"What was it? A meteorite? A visit of inhabitants of the cosmic abyss? One way or another our small country has seen the birth of a miracle-the Zone. We immediately sent troops there. They haven't come back. Then we surrounded the Zone with police cordons. Perhaps, that was the right thing to do. Though, I don't know..."
The Zone is a bizarre and dangerous phenomenon that’s beyond the comprehension of human beings, as it contains supernatural attributes where the normal laws of physics no longer apply. Apparently, deep inside the Zone there is ‘the Room’ that has the power to fulfill the deepest desires of anyone who enters it, but the problem being that these wishes might not be the consciously expressed desires, but the true unconscious ones. The Zone can only be entered with the help of a ‘Stalker’—a guide well acquainted with the treacherous ways of the Zone, as it is his job to bypass the heavy security in order to take his clients inside the heart of the Zone all the way to 'the Room.' The first of The Stalker's recent clients is that of a writer who has recently suffered from mental block, hoping the powers of the Zone will miraculously cure him of that, since his lack of creativity and artistic inspiration has rendered him useful to his readers. The other is a Professor, a brilliant man buoyed by his passion for Physics, and is in hopes that the Zone will give him the knowledge and intellect in winning the Nobel Prize. The Stalker instructs his clients that they must do exactly as he says in order to survive the environmental dangers that lie ahead, which are invisible to the naked eye. The high-risks that are involved throughout this expedition are because of the ever-changing, treacherous nature of the Zone, and so the longer the path one chooses, the lesser the risk involved. We will follow these three characters meditatively through the beautiful scenery composition of the Zone; which involve such claustrophobic environments as dark enclosed caves, deep cryptic tunnels and one hypnotic room with miles and layers of hills of sand. The theme that lies at the core of Stalker is self-reflection, as what will ultimately ensue is a tedious game of chess between four seasoned players: the Writer, the Professor, the Stalker, and the Zone itself, as they will all be forced to come to terms with their thoughts, fears, intentions, ideas, theories, beliefs, and the existential purpose of their own existence; all the while their self-confrontation will slowly manifest into a fierce philosophical battle of ideologies.
"What was it? A meteorite? A visit of inhabitants of the cosmic abyss? One way or another our small country has seen the birth of a miracle-the Zone. We immediately sent troops there. They haven't come back. Then we surrounded the Zone with police cordons. Perhaps, that was the right thing to do. Though, I don't know..."
Stalker opens with a sepia tone color and a long one track shot of the camera going through two large doors and panning across a woman, her husband and their daughter sleeping in bed. You can hear the diegetic sound of a train from above shaking the apartment and in the distance you hear the Russian national anthem.
The camera then pans backwards through the two doors we just came through and we as an audience come to realize the husband has already gotten up as he decides to shut those two doors before entering into the kitchen. Tarkovsky's shots are extraordinary; as he focuses on the background and slowly something from that background comes up to the foreground which is then portrayed in a detailed close-up composition shot.
The man begins to make coffee and all you hear is the sound of dripping water which is one of Tarkovsky's favorite sounds in his films. His wife walks in and is angry with her husband saying, "you've wanted to start working. You've been promised a normal human work. You'll be back in prison. Though this time you'll get ten years, not five. And for ten years you will have neither The Zone, nor anything."
The husband tells her to be quite or she will wake 'Monkey' which is the name of their daughter who is for some reason crippled and deformed. He then leaves the house and the camera follows his wife having a break down and collapses onto the floor full of sadness and agony.
The husband introduced in the beginning of the film is a 'stalker' and was recently released from prison from getting caught entering into the forbidden and illegal area of the Zone. But because of either money or boredom he decides to take on another job and to help two more men get through so their wishes can be granted.
He meets up with his two new clients at a crummy looking bar. The Stalker first meets the Writer who suffers from a mental block, lack of creativity and inspiration that has rendered him useless to his readers. He's a very outspoken character who usually speaks his mind about the beliefs of God, art and science.
When first meeting him you overhear him saying, "To live in the middle ages was amazing. Every home had its spirit and every church had its God. It must be boring now, all these laws, triangles and no house spirits and no God...thats for certain. Because if God is also a triangle...I don't know what to think." The two of them wait for the other client, the Professor to arrive. When he does you learn the Professor is a man buoyed by his passion for Physics and seems genuinely interested in visiting the Zone in hopes of winning the Nobel Prize.
When all three arrive they get inside a jeep and make their way towards the Zone through a desolate urban landscape of dilapidated buildings and littered streets. The three of them evade a military blockade that guards the Zone by driving on the railroad tracks, attracting gunfire from the guards as they go, and then ride into the heart of the Zone on a railway work car.
The ride on the railway car is followed by a long, continuous meditative tracking shot that reminds me of the freeway sequence in Solaris.
After the three men's arrival into the Zone, the movie’s sepia tone changes into full color. Tarkovsky magnifies the cinematic effect by offering a striking contrast between the somber landscape depicted earlier in the movie to the colorful, lush green beauty of the Zone.
