Mirror ★★★★★

I had an interesting dream about a week ago. In the dream, I had recorded Stalker on TV and turned the recording on to see if it worked. It showed a girl running through wet, sepia-tinted grasslands and screaming for several minutes before 'STALKER' appeared on the screen. Aside from the atmosphere, that has nothing to do with the real film, yet I've been dying to rewatch Stalker and Mirror since then. Strange what meaningless dreams can do.

My first viewing of Mirror was rather tiresome. I understood very little, and I even sped up some scenes. My 4-star rating did not reflect my actual enjoyment at all, but I gave it 4 stars regardless. Perhaps I partially felt obliged to give it a good rating because of its status in cinema history. But also because I did see a lot more in there. I felt that it was my problem, that I was somehow missing the key to unlocking such a vastly complex film. Maybe it's a weak mindset to have - trying hard to enjoy acclaimed films just because they are acclaimed. However, my opinion has always been that acclaimed films are acclaimed for a reason, and Mirror is not the type of film I'd dismiss as "overrated" because of my own shortcomings as a viewer. And I was right. It is exceptional in every way. Watching this on a computer screen while sitting upright in a chair, as I did a few months ago, would be setting yourself up for a disappointment. Mirror, one of the most visually exceptional and immersive experiences, needs to be watched on the biggest screen you own.

Mirror is a difficult film that demands a lot from the viewer. The adjective most commonly used in reviews to describe it is "poetic". It truly is. Tarkovsky creates an unparalleled narrative structure, one that flows like a stream of thoughts - not just non-linearly but almost entirely unrestrained by plot and time. The premise of the film is a dying man recollecting his memories, thoughts and dreams. The scenes with an unseen man talking to his wife take place in the present. The rest is moments from the past and dream sequences. Some people say how this isn't a film you need to understand, how subjectively experiencing it through its personal and powerful imagery is enough to maximize your enjoyment. I don't think that is 100% true. My opinion is that Mirror benefits from a rewatch after an analysis or at least some sort of explanation. Understanding what's going on is pivotal to fully connect with a film so deeply rooted in emotions. The first time I watched it, I had no semblance of understanding any of the events. I had no clue which parts were memories or who the main character is, I didn't realise the scenes were jumping from one point in time to another, and I wasn't even aware the wife and the mother are played by the same actress. I don't regret my first viewing being a complete failure because few films are more rewarding with a rewatch. I recommend reading some explanations to anyone whose first introduction to Mirror was similar to mine. One may use its inaccessibility and lack of explanations/exposition as criticism, but to make it more easily graspable would be to impair its unique cinematic language.

It's easy to appreciate the filmmaking in Mirror without understanding anything. The camerawork is phenomenal beyond words. The burning house scene is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful shots in all of cinema. Tarkovsky films the dream sequences with lots of slow-motion and a camera moving as gracefully as you'll ever see. I still consider Vertigo's dream sequence the best I have seen, but Mirror has several which are almost just as good. Incredibly surreal and ethereal, most of them have many characteristics of a nightmare but are far more enchanting than scary. The ones with the mother rising up in slow motion after washing her hair and levitating on the bed look straight out of a horror film, but Tarkovsky makes them unmistakably serene and beautiful. My favourite was the forest and the table moving in the wind, and the shot of the trees and a piece of white fabric by the house drifting in the wind as rain starts pouring down from the same sequence. Some of the most beautiful and poetic filmmaking I've ever come across. The sound design is fantastic throughout the whole film, and never has the wind been better utilized for beauty than in Mirror.

For the majority of the runtime, I thought the film was brilliant but wouldn't have placed it in 'one of the best ever' category. Then came the ending, possibly the most outstanding achievement ever accomplished with a camera and music. I've seen hundreds of films and other pieces of media and never even shed a tear because of one. Mirror's ending made me sob like a kid for the first time in years. Nothing can be more touching and heartfelt than memories of happy childhood moments and the relationship of a parent and children. And no one has ever perfected it like Andrei Tarkovsky did. I'm going to describe what happens in the ending now. I wouldn't consider this as a spoiler as this film cannot be 'spoiled', but here's a warning anyways.

As the film nears its seemingly bleak end with a doctor talking about the man's illness, we get a shot of the main character's lower half lying in what is presumably his death bed. Tarkovsky has one more ace up his sleeve. The dying man says "Everything will be alright", and the film cuts to a beautiful shot of nature. His young parents are in the next frame, and his father asks his mother if she would rather have a boy or a girl. The next shot shatters all notions of memories and dreams, of the past and the present, and we see the aged mother walking with her kids, but they are still kids. We get glimpses of the ruins of the house, and they walk behind the young mother in the same frame.

We don't know if this is the mother's imagination after her husband asks her the question, or if its a childhood memory of Alexei, who wants his now damaged relationship with his mother to become what it was when he was a child, that he recollects with his mother replaced with the current, old version of her. Or both, or neither. It doesn't matter; it can be whatever you want it to be, whatever memories and experiences you project onto it. Astonishingly powerful music plays while the gorgeous cinematography slowly pulls us back into the dark forest, and the screen fades to black. Few, if any, films have ended with something more moving, and it is as close to a life-changing scene as anything can ever be.

If you've seen Mirror and didn't like it, give it another chance. As I'm writing this review, Mirror sits at #94 place on my diary ranking list. After I'm done, I will move it to the top 10, and I still feel like I didn't get everything out of it and already looking forward to a rewatch.
Full of memories and dreams juxtaposed with cold reality, interlaced with Arseny Tarkovsky's brilliant poems and stock footage, directed to perfection, and culminating in the most moving ending ever filmed, it is a dreamy work like no other.


Diary ranked | Best film endings | Top 20

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