Within my formative years of cinephilism, watching the works of Andrei Tarkovsky somehow escaped me. I had heard of his films through random name drops in conversations with fellow film enthusiasts and had intended for years to watch at least one film of his. In fact, Stalker and Solaris have been tucked away on a hard drive and a corroding laptop with the intent to watch someday in the distant future. Yet, merely thinking about either film’s expansive run-time and subtitles deflated any interest or attentiveness to sit down long enough to engage. For years this cycle of avoiding a Tarkovsky film has been in full swing until a friend finally cornered me to take him up on the promise that we’d watch Stalker, a film he considers his favorite in cinematography. There are moments in life when you engage in an activity that makes you realize it was perfect to try at that moment, at that time. Watching Stalker for the first time was one of those moments in life complete with the realization that I was at the right age, the right understanding of certain quandaries, and had the right amount of curious wonder that allowed me to fully appreciate Stalker as much as I did.
Tarkovsky is a cinematic mastermind; if none of his other films are a testament to that then Stalker is. Many directors can, and have, created stunning pieces of art through motion pictures. Even still, countless others have mastered the art of innovating techniques that capture the extensive depth of field and details that can be seen within an image. Yet, Tarkovsky treads a singular path of brilliant innovation to tell the thrilling Road to El Dorado influenced story of a “Stalker,” or guide, and his journey to a deserted area known as “the Zone.” Along with two other travelers, the Professor and Writer, the trio engage on their journey in search of a mystical room that grants one’s inner most wishes. Stalker unfolds through a series of philosophical meanderings, existential discussions, and lots of long, painstakingly slow takes.
Placidity is the theme of Stalker as scenes move with the tranquility of a creek. Tarkovsky captures the events of Stalker on a motto of slow and steady. Often times the camera appears to sit idly while action unravels on screen. But, this stationary surveillance gets transformed into trudging movement during the film’s most impressive moments of character blocking, tracking shots, seamless close-ups, and deep focusing. Characters or objects of focus are placed in backgrounds of scenes allowing the camera and its focus to slowly glide forward. Such a technique exposes a multitude of textures and depth to the rooms we are placed in or the open barren wasteland that we travel through.
In junction with cinematographer Alexander Knyazhinsky, Tarkovsky plays with color schemes throughout Stalker beginning the film in a dingy, sepia drenched shade that gives an eerie thickness to shadows. As the film continues, color pops into existence exposing bright greens and brown-stained waters that emits a morbid attractiveness to the wastelands featured throughout. Both the beige infused and normal color schemes battle for supremacy throughout the film making for an intriguing dichotomy of the land and the ideals of the main characters. Tarkovsky’s visuals and contemplative story alone shouldn’t be the most heralded constituents of Stalker. Praise should also be given to Vladimir Sharun for the film’s astounding sound design that effortlessly blends non-diegetic sound with diegetic. Sound becomes magnified through rushing roars and deep echoes that gives an uncertain creepiness to the film.
Stalker is a phenomenal work of art set in motion that tells a poignant story about hope and desperation. Through its serious, stoic tone, there’s a presence of dry, almost British like humor. Yet, the serious nature of Stalker is its focus as it’s ultimately a commentary on man coming to terms with the grim understanding that life can be callous and indifferent. Nevertheless, all is not lost as hope becomes a reoccurring theme in the story’s plot line, like how we look to the concept of hope as a means to get through bland, dull, and otherwise monotonous lives. Stalker mixes stunning visuals and gorgeous cinematography with mind-boggling sound to tell the story of three men searching for answers in a vast ocean of uncertainty, a plight anyone who ponders the meaning of life can relate to.
Watch the Stalker Trailer
A Gallery of Images from Stalker