To the dismay of the writer and the professor, the Stalker sends back the railway car to its point of origin and then tells them that a different path would be followed for the return journey. The Stalker tells his clients that they must do exactly as he says to survive the dangers that lie ahead, which are invisible to the naked eye, and the Stalker reminds them of the conditions they had agreed upon when they hired him for his services.
The Stalker tests for danger by throwing metal nuts tied with strips of cloth ahead of him, which lets him know if it's safe to pass. The Stalker, also warns the men of the ever-changing, treacherous nature of the Zone and instructs them to religiously follow his orders if they want to get through it safely. He says that in the Zone, the longer the path one chooses, the lesser is the risk involved. The Writer is skeptical that there is any real danger, whilst the Professor generally follows the Stalker's advice.
The Stalker says, "The Zone is a very complicated system of traps and they're all deadly. I don't know what its going ons are here in the absence of people, but the moment someone shows up, everything comes into motion. Old traps disappear and new ones emerge. Safe spots become impassable. Now your path is easy, now it's hopelessly involved...That's the zone."
As they travel the three men discuss their reasons for wanting to visit the Room, as the Stalker insists that he has no motive beyond aiding the desperate. The Stalker refers to a previous Stalker, named Porcupine, who led his brother to his death in the Zone, visited the Room and gained a lot of money, and then hanged himself. It appears that the Room fulfills all of the wishes of the visitor, the problem being that these might not be the consciously expressed wishes, but the true unconscious ones. When the Writer confronts the Stalker about his knowledge of the Zone and 'the Room', The Stalker says that everything he was taught was from Porcupine and that Porcupine was his mentor.
We continue to follow these three characters meditatively through the beautiful scenery shots of the Zone; which involves dark enclosed caves and tunnels and one room that looks like a sort of desert with miles of hills of sand.
They're not many special effects in this film and the films tension comes from the hypnotic music and the hauntingly atmospheric locations. There are beautiful shots that create the abnormal feel of the environments; one in particular is of bubbling melted ice and fire. In one of the most beautiful sequences of the film, their is an deliberate tracking shot of a stream of water which contains syringes, guns, money and a discarded bolt.
There are some scenes where the wind picks up and the environment looks surreal like and wavy but most of the dangers of the zone are left ambiguous and suggested. There is one subtle shot in the film that does show the destructive power of the Zone and that's where several birds are flying through the environment and one completely disappears from the shot, which is probably what it looks like when you fall victim to the powers of the Zone.
There is also a mysterious black dog within the Zone that seems to follow the three men through their adventures and for whatever reason the men don't take notice to it.
With each step that they take which brings them closer towards 'the Room', the tension between the Stalker, the Writer and the Professor begins to build, as each starts to show his true nature. The Stalker realizes the Writer has brought a handgun with him and demands that he get rid of it because its effects could be treacherous to them all.
All three of them through all their constant bickering of different ideas and beliefs gets transformed into a fierce battle of ideologies as it gets increasingly impossible for them to withstand each other’s bitter company.
After traveling through subterranean tunnels the three men reach their destination, which lies inside a decayed industrial building. In a small antechamber a phone begins to ring. The Writer answers and speaks into the phone, stating that "this is not the clinic", before hanging up. The surprised Professor decides to use the phone to ring a colleague.
In the ensuing conversation The Professor reveals his true intention. He has brought a nuclear weapon with him kept hidden in his knapsack, and intends to destroy the Room for fear it might be used by evil men. The three fight verbally and physically in a larger antechamber just outside 'The Room' as the Professor says:
"I had it assembled with my former colleagues. This place will never bring any happiness to anyone. But if this thing gets out into the wrong hands...Though I'm not sure anymore. We came to the conclusion that we shouldn't destroy the Zone after all. Even if it's some miracle it's still a part of nature, therefore a hope in a sense. But as long as this plague lies in the open accessible to any scum, I can get no peace at night."
The Stalker grabs him to try to and snatch the bomb away from him. The writer helps the professor by grabbing the Stalker and holding him back and eventually throwing him to the ground.
The Stalker doesn't understand why the professor would want to destroy a miracle like the Zone; a place that gives hope to many people. The Stalker and the writer then have a argument on the Stalker's true intentions on why he doesnt want the Zone to be destroyed.
"That's all people have got left on this earth! It's the only place they come to if there's no hope left for them. You yourself have come here! Why destroy it then?"
"I can see through you. You don't give a damn about people! You just make money using our anguish! It's not even the money. You're enjoying yourself here. You're like God almighty here. You are an hypocritical louse, to decide who is to live and who is to die. Now I see why you Stalker's never enter the room yourselves! You revel in all that power, that mystery, your authority!! What else is there to wish for?!"
