James’s review published on Letterboxd:
This film is so ambiguous and open ended thematically that just about everyone takes something different away from it. I've taken the standpoint that overall, Tarkovsky was reflecting on how unknowable his god is. I'm not religious but I admire the way Tarkovsky explores religious themes in his films - rather than spite the agnostic or the atheist for not believing, for not rigidly conforming to his views, he instead empathises with this line of thought, he confronts the battle with faith, acknowledging that even for a man who believes in God, there are challenges and frustrations to be reconciled with.
The vagueness and elusiveness of the story echoes this. There's no real conclusion to to the film, but that's the point. Why would there be? It's a film about questions that don't have answers, so of course there can't be answers. By the end of it all, the characters have receded, they have given up on their ideals, resigned to the fact that some things, whether material or metaphysical, will always be out of reach. It's the step you take in becoming an adult - accepting you will always never know. It's cold, and it's depressing, but it's the truth, and it's weirdly satisfying to submerge yourself in it.
There's a prominent user on this website whose constant ideological ravings - articulate but superficial and clearly troubled - have caused concern to me. This user is known for instantly blocking anyone who dissents against them, which is a lot of people, in between the user's ridiculous claims such as that La La Land is "white supremacist propaganda" or that Zootopia glorifies imperialism. I myself lost patience at a review that described Saving Private Ryan as "pro war", a statement so absurd and objectively untrue that I exclaimed "ffs" in a comment. I was blocked approximately three nanoseconds later. I kind of wish I had held my tongue, you only get one shot to really articulate your frustration, and I wasted mine.
And no doubt there is a lot of frustration, this user can write evocatively, they use big words, they appear to know what they are talking about - and it fools a lot of people. But it only takes a modicum of critical thought to see between the lines, to pick out what doesn't make sense. The pretension that this user is enlightened and intellectual and introspective in spite of spewing detritus on this website non-stop is astounding. I try to ignore it, but it can be challenging, also because Letterboxd doesn't see the necessity in adding filters to activity feeds - so even though I have no recourse against this user I am exposed to their torrent of sludge on a regular basis. Sigh.
Nonetheless, here comes the chance I should have waited for. This user reviewed Stalker, and their review is so offensive that I cannot live with myself if I did not rebuke it, even if in my own space. This user uses the film as a platform to validate their own ideological convictions, and claims that Stalker is proof that the (no doubt utopian) Soviet Union totally didn't suppress people's freedom of expression, as apparently a film so thoughtful would have been censored by a lesser regime. I wonder how Andrei Tarkovsky himself would react to such a statement, considering his greatest ever film - and one of the greatest films ever made for that matter - was hacked apart by the censorship board and only belatedly reassembled in full form decades later. Hmm.
And that's just a film that he was able to finish! Did everyone know that there were numerous films that he started production on, but then got harassed out of producing by the government? Please keep this in mind when you pretend to be enlightened by praising Tarkovsky - he only ever made seven films, but it would have been more if it weren't for the Soviet Union. This came to a head in the early eighties when he actually left the country to get away from the constant harassment that he was subjected to as an artist. Tarkovsky flourished in spite of the Soviet Union, not because of it.
You need to understand the context of Stalker. How everything looks downtrodden and careworn isn't just a product of his direction or the production design, it's simply how things were in that country, in that time. The rampant poverty and misery of the Soviet Union taints his entire body of work, like a disease, a plague, an affliction. With Stalker, he chose to work with it, to make it part of the story, but for other films it was not so useful. And be aware: The dystopian backdrop of this film wasn't just a fiction - it was a reality, Stalker was literally shot on the site of a chemical environmental disaster, and exposure to excessive pollution was no doubt the cause of the cancer that ended up killing him.
I consider myself far-left, whatever the fuck that means these days thanks to these fringe lunatics, but there are lines to be drawn. I don't consider the Soviet Union as a full representation of the strengths or weaknesses of communist or socialist ideals, but there is no doubt that it was a dictatorship that caused massive suffering and death for millions of people. To excuse this, to look past it, to deny it just because it does not fall in line with your political values is cowardly, dishonest and fucking disgusting. And to use this film, a film about the unknowable, the subjective, the elusive truths of the world - as a platform for you to champion your moral absolutist ideological world-view, you haven't just missed the entire fucking point of the film, but you've also gone directly against what it was trying to teach us. Shame on you.