Stalker ★★★★★

This is the Tarkovsky I've been waiting for.

As conceptually interesting as Solaris and visually stunning as Andrei Rublev were, there was something missing; a connection to the story and characters that sucked me into the world, that made me desperate to discover the 'why' instead of just going along for the ride. Here, in Stalker, I got my wish - an apocalyptic fairy tale with characters I could understand and a true sense that Tarkovsky is, indeed, one of the greats and can produce a film I instantly want to return to; love at first sight. After a good night's sleep, my brain is still bouncing off the walls about it, so instead of coherency, here's two of the ideas that are gnawing at me - hopefully another watch will settle me down so I can actually organize them into some kind of connected train (hah) of thought:

*****

Stalker can be enjoyed purely as a retelling of The Wizard of Oz, which helps it become more relatable for all its psychological and spiritual meanderings. The most obvious relation is the use of drab, sepia-toned scenes outside of The Zone, and full color scenes within. But there are plenty of other connections as well. After falling into a bed of flowers, much like the field of poppies, the group travel to The Zone on a railcart - the journey there is kept out of focus and fuzzy, and they keep looking around and around, recalling a certain dust-basin twister. There is no literal Yellow-Brick Road, but the group finds their path by throwing bits of metal. There is no personified Wicked Witch, but fear, doubt, and purported 'deathtraps' assails the group at every turn, always urging them to turn back. The Room is the end goal, the mythical chamber of Oz the Great and Terrible, supposedly able to supernaturally grant wishes of a person's innermost desire. There's even a little black dog, too. It's certainly not a direct adaptation, but the similarities keep the mind even further engaged, using familiarity to demand a focus on the details.

*****

It puzzled me at first that there would be full-color scenes outside of The Zone, but I realized they only occurred when a certain character was on screen. It didn't take long to realize that, like Dorothy, what Stalker's been looking for all along has been right in front of him. But it goes deeper; and my brain started percolating from the dawning comprehension. What is The Room but the supposed supplier of happiness? And does that, in fact, make The Room infectious? Wouldn't that mean that anything that makes a man happy in this miserable world they live in have an aspect of The Room inside it? If, like the novel it was based on (Roadside Picnic), those powers originated from some kind of alien or supernatural encounter, and a human being turned into a conduit of The Room, could strange and alien things start occurring in that very person as an extension of The Room? Perhaps a semi-sentient alien spore (think of how lush the vegetation of The Zone was) was unwittingly brought back for some strange intelligence's nefarious, benign, or simply unknowable purposes. A stretch, to be sure, but these are the type of feverish thoughts those final scenes elicited in order to try and understand what Tarkovsky was hinting at. It doesn't hurt that faint strains of "Ode to Joy" can be heard under the rumble of the final passing train - superficially signifying the healing potential of this final and bizarre development, but perhaps also underpinning the point that happiness doesn't always need to be sought out, and might exist right under our noses.

*****

I've got to thank Larry's recent review for planting the seed and Mike N's Tarkovsky marathon to finally convince me to come back to the man. Stalker is prime-cut Tarkovsky - maybe not as heady as his other works, but I can't imagine he ever beats it in atmosphere. And while it does seem to display a smoother plot progression than the other two works of his I've seen, there is plenty of intellectual discussion and philosophizing about the nature of art and desire, specifically at the rest stop outside the Dry Tunnel, that fans of his more contemplative films should enjoy. But, first and foremost, Stalker is a narrative; an allegory or parable of wish fulfillment and the cost of happiness that posts the questions, and provides potential results, but leaves the personal interpretations of the 'right' choices to the viewer. It also ain't too bad on the eyes and ears.

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