"It's not true. Your mistaken. A Stalker must not enter the room. A Stalker must not even enter the Zone with an ulterior motive. Remember Porcupine? Yes...you're right, I'm a louse. I haven't done any good in this world, and I can't do any. I couldn't give anything even to my wife. I can't have any friends either but don't take mine from me! They'd already taken everything from me back there, behind the barbed wire. So all that's mine is here. You understand? Here! In the Zone! My happiness, my self-respect, IT'S ALL HERE!!!"
As they recover from their exertions the Writer has a timely revelation about the room's true nature. He explains that despite the man's conscious motives, the room fulfilled Porcupine's secret desire for his brother's death, and that Porcupine's suicide was inspired by the resulting guilt. He further reasons that the Room is useless to the ambitious and is only dangerous to those who seek it. With his earlier fears thus assuaged the Professor gives up on his plan. Instead he disassembles his bomb and scatters its pieces.
The men sit before the doorway looking tired and spiritually exhausted and never entering 'The Room'. There is a long one take shot of a rainstorm which begins to fall from a dark sky where a ceiling once was, into the ruined building on the three of them and then gradually fades away.
At the end of their journey finally arriving at the entrance to 'the Room' the men sit outside the 'Room' and reflect on themselves and whether it's worth it to go in or not, and they eventually decide to never enter it.
The next scene shows The Stalker, the Writer, and the Professor back in the bar with the original sepia tone color that was in the beginning of the film. Stalker's wife comes in to retrieve her husband. The mysterious black dog that followed the three men throughout the Zone is now in the bar with them. When his wife asks her husband where he got the dog, the Stalker says that it got attached to him and he could not leave it in the Zone. As the Stalker leaves the bar we see that his child Monkey is waiting for him outside and the three walk home together (which for some reason is shot in color.)
Later when home, the Stalker seems to now have doubts about the Zone complaining to his wife about the writer and the professor. "Calling themselves intellectuals those writers and scientists! They don't believe in anything! Nobody believes. Not only those two. Nobody." His wife tells him to relax and get some rest and lays him into bed.
As the Stalker sleeps his wife contemplates their relationship in a monologue delivered directly to the camera. She declares she knew full well life with him would be hard, that he would be unreliable and their children could be deformed, but concludes she is better off with him despite their many griefs.
Stalker has one of the most infamous and debated endings in science fiction history. Monkey sits alone in the kitchen. She recites a poem by Fyodor Tyutchev and then lays her head on the table and appears to psychokinetically push three drinking glasses across the table, one after the other, with the last one falling off the edge of the table and onto the floor.
After the third glass falls to the floor, a train passes by, causing the entire apartment to shake once again just like it did in the beginning of the film.
The film Stalker is loosely based on the novel Roadside Picnic by Boris and Arkady Strugatsky. After reading the novel, initially Tarkovsky recommended it to his friend, the film director Mikhail Kalatozov, thinking that he might be interested in adapting it into a film. Kalatozov, however, could not obtain the rights to the film from the Strugatsky brothers and abandoned the project. Tarkovsky then began to be more and more interested in adapting the novel. He hoped that it would allow him to make a film that conforms to the classical Aristotelian unity, that is the unity of action, the unity of location and the unity of time.
The plot and flow of the film departs considerably from the novel. According to Tarkovsky the film has nothing in common with the novel except for the two words Stalker and Zone. However, watching the film and reading the novel demonstrates that there are, in fact, several similarities between the novel and the film. In both works, the Zone is guarded by a police or military guard, apparently authorized with deadly force. The Stalker in both works tests the safety of his path by tossing nuts and bolts (tied with scraps of cloth), ensuring that gravity is normal (i.e., the object flies in an expected path.)
Also, a character named Porcupine is a mentor Stalker to the protagonist. In the novel, frequent visitations to the zone increase the likelihood of abnormalities in the visitor's offspring. In the book, the Stalker has a daughter with light hair all over her body, nicknamed "Monkey"—the same nickname used for the Stalker's daughter in the film, though in the film she is crippled. Finally, the target of the expedition (the final expedition in the case of the novel) in both works is a wish-granting device.
In Roadside Picnic the site was specifically described as the site of alien visitation; the name of the novel derives from a metaphor proposed by a character who compares the visit to a roadside picnic. In a sharp departure from the book, the penultimate scene of the movie is a first person monologue by the Stalker's wife, where she looks directly into the camera and explains, with increasing authority, how she met the Stalker and decided to stick with him. It is the only such scene in the entire 160 minutes of the film; the content though is a kind of answer to what the same woman had said in the opening scene, when she blamed her husband for their miseries. It carries clear allusions to Chris (who also called strangers to "follow me") and as some reviewers pointed out, echoes the style of 19th-century Russian novels with their bold and passionate heroines.
An early draft of the screenplay was published as a novel Stalker that differs much from the finished film. In an interview on the MK2 DVD, production designer Rashit Safiullin describes the Zone as a space in which humans can live without the trappings of society and can speak about the most important things freely.
