Darren Carver-Balsiger’s review published on Letterboxd:
I saw this at Leeds International Film Festival 2017 at a retrospective screening.
I think I need to be honest with myself: Stalker is probably my #1 movie of all time. It's not the most perfect, or the one that makes me the most emotional, or even the one which most impresses me. But it's the film that most flies around my head, that most inspires how I look at other art, and that most impacts my own writing. Every single watch is more rewarding than the last, and seeing Stalker on a huge screen really made me realise just how awe-inspiringly brilliant it is.
There's many surprising things about Stalker. The first is the mysterious Zone at the centre of the story. The novel (which is weaker) explicitly hypothesises the Zone to be of extra-terrestrial origin, leftovers from a "roadside picnic". In the film however, there is no such clarity. Personally, I'm increasingly convinced that the Zone (or at least the Room) is a substitute for God. It's unknowable by science, too unfathomable to be comprehended, and too dangerous to not believe in. It provokes hope in the unhappy, anger in the academics, and obedience in the afraid. The discussion on whether or not the Zone is good is a ripe one. Perhaps it is good for some, and bad for others. Perhaps the few who find happiness and sanctuary within it are reason enough to appreciate what it offers. As an atheist, I've never understood why people choose to believe in any faith, but no other work of art comes as close to explaining it to me as Stalker. I think I understand why the stalker acts as he does and why he finds solace in something that is demonstrably willing to kill, torture, and corrupt. My rational mind may side with the two academics, but my heart and soul feel more strongly for the stalker.
It's also noteworthy that Stalker seems to be the only Tarkovsky movie with some concept of class division. It discusses the immorality and failures of the intelligentsia, the elites, and the faithless. Whether this is a damning indictment of the Soviet Union or of the bourgeoise is more open to interpretation however.
Stalker is not perfect (although the first and final forty minutes might well be) but I find it incredibly cathartic in how it allows me to think about so many ideas in so many beautiful ways. Over the summer I wrote a feature-length script that was essentially a riff on Stalker (except it was also about teenage depression and sexual frustration) and there's nothing I can write which is comparable to the majesty of Stalker. Its wonder has massively impacted my life.
Also, the final twenty minutes is nothing but perfect shots, culminating in two of the best long takes in history.
See my previous review for more analysis.
Note: Since writing this review, I couldn't quite bring myself to put Stalker #1 on my favourites list (rewatching clips of 2001: A Space Odyssey made me realise I still love that movie the most) but it is a very close #2.