Stalker ★★★★★

The Tarkovsky Rewatch: #5

It's a difficult thing to argue that something is your favorite, or the best, film ever made. How can I possibly say that this is the pinnacle of what a movie can be? Does this really capture the essence of the art form better than any other of its kind? I've long held that Stalker is my favorite movie. By now, it's more of an impulse decision than a carefully considered choice. After all this time of watching and loving it, how do I put into words (hopefully concisely) how I feel about this movie?

It all comes down to this: in Stalker, Andrei Tarkovsky finally perfects his bleakly hopeful vision of the world. The style that he had spent over 10 years carefully cultivating has finally culminated in this. Stalker is the best expression of Tarkovsky's eye for science fiction, his eye for existentialism, and his eye for human drama. He understands the world just as well as he understands individuals, and both are on full display in Stalker.

I think at its core Stalker is about our relationship with ourselves. Searching deep within, can we ever really find who we are? If we ever find it, will we like what we see? Tarkovsky's answer appears to be a definitive no. The Room represents the untraceable thing about ourselves that we are constantly searching but never really wanting to find. The indefinable greed and inhumanity that lies at the core of all of us. In Tarkovsky's eyes, we are not usually what we want to be. We are simply what we are.

These themes are rendered with a level of visual precision I have yet to see in any other movie. Whether in aged, golden black & white or full color, Tarkovsky's vision of Russia is bleak and stark. He lives in the midtones and the shadows. The texture of every surface is coarse and hard, until we get to the Zone, where things tend to soften up. Stalker has some of the best shots in cinema history. Just the locales are iconic enough - the dunes, the moon-like well, the shadowy tunnel, and on and on. It is Tarkovsky and no doubt his cinematographer(s) that give it the undeniable beauty that we see on screen, though. Their work has produced a thing of incredible beauty, with marvelous frames that could easily hang aside a Monet or Renoir.

And the script - boy oh boy, the script. It's incredibly dense, for one thing. One second, they'll be talking about how to get to the next point in their journey. The next, they'll be discussing the meaning of life or walking in silence as an omniscient voice quotes poetry about the meaning of life. Every moment is so thought provoking on its own, but when put together, these scenes give Stalker a sense of worldly weight like no other. It is both moving and calming. Ultimately, though, it just keeps me thinking.

Stalker is the best example of a film that has every bit of depth in character, dialogue, narration, and theme as any novel. Just as any shot in Stalker could go toe to toe with paintings of the Louvre, lines from this film could easily be found in a Camus or (dare I say it?) Dostoyevsky. This is brilliant, seminal, career-defining and cinema-defining work. I write with such extremes because it's the only language I can use to express my love for Stalker. It's really the best movie I've ever seen.

Watched on Blu-Ray (Personal Collection).

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