kins e’s review published on Letterboxd:
"May everything come true. May they believe. And may they laugh at their passions."
One of the most surprising discoveries I have made about myself is the love I have for ambiguous cinema. It has only been within the past year that I have started exploring stories of mystery - stories that lack a clear plot, go at an achingly slow pace, and are filled to the brim with monologues and philosophical questions. Making connections, realisations, and theories about art is something I consider both a hobby and a passion. This means it was only a matter of time before I watched Stalker.
I have heard so many descriptions of this movie: masterpiece, boring, beautiful, slow, intelligent, pretentious, confronting, ugly, philosophical, pointless. It has always intimidated me, much like famous classics such as Seven Samurai and Autumn Sonata have always intimidated me, but I finally tackled it.
"When a man thinks of the past, he becomes kinder."
Stalker is not perfect. The biggest issue I have is with the sound design. At the beginning of the movie, our main character is walking on hardwood floors as a train passes, and the sound of the creaky floors is almost unbearably loud and uncomfortable. At first I assumed this was intentional, a stylistic choice to enhance the experience, but the sound design only continued to decline in quality. I could hardly hear our characters speak but had to turn down the volume whenever they sobbed. Their breathing was louder than their words. The sound of water splashing and the rushing waves was almost comically aggressive. Considering that for most of the movie we are at quite a distance from the characters, the sound did not match the camera's location. It was so uncomfortable that I had to take off my headphones and listen through my laptop's speakers.
My second complaint is the camerawork, although this is more of a personal preference than a true critique. I love to be fully immersed into a story to the point where I forget I am watching a movie. Unfortunately, the constant shift in focus, zooming in, and occasionally shaky photography was distracting and clinical. I did not expect this from a film that has long, uninterrupted takes - something I usually adore - but I disliked how Stalker was recorded.
Stalker is also really, really slow. So slow that it's hard to care. So slow it's difficult to pay attention to the long but far-between monologues. So slow it required effort to keep myself interested in the story.
However, these complaints are minor when compared to the story that lies beneath the technicalities. It's impossible to understand but open to endless interpretation. Stalker begs the audience to look for the why. Information on the characters, location, and history is withheld, leaving a film shrouded in mystery. You are only given what you are needed. The rest is up to you. I have decided to focus on the characters for my first attempt at explaining Stalker's purpose.
"You can't be happy at the expense of other's unhappiness."
We open and close with the Stalker's home. It is a humble place, next to a railroad, and houses the Stalker, his wife, and his daughter. I only mention his home because it is very simple. The Stalker does not appear to have a lot of money. While one could certainly argue that he has taken on the job of a Stalker to afford this lifestyle, I would argue against this. I believe the Stalker has accepted this lifestyle, this mediocre home, in order to pursue a career as a Stalker. It is clear his wife is unhappy with his vocation, which only reinforces my stance that he does his work out of passion instead of a means to an end. No, the Stalker does not care about money or items. He only takes what he needs to survive. I believe the Stalker represents the natural altruism of the human spirit. Several reviews and essays I have read about Stalker say it is never explained why this man does this job, but I completely disagree. He explains his passion several times. He is a deeply unhappy man who has suffered, and he only wants to give people the opportunity to be happier than he has been. The Stalker understands what it feels like to be numb with pain and apathy. He has taken on this career simply to help others avoid his own fate. Unfortunately, in his efforts to bring others joy, he has condemned himself to a lifetime of misery and risk. He may lead others to happiness, but he will never find his own.
"My dear, the world is so unutterably boring. There's no telepathy, no ghosts, no flying saucers. They can't exist. The world is ruled by cast-iron laws. These laws are not broken. They just can't be broken. Don't hope for flying saucers. That would be too interesting."
While the Stalker is a character of blind altruism and faith, the Writer is one of philosophy. He asks complex questions and while some of it comes from a natural curiosity, it comes off as pretentious. He is intelligent, yes, but he also needs everyone to notice him. The Writer asks questions and argues theories not because he is genuine, but because he craves the validation of being the smartest. He believes intelligence comes from questioning everything and considering different perspectives. While he understands his interpretation may not necessarily be correct, he believes his ability to complicate and appreciate several different viewpoints gives him an intelligence beyond science or reason. He is right - there is a beauty to questions and interpretations. However, not everyone wants to be philosophical all the time. Sometimes, A + B is just C. The Writer gets so lost in his passion that he often forgets reality.
"Why don't you teach me the meaning of life and, at the same time, how to think?"
The polar opposite of the Writer, the Professor is a man of logic. He looks at facts and figures and does not question them. To him, everything has a reason and that reason can be explained. A miracle is simply science that is not yet understood. He believes people are either good or bad, something he mentions several times, and that the world must be protected from the will of evil. The Professor wishes to use his acquired intelligence from years of research and scientific study to minimise the risk of evil entering the world. To him, there is no point arguing the facts. His intelligence is not questionable - he is always right because he has the science to prove it, and he doesn't understand why others don't always agree with him. He thinks with his head, not his heart, but ignoring instincts in favour of facts can often be just as fatal.
The relationship between the Professor and the Writer is one of conflict. Both believe they are the smartest man in the room, and this leads to a power dynamic that is unsure which to put on top. The one thing they have in common is their mutual belief that they are smarter than the Stalker, better than him in every way. They are willing to pay for his help but question his every move and scold his profession. These two men are so intelligent, so well-researched, that they have forgotten the simplicity of humanity. They cannot grasp that the Stalker only wants to help others and reinforce his own faith. To them, everything must have a reason or an explanation, and it has made them extremely cynical.
All three men share hope. It is their reason for making the journey, their reason for putting up with each other, and their reason for taking the risk. Their hope is shown in different ways but it is a shared aspect of humanity. They are miserable, and they want a better life. Stalker explores the motivation that comes from hope and the costs associated with it.
Despite everything I have said here, I must admit I do not understand this movie. I never will. Stalker is a mystery, a question of human nature, and I relish in unraveling it.