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“My dear, our world is hopelessly boring. Therefore, there can be no telepathy, or apparitions, or flying saucers, nothing like that. The world is ruled by cast-iron laws, and it’s insufferably boring. Alas, those laws are never violated. They don’t know how to be violated…. To live in the Middle Ages was interesting. Every home had its house-spirit, and every church had its God.”–Writer, Stalker
DIRECTED BY: Andrei Tarkovsky
FEATURING: Aleksandr Kaidanovsky, Anatoli Solonitsyn, Nikolai Grinko, Alisa Freindlich
PLOT: A mysterious phenomenon known as the Zone arises in a small, unnamed country. The military sent soldiers in and the troops never returned; they cordon off the Zone with barbed wire and armed guards, but rumors persist within the populace that inside the Zone is a room that will grant the innermost wish of anyone who enters it. A Stalker, a man capable of evading both the police and the traps formed by the Zone itself, leads a writer and a scientist into the Zone in search of the mystical room.
- For information on director Tarkovsky, see the background section of the entry for Nostalghia.
- Stalker is very loosely based on a science fiction novel with a title translating to “Roadside Picnic” written by two brothers, Boris and Arkady Strugatsky.
- After shooting the outdoor scenes for over a year on an experimental film stock, the entire footage was lost when the film laboratory improperly developed the negatives. All the scenes had to be re-shot using a different Director of Photography. Tarkovsky and Georgy Rerberg, the first cinematographer, had feuded on the set, and Rerberg deserted the project after the disaster with the negatives.
- Tarkovsky, his wife and assistant director Larisa, and another crew member all died of lung cancer. Vladimir Sharun, who worked in the sound department, believed that the deaths were related to toxic waste the crew breathed in while filming downstream from a chemical plant. He reported that the river was filled with a floating white foam that also floated through the air and gave several crew members allergic reactions. A shot of the floating foam, which looks like snow falling in spring or summer, can be seen in the film.
- The Chernobyl nuclear disaster happened seven years after the film was released. The quarantined area around the disaster site is sometimes referred to by locals as “The Zone,” and guides who illegally and unwisely take tourists there as “Stalkers.”
- A popular Russian video game named “S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl” involves the player penetrating a “Zone” and evokes a similar visual sense as the movie.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: Like most of Tarkovsky’s works, Stalker is a movie full of awe-inspiring visual poetry and splendor, making it hard to pick a single sequence. One key scene that stands out is Stalker’s dream. The film stock changes from color to sepia—but a very warm brown, almost golden—as the camera pans over a crystal clear stream. A female voice whispers an apocalyptic verse and the mystical electronic flute theme plays as the camera roams over various objects lying under the water: abstract rock formations, tiles, springs, gears, a mirror clearly reflecting upside down trees, a gun, an Orthodox icon, a fishbowl with goldfish swimming in it.
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Stalker is an ambiguous, but despairing, existential parable containing narrative non-sequiturs wrapped inside of strange and gorgeous visuals.
Scene from Stalker
COMMENTS: It’s not fair to the potential viewer unfamiliar with Tarkovsky to start a Continue reading 34. STALKER (1979)