In an interview on the MK2 DVD, the production designer, Rashit Safiullin, recalls that Tarkovsky spent a year shooting a version of the outdoor scenes of Stalker. However, when the crew got back to Moscow, they found that all of the film had been improperly developed and their footage was unusable. The film had been shot on experimental Kodak stock with which Soviet laboratories were unfamiliar.
Even before the film stock problem was discovered, relations between Tarkovsky and Stalker's first cinematographer, Georgy Rerberg, had deteriorated. After seeing the poorly developed material, Rerberg left the first screening session and never came back. By the time the film stock defect was discovered, Tarkovsky had shot all the outdoor scenes and had to burn them. Safiullin contends that Tarkovsky was so despondent that he wanted to abandon further production of the film.
After the loss of the film stock, the Soviet film boards wanted to shut the film down, officially writing it off. But Tarkovsky came up with a solution: he asked to make a two-part film, which meant additional deadlines and more funds. Tarkovsky ended up reshooting almost all of the film with a new cinematographer, Aleksandr Knyazhinsky. According to Safiullin, the finished version of Stalker is completely different from the one Tarkovsky originally shot.
The film mixes sepia and color footage; within the Zone, in the countryside, all is colorful, while the outside, urban world is tinted sepia. One of the deserted hydro power plants near Jägala Waterfall, recently renovated The central part of the film, in which the characters move around the Zone, was shot in a few days at two deserted hydro power plants on the Jägala river near Tallinn, Estonia. The shot before they enter the Zone is an old Flora chemical factory in the center of Tallinn, next to the old Rotermann salt storage and the electric plant — now a culture factory where a memorial plate of the film was set up in 2008. Some shots from the Zone were filmed in Maardu, next to the Iru powerplant, while the shot with the gates to the Zone was filmed in Lasnamäe, next to Punane Street behind the Idakeskus. Some shots were filmed near the Tallinn-Narva highway bridge on the Pirita River.
The documentary film Rerberg and Tarkovsky: The Reverse Side of "Stalker" by Igor Mayboroda sheds new light on the production of Stalker and the relationship between Rerberg and Tarkovsky. Rerberg felt that Tarkovsky was not ready for this script. He told Tarkovsky to rewrite the script in order to achieve a good result. Tarkovsky ignored him and continued shooting. After several arguments, Tarkovsky sent Rerberg home. Ultimately, Tarkovsky shot Stalker three times, consuming over 5,000 meters of film. People who have seen both the first version shot by Rerberg (as Director of Photography) and the final theatrical release say that they are almost identical. Tarkovsky sent home other crew members in addition to Rerberg and excluded them from the credits as well.
Several people involved in the film production — including Tarkovsky — had met deaths, which some crew members attribute to the film's long, arduous shooting schedule in toxic locations. Sound designer Vladimir Sharun recalls:
"We were shooting near Tallinn in the area around the small river Jägala with a half-functioning hydroelectric station. Up the river was a chemical plant and it poured out poisonous liquids downstream. There is even this shot in Stalker: snow falling in the summer and white foam floating down the river. In fact it was some horrible poison. Many women in our crew got allergic reactions on their faces. Tarkovsky died from cancer of the right bronchial tube. And Tolya Solonitsyn too. That it was all connected to the location shooting for Stalker became clear to me when Larisa Tarkovskaya died from the same illness in Paris."
Like Tarkovsky's other films, Stalker relies on long takes with slow, subtle camera movement, rejecting the use of rapid montage. Indeed, the film contains 142 shots in 163 minutes, with an average shot length of more than one minute and many shots lasting for more than four minutes. Almost all of the scenes not set in the Zone are in a high-contrast brown monochrome.
The Stalker film score was composed by Eduard Artemyev, who had also composed the film scores for Tarkovsky's previous films Solaris and The Mirror. For Stalker Artemyev composed and recorded two different versions of the score. The first score was done with an orchestra alone but was rejected by Tarkovsky. The second score that was used in the final film was created on a synthesizer along with traditional instruments that were manipulated using sound effects. In the final film score the boundaries between music and sound were blurred, as natural sounds and music interact to the point were they are indistinguishable. In fact, many of the natural sounds were not production sounds but were created by Artemyev on his synthesizer.
For Tarkovsky music was more than just a parallel illustration of the visual image. He believed that music distorts and changes the emotional tone of a visual image while not changing the meaning. He also believed that in a film with complete theoretical consistency music will have no place and that instead music is replaced by sounds. According to Tarkovsky, he aimed at this consistency and moved into this direction in Stalker and Nostalghia.
In addition to the original monophonic soundtrack, the Russian Cinema Council (Ruscico) created an alternative 5.1 surround sound track for the 2001 DVD release. In addition to remixing the mono soundtrack, music and sound effects were removed and added in several scenes. Music was added to the scene where the three are traveling to the zone on a motorized draisine. In the opening and the final scene Beethoven's Ninth Symphony was removed and in the opening scene in Stalker's house ambient sounds were added, changing the original soundtrack, in which this scene was completely silent except for the sound of a train.
