The Mubi Cinematheque: The Mirror (1975)
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Andrei Tarkovksy’s The Mirror will not be for every viewing preference. It requires patience and a proper frame of mind, and even then it’s not all that accessible, especially for those who watch films casually with only slight attention (I’d say the wrong way). Chances are, passive movie goers will not be seeking out, or even stumbling upon, The Mirror. Even still, it may present a challenge for anyone.
While Tarkovsky’s movies like Solaris and Stalker play with presentation, they are both firmly grounded in fairly coherent narratives. There is a lot of quiet symbolism and interpretive moments presented in flourishes of color and dreamlike imagery, but the through lines are always visible. With The Mirror, this is never really the case.
To attempt to summarize is a fool’s errand. It is fragmented, as though the titular mirror has been shattered on the floor. It’s a combination of dreams and distant memories coupled with arresting visual cues. Think of your own childhood, distant as it might seem, and there are moments that are crystallized and very clear while the context surrounding them are hazy, lost in fog. That is The Mirror.
For instance, one of the earliest sequences is set in a rural farmhouse. People start yelling. A mild panic ensues. There’s a fire. The camera (which alternates between staying perfectly still and weaving around seamlessly throughout the film) slides to the outside. A building is burning. The mother stares, watching it. The son runs up to the fire. No one tries to stop him. The flames roar. The scene is extinguished, but the fire continues underneath the surface for the duration.
Another sequence features the young boy who meets a mysterious woman seated in his dining room. She tells him to read from a specific page in a specific book by Pushkin, a Russian poet. She disappears after a phone call leaving nothing but the evaporating stain from her teacup on the table.
The Mirror is a stream of consciousness journey, jumping in time and how it is presented. It is often delirious and never fully allows the viewer to get comfortable. What makes this movie a success to some will make it a failure to others. Those who need a concrete story to latch onto will not be pleased by the formless nature it appears to take. Even with the contextual information that it is intended to be from the perspective of a dying man’s dreams and memories, it will not likely be a satisfying endeavor. Instead, it may seem pointless or unnecessarily obtuse.
That’s too bad, because it’s a different method with different aims. The Mirror is more involved with eliciting momentary punches in nostalgic resonance. It drills to the core. These images could be anyone’s memories. It may be distinctly Russian, but that’s just to shade in the extra layers of this particular family. The military training scenes could easily be transported to anywhere else. An orphaned boy is ridiculed by his peers. While the setting may be area and time specific, the interactions between these boys is something more universal.
Tarkovsky was an exceptionally gifted filmmaker with interesting storytelling techniques at his disposal. Even if The Mirror doesn’t strike the same chord as some of his other films, it is still worth a confused watch attempting to decipher his meaning. Even if it is intensely personal, and only Tarkovsky himself held the real meaning at the core, it’s a film that should strike a chord. If you allow it to.