Film of the Week: Stalker

Like Andrei Rublev (1966) before it and The Sacrifice (1986) after it, Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker (1979) is a film about faith. What distinguishes Stalker from these two counterparts, however, is the lack of a miracle within the film’s narrative. Consequently, Stalker presents a much more bleak outlook on life. Yet, in the script’s dealing with anthropocentric issues, the lack of a miracle falls in line with the rest of the film. The story centers on the eponymous Stalker (Alexander Kaidanovsky), a man who guides people through a paranormal area known as the “Zone.” At the center of the Zone lies the “Room” which is said to grant any person’s wish. The Stalker is hired by two clients—the Writer (Anatoly Solonitsyn) and the Professor (Nikolai Grinko)—to guide them to the Room. Despite its science-fiction trappings, Stalker is anything but the B-movie Soviet-film its plot sounds like. Rather, the film’s style follows the same poetic approach Tarkovsky had been known for previously. Stalker begins and ends in sepia-tone while its middle section is colored and filled with saturated greens and blues. Tarkovsky employs the Zone’s aural backdrop as a diegetic soundtrack. Both dialogue and silence are punctuated by the chirping of distant birds, the soft crunch of footsteps on grass, and the sound of water, whether its the sound of droplets leaking through a roof or a pool being disturbed by the trio’s movement. Nature is at the heart of Stalker on both a technical and thematic level. The Stalker decries the absence of God, and by extension, the industrial growth of Man. Detritus and decay pervade the Zone in the absence of human settlement, and so nature has reclaimed the area. Images of vines, grass, and weeds crawling over buildings, tanks, and telephone poles are littered throughout the film’s middle section. The Stalker deems his life a prison—colorless, drab, and silent. But upon arriving to the Zone, he greets the Earth in religious reverence as if finding freedom. But, this too will turn out to be its own prison. The Stalker places his faith in those he guides through the Zone, and the dialogue of the film devotes itself to exploring the nature of man. Of the many film posters for Stalker, one depicts the Writer wearing a crown of thorns, recalling the image of Jesus. The Stalker seeks such a figure, but by the film’s end can only exclaim, “My God, what kind of people are they?”

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