Initially Tarkovsky had no clear understanding of the musical atmosphere of the final film and only an approximate idea where in the film the music was to be. Even after he had shot all the material he continued his search for the ideal film score, wanting a combination of Oriental and Western music. In a conversation with Artemyev he explained that he needed music that reflects the idea that although the East and the West can coexist, they are not able to understand each other. One of Tarkovsky's ideas was to perform Western music on Oriental instruments, or vice versa, performing Oriental music on European instruments. Artemyev proposed to try this idea with the motet Pulcherrima Rosa by an anonymous 14th century Italian composer dedicated to the Virgin Mary. In its original form Tarkovsky did not perceive the motet as suitable for the film and asked Artemyev to give it an Oriental sound. Later, Tarkovsky proposed to invite musicians from Armenia and Azerbaijan and to let them improvise on the melody of the motet. A musician was invited from Armenia who played the main melody on a tar, accompanied by orchestral background music written by Artemyev. Tarkovsky, who, unusually for him, attended the full recording session, rejected the final result as not what he was looking for.
Rethinking their approach they finally found the solution in a theme that would create a state of inner calmness and inner satisfaction, or as Tarkovsky said "space frozen in a dynamic equilibrium." Artemyev knew about a musical piece from Indian classical music where a prolonged and unchanged background tone is performed on a tambura. As this gave Artemyev the impression of frozen space, he used this inspiration and created a background tone on his synthesizer similar to the background tone performed on the tambura. The tar then improvised on the background sound, together with a flute as a European, Western instrument. To mask the obvious combination of European and Oriental instruments he passed the foreground music through the effect channels of his SYNTHI 100 synthesizer. These effects included modulating the sound of the flute and lowering the speed of the tar, so that what Artemyev called "the life of one string" could be heard. Tarkovsky was amazed by the result, especially liking the sound of the tar, and used the theme without any alterations in the film.
The title sequence is accompanied by Artemyev's main theme. The opening sequence of the film showing Stalker's room is mostly silent. Periodically one hears what could be a train. The sound becomes louder and clearer over time until the sound and the vibrations of objects in the room give a sense of a train's passing by without the train's being visible. This aural impression is quickly subverted by the muffled sound of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. The source of this music is unclear, thus setting the tone for the blurring of reality in the film. For this part of the film Tarkovsky was also considering music by Richard Wagner or the Marseillaise. In an interview with Tonino Guerra Tarkovsky said that he wanted "music that is more or less popular, that expresses the movement of the masses, the theme of humanity's social destiny. But this music must be barely heard beneath the noise, in a way that the spectator is not aware of it." As the sound of the train becomes more and more distant, the sounds of the house, such as the creaking floor, water running through pipes, and the humming of a heater become more prominent. While the Stalker leaves his house and wanders around an industrial landscape, the audience hears industrial sounds such as train whistles, ship foghorns, and train wheels. When the Stalker, the Writer, and the Professor set off from the bar in an off-road vehicle, the engine noise merges into an electronic tone. The natural sound of the engine falls off as the vehicle reaches the horizon. Initially almost inaudible, the electronic tone emerges and replaces the engine sound as if time has frozen.
"I would like most of the noise and sound to be composed by a composer. In the film, for example, the three people undertake a long journey in a railway car. I'd like that the noise of the wheels on the rails not be the natural sound but elaborated upon by the composer with electronic music. At the same time, one mustn't be aware of music, nor natural sounds."
The journey to the Zone on a motorized draisine features a disconnection between the visual image and the sound. The presence of the draisine is registered only through the clanking sound of the wheels on the tracks. Neither the draisine nor the scenery passing by is shown, since the camera is focused on the faces of the characters. This disconnection draws the audience into the inner world of the characters and transforms the physical journey into an inner journey. This effect on the audience is reinforced by Artemyev's synthesizer effects, which make the clanking wheels sound less and less natural as the journey progresses. When the three arrive in the Zone initially, it appears to be silent. Only after some time, and only slightly audibly can one hear the sound of a distant river, the sound of the blowing wind, or the occasional cry of an animal. These sounds grow richer and more audible while the Stalker makes his first venture into the Zone, initially leaving the professor and the writer behind, and as if the sound draws him towards the zone. The sparseness of sounds in the zone draws attention to specific sounds, which, as in other scenes, are largely disconnected from the visual image. Animals can be heard in the distance but are never shown. A breeze can be heard, but no visual reference is shown. This effect is reinforced by occasional synthesizer effects which meld with the natural sounds and blur the boundaries between artificial and alien sounds and the sounds of nature.
