Fearful Symmetry

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Journey into inner space

Journey into inner space

I first heard about Stalker ages when I read a rave review of it in a book about science fiction films. It was a film directed by the acclaimed Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky. A few years back I had tried to watch his Solaris on late night television but gave up due to both the lateness of the hour and the film’s extreme length. I will not say it was boring exactly, just so arty as to be almost unwatchable. After that the urge to watch Stalker had receded. But then recently I saw it was available for rental so thought I would give it a go.

The film does have a plot, if on the face of it a rather simple one. A Stalker leads the Writer and the Scientist into the Zone (yes all the capitals indicate we are dealing with arch-types not real people here). The Zone was formed after a meteorite (or possibly an alien spacecraft) crashed, leaving an area riddled with deadly ‘traps’ but at the centre of which is a Room that will grant whatever is someone’s deepest wish.

Like Solaris it’s all very Russian i.e. it’s very long, and has long long monologues where characters talk about philosophy, but it all looks gorgeous. As the outside world is portrayed in grim sepia tones and the Zone in full (if muted) colour it does come over as a bit Wizard of Oz. There is no explicit yellow brick road but Stalker’s protagonists do go on a winding journey to the ‘room’, which is a their Emerald City, hoping like Dorothy and her companions to solve all their problems. However Stalker is clever in realising that, unlike in Oz, there are no easy answers to life’s conundrums. And it keeps the curtain down over its Wizard.

There’s a heavy influence of religion here in the film’s philosophy, both implicit and explicit, but it’s also a more general meditation on the human condition – What is our purpose in life? What are we all looking for? What does it mean to be a man? Plus there are some interesting things on the ever-running divide between the Arts and the Sciences, doing bad to achieve good ends, and the nature of the creative drive.

The cinematography is exquisite, almost every frame a grand master painting. The ‘traps’ and other dangers of the Zone are shown not by the wizz-bang of Western special effects but by the careful use of music and editing to create a sense of dislocation.

So I’m happy now at last to have seen Stalker though I’m too sure whether I liked it over all – it’s all a bit too opaque, a bit too slow. I’ve no idea what the final scenes are supposed to mean. If we show enough faith in ourselves we can reach the next stage of human development? God only knows. But it certainly was an experience and I think certain images and ideas from the film will be with me for a long long time.


Written by Fearful Symmetry

June 29, 2009 at 3:10 pm

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