When people think about classic science fiction film from the seventies and eighties, their answers are usually something like Blade Runner, Alien, or Star Wars. But what is that little gem silently sitting behind all of these loud, special effects laden sci fis? That, my friends, is Stalker, a highly philosophical, slow moving, and strangely peaceful science fiction film that forces major viewer introspection.
In the not too distant future, an area in Soviet Russia called the Zone is blocked off by police and military after people have been mysteriously disappearing after entering. The origins of the Zone are unknown with possible solutions being a meteorite or invisible aliens. There is a room in the Zone that if you enter it, your inner most wish will be granted. Now, a person who can successfully navigate the Zone, a Stalker (Alexander Kaidanovsky), must take a Professor (Nikolai Grinko) and a Writer (Anatoly Solonitsyn) to the room, but he soon learns that these two aren’t his run of the mill customers.
The philosophies of Stalker are both personal and mysterious. By the end of the movie, Tarkovsky has not given his audience a clear answer with an ending that might be one of the most baffling of all time. I sat for a long time thinking about what all of this could mean and what Tarkovsky was trying to say. There’s religious symbolism, governmental criticism, and interpersonal relationship theories that all clash into some sort of amorphous conclusion.
That being said, this is a very difficult movie. This is a film that you and your friends can talk about for hours after seeing it and still begin to realize more and more of what it was about. Is the story meant to be taken literally or figuratively. The characters and dialogue are some of the deepest that I’ve ever seen and I could easily relate to them, but at the same time, I had trouble understanding them. That begs the question: If I can relate to these characters on a personal level, but can’t understand them, what does that say about me? Like I said before, the viewer is forced to examine themselves after watching Stalker, but they may not like what they find.
I’ve already mentioned the pacing, but I think that it is one of the most key aspects to this movie’s success. To some, Stalker will be way too slow and will bore them easily. Others will find it to be a very relaxing pace and perfectly appropriate for this kind of movie. What’s the rush? The main plot is an attempt to traverse a barren, foreign landscape. Why not take the time to appreciate it. Underneath the surface is the philosophy, which, like the landscape, must be appreciated slowly and deliberately.
The scenery of the Zone is almost like another character. Each scene has a completely different feeling, but always lingers a sense of uneasiness. Andrei Tarkovsky does a great job making the normal feel supernatural. There are no fancy tricks or effects here. The most fancy effect in the whole movie is the transitioning between sepia and color. Everything else was simply crafted through technique, mood, and set design. This just goes to show that not every sic fi movie has to have the budget of Transformers to look cool. In fact, I’d make the argument that Stalker is exponentially cooler than ANYTHING Michael Bay has ever released…ever.
I can easily put Stalker on my list of favorite movies (which will be coming eventually). The pacing and philosophy are matched perfectly with the scenery and the characters. Not only that, but the story was absolutely captivating. Be warned before going into this movie: it is incredibly slow. That being said, the pacing should not stop you from losing yourself in the Zone.