Stalker ★★★★½

I would be hard-pressed to name any film that had better set/lighting design than this one. City of Lost Children and Tuvalu come to mind but Stalker may surpass even those. The sound design was just as fabulous, all industrial like with trains and pipes and leaking water. Spectacular. If the film had no story, if it had no characters, it would still be a feast for the senses.

The story is simple enough. A journalist and a scientist are being led by a guide (the stalker) into The Zone, an uninhabited place where few people visit and when they do they don't return. The way the journey is portrayed is nothing short of brilliant. It is edge of seat suspense throughout most of the film's duration, and all that suspense comes from not knowing where the characters are headed or what dangers they may face. There are no bogeymen here. All the dangers are alluded to by the stalker, and we believe him. We watch as the three men walk no more than 30 metres at a time, fearing traps and disaster, making their way towards an unknown place where they may find peace. It truly is amazing how their voyage turns out to be so suspenseful.

The voyage is intermingled with some beautiful reflections on the nature of man, cynicism, hope, and man's ability to destroy. At some points the philosophy lessons can become a bit tiresome, though. I lost my concentration somewhere near the 2 hour mark, just after the phone call (which was deliciously absurd), when there were altogether too many speeches all at once. Up to that moment I adored the film. It took me a good 15 minutes to re-engage but I was never as captivated as I was previously.

This film will be about which ever philosophical nugget held your attention the most. For me it was the Stalker's final words, where he comes to understand that intellectuals who spout ideas about anguish and despair and hope know nothing of it because their cynicism or analytic theories prevent them from being afraid. They are the walking dead. They have no reason to hope and no reason to believe it exists, even when faced with its possibility. It was an especially nice touch to show that the Stalker may be more well-read than those intellectuals he brought on the journey.

If faced with the possibility of making your most fundamental wish come true, not the one you shout about or the one that cost a penny, but the one that defines you, the one you may not know about, would you take it?

Part of the Sunday Mornings with Coffee series.

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