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Stalker

Year: 1979
Production Co: Kinostudiya ''Mosfilm''
Director: Andrei Tarkovsky
Writer: Arkadiy Strugatskiy/Boris Strugatskiy

By the time I got to this movie in my 'to watch' list, I couldn't remember why I wanted to watch it. As such, I sat there for almost an hour and forty-five minutes in total (out of a film of nearly three hours) feeling like someone had just told me a joke I was still trying to figure out.

It wasn't until I checked after the second session of watching (about fifty minutes each – all I could stand) that I looked it up and realised it was from Andrei Tarkovsky, directed of the original Solaris, which I intend to watch because I love the Steven Soderbergh remake.

An article I read after I gave up talked about how divisive it was but how some people consider it an utter classic. While I agree it was exceedingly well shot and staged, it's the kind of classic for people who don't mind when a movie is all subtext and allegory and no actual story.

The slow moving camera gave the whole thing a very dream-like quality and it actually very successfully heightened the tension about the dangers that are feared and talked about by the three characters, even if they were never seen or experienced (by the time I gave up on it, anyway).

The sepia-toned opening made me think it had been shot in the 1930s, but it's just the introduction to the character of the Stalker. He gets out of bed and prepares to go back into what's explained during the opening crawl as The Zone, an area that might be some sort of virtual reality simulation deposited by aliens or a passing comet of something.

His wife obviously doesn't want him to go, evidently because of the risk of being caught and jailed thanks to how illegal it is. He ignores her, leaving her having what seems to be an orgasm of sadness on the floor.

He meets two other guys in a bar that he's agreed to take into The Zone, and when they get there the film turns to lush colour, like it does in The Wizard of Oz, which further makes it seem it's all some fever dream.

They find themselves in a richly forested area with streams, waterfalls, a black dog that makes the occasional appearance and the ruins of some industrial factory complete with rusted machinery and dank tunnels.

The Zone contains a room that apparently grants wishes, and the Stalker is trying to escort his companions the Professor and the Writer there. They want to just get cracking – you can see the room from across the high grass – but the Stalker keeps warning them you can't walk in a straight line.

There's a very predetermined path and even a specific pace to keep (and for some reason you have to throw industrial-sized nuts tied up with piece of cloth to direct you to the next point... or something). There also seems to be strange temporo-spatial phenomena where you can walk in a straight line and end up where you started or where someone who stays behind can get to the next goal before the others.

It's about something, but the last film I saw before it was Shane Carruth's Upstream Color, a movie similarly confusing, confounding and seemingly meaningless, so it didn't help my patience with it. What little action there is stops for long stretches while one of the men proselytises or philosophises about something that seems on the surface to be completely banal and nonsensical.

It looks gorgeous and if you had the time and patience to watch it over and over again you'd probably peel back the layers, but a little guidance would make it much easier to endure.

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