Stalker ★★★★

Early in Los Angeles Plays Itself, Thom Anderson laments what he sees as a consistent desecration of the city's space. When he says "Silly geography makes for silly movies" he seems to suggest that Los Angeles is uniquely disrespected. There's truth to this, of course, but I think the medium of film, in general, is conducive to a lack of spatial harmony. Competent filmmakers work through this obstacle, and foster a sense of space. Some revel in film's disorienting nature, and use it to comment on the geographic fluidity of modern capitalism's power. (Assayas and Mann) Not many use it to underscore a dramatic fiction, though. Once the protagonists in Stalker reach the zone, they are taught that they must abandon their traditional understanding of space. Stalker tells Writer and Professor that they can't go back the way they came, because the space is constantly changing. Similarly, they should resist the urge to travel in direct lines. In this universe, the scenic route is also the safest one.

For most people, the spatial elements in Stalker are peripheral details. The Zone's atypical geography is more an element of suspense, a fitting backdrop for a film whose weighty discussions are often presented with the hint of a thrilling adventure narrative. Professor goes against Stalker's advice at one point. He does go back the way he came, in order to retrieve his napsack. He manages to find his way back to the group, unharmed. This is a film about faith, and a major facet of faith is the troubling possibility that our leap is actually just bullshit. The world we grow up in (and into) tells us that in order to protect ourselves, we should probably be skeptical, if not cynical. In the Zone, the opposite happens. Stalker speaks of respecting the space, a faith in its power, in order to survive it.

Space, as we experience it in our own corporeal form, is actually more in step with the Zone than it isn't. As we inhabit it, we subconsciously recreate it. We may walk in public with the same fearful respect that Stalker speaks of, but it is also easier for us to disregard those limitations, at least in a temporary way. Jaywalking is note quite breaking free from the rules of space, as much as it just playing into them. (Organizing and demonstrating in the middle of streets is maybe closer to how the Professor "breaks" the rules here) Stalker is not entirely unlike Bunuel's Exterminating Angel, both films use film's disorienting potential to restrict the literal movements of its characters. Our frustration with the characters' lack of mobility exemplifies film's illogical restrictions. For a film about faith, Tarkovsky asks for the viewer's own faith in respecting the dramatic elements of the space. He also thrives on our skepticism, maybe it says something about me that I relate to the boozehound Writer, but I am similarly skeptical of the Zone's power. Revealing "our deepest desires" might be a harrowing thing to confront, but it might also be underwhelming.

Tarkovsky has never been a favorite of mine, and at times I feel the way about his films the way Writer feels about the Zone. His best-looking films are the ones in which he collaborated with Vadim Yusov. Their partnership dissolved following Solaris. Additionally, that film might be one that achieves a balance between the visceral nature of personal devastation with heavier philosophical longings. Mirror is as personal as anything he made, and yet I often wonder what it would have looked like shot in scope by Yusov. (It probably would have looked a lot like Sukorov's Days of Eclipse) Stalker is a extension of the unique aesthetic achieved in that film, and it works better for the full frame ratio. Maybe it's because there's less poetry from Tarkovsky's father here, but this film feels tied to the textures of the Earth even when it attempts to transcend it. The Zone might be of a different universe, but it is one bursting with brutally rich and delicately grotesque details.

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