After the three travelers appear from the tunnel, the sound of dripping water can be heard. While the camera slowly pans to the right, a waterfall appears. While the visual transition of the panning shot is slow, the aural transition is sudden. As soon as the waterfall appears, the sound of the dripping water falls off while the thundering sound of the waterfall emerges, almost as if time has jumped. In the next scene Tarkovsky again uses the technique of disconnecting sound and visual image. While the camera pans over the burning ashes of a fire and over some water, the audience hears the conversation of the Stalker and the Writer who are back in the tunnel looking for the professor. Finding the Professor outside, the three are surprised to realize that the have ended up at an earlier point in time. This and the previous disconnection of sound and the visual image illustrate the Zone’s power to alter time and space. This technique is even more evident in the next scene where the three travelers are resting. The sounds of a river, the wind, dripping water, and fire can be heard in a discontinuous way that is now partially disconnected from the visual image. When the Professor, for example, extinguishes the fire by throwing his coffee on it, all sounds but that of the dripping water fall off. Similarly, we can hear and see the Stalker and the river. Then the camera cuts back to the Professor while the audience can still hear the river for a few more seconds. This impressionist use of sound prepares the audience for the dream sequences accompanied by a variation of the Stalker theme that has been already heard during the title sequence.
During the journey in the Zone, the sound of water becomes more and more prominent, which, combined with the visual image, presents the zone as a drenched world. In an interview Tarkovsky dismissed the idea that water has a symbolic meaning in his films, saying that there was so much rain in his films because it is always raining in Russia. In another interview, on the film Nostalghia, however, he said "Water is a mysterious element, a single molecule of which is very photogenic. It can convey movement and a sense of change and flux." Emerging from the tunnel called the meat grinder by the Stalker they arrive at the entrance of their destination, the room. Here, as in the rest of the film, sound is constantly changing and not necessarily connected to the visual image. The journey in the Zone ends with the three sitting in the room, silent, with no audible sound. When the sound resumes, it is again the sound of water but with a different timbre, softer and gentler, as if to give a sense of catharsis and hope. The transition back to the world outside the zone is supported by sound. While the camera still shows a pool of water inside the Zone, the audience begins to hear the sound of a train and Ravel's Boléro reminiscent of the opening scene. The soundscape of the world outside the zone is the same as before, characterized by train wheels, foghorns of a ship and train whistles. The film ends as it began, with the sound of a train passing by, accompanied by the muffled sound of Beethoven's Ninth symphony, this time the Ode to Joy from the final moments of the symphony. As in the rest of the film the disconnect between the visual image and the sound leaves the audience in the unclear whether the sound is real or an illusion
The great Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky is one of the most difficult directors to grasp. A lot of people say his films are too slow, too long and need extensive trimming in several scenes. But they don't really 'see'
what the artist is trying to accomplish on the screen. I believe the films he makes which include philosophical and existential dialogue and long extensive takes make audiences relax, slow down and enter his world of complete meditation. For some of those shots that would seem like they go on for an unreasonable amount of time, people can either get bored or instead they can do as I believe Tarkovsky's intentions are during these slow periods and give our mind a time to consolidate what we've just seen, what we've just heard, and what we've just witnessed. It gives us a chance to look at ourselves and process it in terms of our own reflections.
Many viewers who aren't used to the works of Ingmar Bergman, Carl Theodor Dreyer, Robert Bresson or Yasujiro Ozu and are going into a Andrei Tarkovsky film wouldn't stand a chance of sitting through it. Tarkovsky had a profound undercurrent of spirituality and consciously embodied the idea of a Great Filmmaker, making works that were uncompromisingly serious and ambitious, with no regard whatever for the audience, what the audience wanted or box office records. Andrei Tarkovsky is considered the greatest director to have emerged from Russia since the great director Sergei Eisenstein, and the reason that his films are not as widely known is because they are the most abstract, meditative, exhaustive, metaphysical, intellectual films that stem closest to the literary definition of art.
All throughout his film-making career, Tarkovsky, having to deal with the constant struggles with the conservative Soviet regime, could make only a handful of movies, each of which can serve to be a live thesis on spiritualism and theology, all the while mastering the use of time and space, and expressing what many would think would be inexpressible in the cinema. Tarkovsky’s Cinema like Russian Literature has a close association with poetry. In fact, the best way to describe his films are... as poetry. Tarkovsky’s ability to create beautiful composition shots with gorgeous landscapes of nature and philosophical discussions on the existence of man brings a meditative dimension to his style of filmmaking. Tarkovsky, like any great artist, always strived for perfection and his uncompromising ambition. Tarkovsky was an artist that sculpted and created his own universe for himself and himself only, as he was known to be very direct and straightforward in matters that related to his films.
Tarkovsky's other thought-provoking masterpieces include one of my personal favorites Andrei Rublev which is on my top 10 films of all time which is about a painter in 15th century Russia who eventually loses his faith in his work. Too experimental, too frightening, too gory, and too politically complicated, it was not allowed to be released domestically in the officially atheist and authoritarian Soviet Union for years after it was completed except for a single screening in Moscow. His next project was the sci-fi classic Solaris which is commonly called Tarkovsky's reply to Stanley Kubrick's 2001: Space Odyssey. Both of those films involve similar themes of space journeys and encounters with unknown intelligence but Kubrick's film was more cold and disconnected where Tarkovsky's was more human and more in touch with each inhabitant. He then did a film called The Mirror which is a sort of labyrinth full of symbolism and dream imagery set in several different time lines of one persons life. His last two films were Nostalghia and The Sacrifice but unfortunately Tarkovsky died in his 50's after making only seven films. His last film The Sacrifice reflects Tarkovsky's large respect for the Swedish director Ingmar Bergman. It was set in Sweden on the island of Gotland, close to Fårö, where many of Bergman's films had been shot. He wanted to do it on Fårö, but was denied access by the military.
