Mirror ★★★★★

Mirror is more than a narrative exploration of semi-auto-biographical material. It is an attempt to recreate the experience of memory. In order to do this, Tarkovsky eschews typical linear structure for an editing style that uses sense experiences, emotion, and poetry to link its scenes and thoughts. This makes it difficult at times to tell when certain things are happening but also creates a sort of haze that we end up watching the film through. This haze is not visual but mental. In some ways it is even hard to remember the film and its individual scenes and characters since they flow in and out of the film so effortlessly and continue to do so once the credits have rolled. This is a film which instead of spoon-feeding the audience a story tries to get them to really understand what the director is trying to convey and even makes them think about their own life in turn.

In all his films, Tarkovsky dissolves the boundary between “dream” and “reality”, but Mirror is the most oneiric of all, as memories ebb and flow in the mind of a possibly dying man trying to come to terms with events of his life and his own behaviour. Mirror condenses both macrocosm and microcosm, interior and exterior into a work which somehow portrays the flow of individual lives in both their own specificity and their shared generalities. Mirror boldly erases the formal and metaphysical boundaries between director, subject, and audience, creating a film about memory that feels as much lived by its viewers as it was by its creators.

I first watched Mirror for my Catching Up with the Classics series three years ago and found myself blindsided by how much of an emotional response Tarkovsky could bring out of each cut between shots in this film. There comes a point where one can do nothing but give in to Tarkovsky’s stream-of-consciousness journey through Alexei’s life and reflect on how our search for meaning between memories may reflect Alexei’s own. Each piece of cinematic trickery is never repeated, from the subtle reverse shots to a still unfathomable bit of levitation; and the same can be said as to what kind of film Mirror actually is from moment to moment. It’s constantly moving between genres, from pastoral coming-of-age to horror film to wartime epic in the same breath. It’s an overwhelming experience to get used to, but Tarkovsky manages to wrest a primally satisfying emotional through-line from these disparate sequences. There’s overarching themes of grief, guilt, self-admonishment, all against a national backdrop of war, sacrifice, and regret. Like the film’s form or genre, nothing ever feels fully tangible or anything other than fleeting, like the best parts of a dream fading from your memory after you wake up and greet the real world. A film like Mirror is such a transcendent experience because everyone can relate to the images Tarkovsky presents on the screen. Everyone had a childhood full of sadness and happiness, had repressed secrets and emotional pain, memories of finding their first love and the loss of them, regrets and failures on past mistakes that they wish they could get back and do over, and the innocent times as a adolescent before they were introduced to the harsh bleak truths of the adult world.

This is the experience that I recommend to you. Watch Mirror with an eye to yourself, your mind, your childhood, and your memory. Don’t view it with an attitude of “go on, entertain me.” Watch it to learn and explore yourself and how you and those around you see the world. Marvel at the unique qualities of each individual life of which you are merely one yet lose yourself in the ways that those experiences, thoughts and feelings are common to us all.

3rd viewing

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