Stalker ★★★★★

Tarkovsky's Solaris is one of the great sci-fi films of all time, but in some ways Stalker surpasses it. Not that it's an easy film... even more languid and minimal than Solaris, Stalker's impact derives more from what's going in in your head than what's onscreen and as such it demands some effort on the viewer's part. On the surface it appears to be a brutally depressing retelling of The Wizard of Oz, right down to the monochromatic introduction and coda. There are no traditional sci-fi elements to speak of (no special effects, no rockets, no aliens ... it's all imagination and faith. In fact, any student filmmaker could probably do his own version of this story with little more than a couple of friends and access to a run-down industrial area). The real magic here is a masterful blend of thoughtful and evocative dialog, a capable cast and superb cinematography. The entire film is composed of shots that are haunting, compelling and beautiful, for all their ugliness. One would be hard pressed to find a single scene that doesn't bear evidence of pollution and decay (and in fact, the toxic environment may have caused the death of several cast and crew, including Tarkovsy himself), yet each and every shot still manages an almost mesmerizing attraction.

As beautiful as it is, the real importance of this film for most people will be in the narrative. The political, social and spiritual allegory staggers the spirit, and I suspect I'll be watching this film a few more times before I arrive at even some partial sense of satisfaction in terms of understanding. Great films give you something different each time you revisit them and I can't help but feel that Stalker must be one of the best in this respect. And yet in spite of the thoughtful questions it poses, it remains an inviting experience... it seems to inspire a sense of curiosity and reflection rather than confusion. On the other hand, the film is not what I would call comfortable... it still challenges you at every turn, it just manages to do so without heavy-handed aggressiveness or confrontation.

This isn't a film I would recommend to everyone, it's certainly not for those who look to film simply for entertainment. However, for anyone who is looking for an experience rather than a show, you've come to the right place.

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