Andrei Tarkovsky's Stalker is one of his greatest artistic achievements. Like most of Tarkovsky’s work, it delves upon several themes dealing with Philosophy, Metaphysics, Empiricism, Existentialism and Spirituality. The theme that lies at the core of Stalker is self-confrontation as the three different characters in the story are forced to come to terms with their fears and the existential questions of their existence. Few director's have been confident enough to explore these universal questions of mankind besides for Carl Dreyer, Ingmar Bergman and Robert Bresson. When first released critics were mixed on its importance and what it was trying to say. Now Tarkovsky's Stalker is considered not only one of the finest works of art in cinema but one of the greatest and poetic science fiction films of all time.
The Zone is a bizarre and dangerous phenomenon that’s beyond human beings to comprehend. It contains supernatural attributes where the normal laws of physics no longer apply. Apparently, deep inside the Zone there is ‘the Room’ that has the power to fulfill the deepest desire of anyone who enters it. However, the Zone can only be entered with the help of a ‘Stalker’—a guide well acquainted with the treacherous ways of the Zone. The job of a stalker is to bypass the heavy security in order to take his clients inside the heart of the Zone all the way to 'the Room' in order to help them retrieve their innermost desires and wishes. The Stalker tells his clients that they must do exactly as he says to survive the dangers that lie ahead, which are invisible and reminds them of the conditions they had agreed upon when they hired him for his services.
The Stalker tests for danger by throwing metal nuts tied with strips of cloth ahead of him, which lets him no if it's safe to pass. The Stalker, also warns the men of the ever-changing, treacherous nature of the Zone and instructs them to religiously follow his orders if they want to get through it safely. He says that in the Zone, the longer the path one chooses, the lesser is the risk involved. It appears that the Room fulfills all of the wishes of the visitor, the problem being that these might not be the consciously expressed wishes, but the true unconscious ones.
The two clients The Stalker is guiding towards the Zone are the Writer and the Professor, each whom have their own motivations, and ideas on what they believe the Zone really is. With each step that they take which brings them closer towards 'the Room', the tension between the Stalker, the Writer and the Professor begins to build, as each starts to show his true nature and in intentions. The Stalker realizes during the film that the Writer has brought a handgun with him and demands that he get rid of it because its effects could be treacherous to them all.
The Writer usually is the one who is skeptical that there is any real danger and takes several risks, while the Professor generally follows the Stalker's advice. All three of them through all their constant bickering of different ideas and beliefs gets transformed into a fierce battle of ideologies as it gets increasingly impossible for them to withstand each other’s bitter company.
The Writer questions the Professor about the chaos created by the modern-day instruments while the Professor retorts by questioning the widely proclaimed truth and purity associated with art. The Stalker too offers a demonstration of his superior intellect by sharing his understanding of ‘Sense and Reason’ as the Professor and the Writer seem startled by his explanation. What ensues is a tedious game of chess between four seasoned players: the Writer, the Professor, the Stalker, and the Zone itself.
On a closer observation on the three characters, one finds that even though he makes money on people's misfortunes the Stalker is the most positive on life compared to the other two. Not just because of his sense of superiority for being a stalker, but because of a sense of hope that resides in him when giving others hope. He is yet still a tragic and somewhat pathetic character as well using The Zone as his one purpose for happiness and simply dismissing the love of his wife and daughter. The Writer, despite having enjoyed fame of being a writer seems to be the least confident of the three which is ironic since he seems to speak the most vocally about his personal philosophical opinions throughout the film.
The scene that really explore the Writer's self-doubt in himself and his life is the 'Meat Grinder' scene which is a long, dingy, claustrophobic, and dangerous tunnel inside the Zone, where he delivers a long monologue about the emptiness of his life and the meaninglessness of his work. "What hell of a writer am I if I hate writing? If it's a constant torment for me, a painful, shameful occupation. I used to think that someone would get better because of my books. Now nobody needs me."
The Professor, however, is the most cunning of the three and has an ulterior motive. He serves to be a real enigma by seeming more concerned about his knapsack then locating the Room. When they finally do reach the room his true self is revealed and he tells the other two he brought a bomb along which he kept hidden in his knapsack.
