union then wanted to shut the film down, but Tarkovsky solved this by making the films two parts as it has additional deadlines and more funds (Wikipedia, Stalker). Stalker was also filmed at a toxic chemical plant that resulted in many crew members’ death and possibly Tarkovsky’s years later due to cancer (Wikipedia, Stalker). Stalker was a film that Tarkovsky risked his life to make.
Long takes and minimal cuts is Tarkovsky’s style in most of his films as well as Stalker. His average shot length is roughly 1 minute for all “142 shots in 161 minutes, with many 4 minutes or longer” (IMDb, FAQ for Stalker). The longest shot was the telephone room scene, which lasted 6 minutes and 50 seconds (IMDb, FAQ for Stalker). By using long takes, it gives a sense of time passing by and give the viewers time to observe the location and remember what they see.
Each take had subtle or no camera movement. The only thing that was moving were the actors. The takes would begin with a wide shot and still camera, hardly moving. The shot will remain even after or before the action takes place, showing an empty scene. The cameras were also placed at eye level to make it seem like someone was watching them.
The transition to colour is very apparent in Stalker. The urban world was shown in sepia which created a decaying, rustic look of a home for the dying. When the three men entered The Zone, it was shown in colour with high contrast, making it look like a refreshing dream world.
The colour change in Stalker is used to direct attention to The Zone. Tarkovsky mentioned in an interview that coloured film is “a commercial gimmick.” (Chugunova, Tarkovsky on Colour Cinema). He believes that colour should be used to emphasize certain moments instead of distracting the viewers. This is especially apparent in the final scene. Only the daughter is coloured in the sepia world.
On the screen colour imposes itself on you, whereas in real life that only happens at odd moments, so it’s not right for the audience to be constantly aware of colour. – Andrei Tarkovsky, Tarkovsky on Colour Cinema
Tarkovsky is also fond of motifs hidden in dream sequences in his films and colour changes helps him achieve his desired symbolism and effect.
As soon as you have a coloured picture in the frame it becomes a moving painting. It’s all too beautiful, and unlike life. – Andrei Tarkovsky, Tarkovsky on Colour Cinema
The music in Stalker is said to be indistinguishable from the natural sounds. “One mustn’t be aware of music, nor natural sounds” says Tarkovsky (Gianvito, 52). He believes that film doesn’t need music at all and should be replaced by sounds (Wikipedia, Stalker). He moved in that direction with Stalker where the ambient sounds were more prominent than the music.
Tarkovsky has been highly regarded by filmmakers especially Ingmar Bergman who hailed him as “the most important director of our time” (Wikipedia, Andrei Tarkovsky). Bergman continues to say that Tarkovsky’s films “is not a document, it is a dream. That is why Tarkovsky is the greatest of them all.” for bringing the illusion of cinema to life (Ringo, Andrei Tarkovsky). Even his influence, Akira Kurosawa said “Every cut from his [Tarkovsky’s] films is a marvelous image in itself.” (Mayuzumi, Kurosawa:”Tarkovsky was a real poet”).
Stalker was influential to Germany after the Chernobyl disaster. The area affected was depopulated and called “Zone of alienation” (Wikipedia, Stalker). People who were employed to take care of the abandoned plant started referring to themselves as stalkers. It was also compared to the Fukushima Nuclear explosion (Leigh, The powerful resonances of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker). This could be due to the film’s believability and relevance to such disasters.
Tarkovsky also wrote a book called “Sculpting in Time” in which the title refers to his own name for his filmmaking style (Wikipedia, Sculpting in Time). “Sculpting in Time” gave an inside on the inspiration and art behind all of his films. Tarkovsky also believes that “The dominant, all-powerful factor of the film image is rhythm, expressing the course of time within the frame.” instead of rapid cutting, is cinema to him (Wikipedia, Sculpting in Time).
“Juxtaposing a person with an environment that is boundless, collating him with a countless number of people passing by close to him and far away, relating a person to the whole world, that is the meaning of cinema.” – Andrei Tarkovsky, Ringo
All in all, Tarkovsky is a filmmaker full of passion for turning cinema into an art weather by sculpting time or making dreams appear in reality. He proves this in Stalker, which like art, will leave you with more questions than answers.
About the author:
Johrah is a Charlie Chaplin fan that takes interest in cute animals, comedy and family themed shows and books.
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