Stalker ★★★★½

There are plenty of reviews that cover Stalker in detail, so I want to look at two under analyzed aspects of the film here, rather than the entirety of the film. That said, I want to give a special shoutout to Oob's review, which perfectly captures the Sisyphean experience of getting through Stalker (aka The Train Movie). The narcoleptic effect of the film that Oob describes was entirely my experience, too.

Penultimate Scene: The enigmatic final shot of Stalker has, rightly, received ample critical and scholarly attention, but few writers have touched on the scene of Stalker's wife that precedes it. Immediately distinct from the rest of the film, the character directly addresses the camera. Who is she speaking to? Diegetically, the possibilities are limited to the Zone Dog and, maybe, Monkey. However, both seem unlikely for reasons related to the content of the monolog, location, and logic of the world. Given the drifting, embodied quality of the camerawork throughout the film (making it a fourth member of the expedition), what actually seems the most likely is that she is speaking directly to the viewer, to the camera, breaking the fourth wall. While that might seem unusual (everything is unusual in Stalker), there are some justifications for it throughout the film.

For one, Stalker undoubtedly qualifies as theater of the absurd, (specifically akin to Beckett's Waiting for Godot), with emphasis on the theatrical aspect. The structure of the film is largely comprised of existential dialogues between performers, with more emphasis put on their interaction with each other rather than with the set. While the alien landscapes, meticulous set design, and traversal of the environment are integral to the film - regularly praised more than the script - the props and "sets" are minimalist; a phone, a motorized hand car, a chair, and so on. Even though the mise-en-scène within the film is stunning, one could imagine a Dogville-esque version that pares everything down to the three performers, interactive props, and bare backdrops, yet retains the same dialog and themes. In that context, the soliloquy given by Stalker's wife no longer seems that out of place. The film's narrative has also - like the Stalker, himself - left her and Monkey behind in the first act. Voicing her internal thoughts is a way of commandeering the narrative. She speaks about how even though Stalker's devout faith and obsession with The Zone has caused her immense grief, she has never wavered in her commitment to him. In a way, that is her own faith, even if a subtler, less fanatical version in comparison to Stalker's. These sentiments also make for a fitting segue into the final shot of Monkey. Both members of Stalker's family have been overlooked and ignored in favor of his faith in The Zone. Yet, what Tarkovsky might be implying is that Stalker need not venture so far from the home to find grace; especially in the case of Monkey, it's right there. And, yet, in regards to both Monkey and his wife, both are being overlooked.

Water: Whether as rain, rivers, puddles, pools, or mist, water exists as an omnipresent motif throughout the film. Among the various instances, one of the most notable is the steady tracking shot that moves from Stalker's unconscious body up a tranquil stream and the various items at rest within it. At the point in the film where the shot takes place, the characters are in The Zone, but a switch from the color film stock back to the black and white that signifies the industrialized dystopia outside The Zone suggests we are in Stalker's dream. While the entire film is oneiric, the upward trajectory of the camera past Stalker's head to the stream, the monochromatic film stock, and arrangement of the props within the water distinguishes it. In that context, the stream almost becomes Stalker's consciousness or unconsciousness spilling out of him. The syringes, gun, watch parts, coins, and biblical artwork become stray thoughts encased in the amber-like liquid.

Extending past that shot, the water's domination of the landscape - pooling over the man-made structures - not only suggests an idea of nature's dominance over the man-made structures, but a glassy, ethereal dreamscape spreading outward. The auditory drips and gurgling of the rain, streams, and rivers even become rhythmically soporific. The Zone is purposefully liminal, but, ultimately, the cityscape blends together with it; the scene described above suggests the dystopia infiltrating The Zone, just as the color cinematography of Monkey suggests The Zone expanding outward. That is to say, like bodies of water, there is flow and combination. It is equally fitting then that, as the trio sits at the precipice of The Room, a rainstorm breaks out inside the confines of the building; the outside has moved in, the interior consciousness has become exterior, and conflict has settled to peaceful contemplation. Whatever The Zone - whether nuclear wasteland, alien crash site, dreamscape, faith made manifest, or unrestrained nature - is expanding. If Stalker's final bedridden cries, his wife's turn to the camera for an outlet, and Monkey's apathetic, dead stare in the face of extraordinary powers suggest anything, it's that no one will notice.

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