Stalker ★★★★½

For Darren Carver-Balsiger

No other filmmaker developed a deliberately slow and challenging style with great success quite like Andrei Tarkovsky. Very frequently cited as one of the finest directors of Soviet cinema, he has grown as an arthouse legend and many people are unafraid to champion any of his seven feature-length films as the best films they've ever seen. This legacy would have to wait past his life, as Tarkovsky was a constant victim of censors at the time due to his persistence in exploring questions that examines the nature of humanity in his films, questions that would threaten the dogma of the Union. Stalker is one such example, examining the existential dread of being left with ones psychology trying to understand our placement in the universe, in a place that might ignore the rules that bind us here. The third Tarkovsky film I've laid eyes onto (first two being the great Solaris and the good Andrei Rublev), and quite possibly his greatest work, though there are some other potential contenders for that claim.

Much like Solaris, Tarkovsky views the world of science fiction closer to the realm of scientific accuracy rather than standard speculation, even when his (or the authors behind each work) own creations defy such realism. There are no flying saucers or any extravagant sights, only the mysterious Zone, an area with vaguely terrifying powers and a room that gives ones innermost desires. There is a level of fear and uncertainty towards the strange, morphing reality within, and this is shown through the sepia-tone of the surrounding town and the fully detailed color of the Zone itself. Those that venture into it, in this case The Stalker, Writer and Professor, are blind to the ever-shifting journey into the land and their soul, and this is masterfully done through a railroad speeder's wheels and gears shifting in sound and becoming more alien and electronic in their sound, the first hint at the foreboding journey.

As our protagonists learn, their biggest threat is not so much the Zone itself, but the psychological warfare that our main three allow themselves to fight, in a manner ambiguous towards whether this is due to their paranoia or the extraterrestrial landscape. The Stalker, consistently worried over the Zone's powers, becomes the superego of the group in his self-destruction towards guiding those that seem doomed in their quest for happiness, concerning in his contentedness with the Zone given his own teacher's downfall with it. Both the Writer and Professor showcase the flaws with logic and intuition in a land that doesn't seem to care for either, and both men find themselves despondent and losing reason towards their purpose in their goal, the Writer eventually engaging in a long, self-critical monologue at his most hopeless detailing the frustrations in the act of creation and the audience that doesn't care (possibly mirroring Tarkovsky's own viewpoint on his film audience, as well as the State Committees and government that filtered his art).

Stalker does a lot that will alienate its less intrepid viewers, what with the numerous long takes that mean any shot has a fair chance of lasting five minutes, and the very, very ambiguous nature and conclusion that signals its importance in uncertainty. Within, however, lies absolutely stunning cinematography of the dueling nature and decrepit interiors of the Zone, fascinating philosophies on the meaning of life and the soul of humanity with enough awareness to know we can't answer the deep questions we ask, and a bit of religious imagery and text (primarily the striking use of Revelations 6) to chew on. It's not without its frustrations (I'd be lying if I said I didn't start to check out during the final monologue of the film), though its rewards are nothing short of masterful in its incisive introspection and the fears we have the potential to launch onto ourselves. A stellar film that's earned it's high acclaim on this site for damn good reasons (despite the long groans throughout the site once the Brazilian movie that shall not be named overtook it).

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