They're not many special effects in this film and the films tension comes from the hypnotic music, the hauntingly atmospheric locations and the audiences imagination which creates and constructs these dangers that are merely suggested. The Stalker score was composed by Eduard Artemyev, who had also composed the film scores for Tarkovsky's previous films Solaris and The Mirror. For Stalker Artemyev composed and recorded two different versions of the score. The first score was done with an orchestra alone but was rejected by Tarkovsky, and the second score that was used in the final film was created on a synthesizer along with traditional instruments that were manipulated using sound effects.
There are beautiful compositional shots throughout the film that uses Artemvev's brilliant and haunting score, which adds to the abnormal and abstractness of the environments. One sequence in particular is of bubbling melted ice and fire and a brilliant and deliberate long underwater tracking shot which contains syringes, guns, money and a discarded bolt, and witnessing these meditative and striking images along with the haunting and moody Artemvev is absolutely extraordinary. There are even subtle moments in the film where the wind picks up and the environment looks surreal like and wavy, and it's these small surreal moments that help create the film's unusual, odd and hypnotic environment.
There is one subtle shot in the film that does show the destructive power of the Zone and that's where several birds are flying through the environment and one completely disappears from the shot, which is probably what it looks like when you fall victim to the powers of the Zone.
There is also a mysterious black dog within the Zone that seems to follow the three men through their adventures and for whatever reason the men don't take notice to it. A lot of people have developed their own hypothesis on the meaning of this animal and many say the dog symbolizes fidelity which is loyalty, faithfulness, reliability, trustworthiness, dependability, devotion and commitment. Other's believe the dog represents the guardian of the Zone or even God himself who is watching over those he created.
A lot of people have questioned the Stalker's daughter "Monkey" and how she ended up being crippled and in the last shot of the film we see she also has the gift of Psychokinesis. (In the book, the Stalker has a daughter with light hair all over her body, while is why she is nicknamed "Monkey.) Many have come to the conclusion that working over the years within the Zone as a Stalker The Zone supernatural attributes allegedly effected the Stalker's biological genes and when he had Monkey, she came out deformed and with supernatural powers that originate from the Zone. The reason why I believe this theory is of sequence The Stalker, and his daughter walking home together is shot in color which is probably meant to show that their daughter has the unexplained power of the Zone which radiates outward through her genes.
Whenever experiencing a Tarkovsky film, sound is always an important key in the world Tarkovsky creates for us. When watching any of his seven films you really have to sit and listen because you can hear sounds that he greatly repeats in the backgrounds of all of his work. The soundtrack and its naturalistic sounds are an important function in Stalker, and is large part of Tarkovsky's full meditative effect. Tarkovsky films are something that when your going into you are expected to sit, wait and listen. A lot of his films have sounds of dripping of water or rain, the sound of owls, birds, the wind blowing, the birds chirping, dogs running, blowing leaves which are a key part when experiencing a Tarkovsky film.
When watching Stalker again I noticed a striking similarity with this story and the classic story of The Wizard of Oz. Dorothy, the Tin Man, the Scarecrow and the cowardly Lion all go on a journey together to meet the powerful Oz so they can each get their wishes granted which reflect each character's fears and faults as a person; and they even include a dog Toto who follows them along on their journey. The Wizard of Oz's color also changes tone from black and white and then into techno-color when Dorothy arrives in Oz; similar to the color changes between Stalker's real world and the world of the Zone. I don't know if the author of Roadside Picnic or if Tarkovsky ever purposely referenced ideas from that story but it's definitely an interesting parallel.
Stalker has one of the most infamous and debated endings in science fiction history. Monkey sits alone in the kitchen. She recites a poem by Fyodor Tyutchev and then lays her head on the table and appears to psychokinetically push three drinking glasses across the table, one after the other, with the last one falling off the edge of the table and onto the floor. After the third glass falls to the floor, a train passes by, causing the entire apartment to shake once again just like it did in the beginning of the film. Most people question what the philosophical significance of the three glasses are. Some believe they represent the Stalker, the writer and the professor. The table represents the Zone itself, and the daughter (Monkey) represents the strange forces that work in the Zone. The one glass that is pushed off the table could represent the Stalker. Based on his latest experiences in the Zone, he now has no desire to return and therefore lost all hope and is pushed off the table. Some even say the three glasses represent the three people in their family-- while the moving of the glass off the table is Monkey; which represents how she is destined to become estranged from the family and society. The greatest films are ones that are confident enough to ask questions and admit they don't have all the answers, because sometimes revealing the answers is a form of defeat. Films like Stalker is the type of film where audiences come away with different interpretations of its mysteries. Great art films are films that linger on long after a person has finished watching it so they can consulate and try to make sense out of what they just seen and how they feel. Tarkovsky films are difficult films to grasp and get through but are extremely rewarding in the end. Stalker is a hypnotic, powerful and meditative science fiction film that so beautifully filmed full of rich ideas of science, religion and philosophy that it is made not for the normal science fiction blockbuster watcher. In some ways I find this film less science fiction and more a spiritual drama and I would compare it to 2001: Space Odyssey and the short La Jette to be the greatest of all science fiction films because these are the few that transcends that genre of simple entertainment and become art as well.