Stalker ★★★★★

"The Zone demands respect. Otherwise it will crush you."

When I watched this for the first time in May of this year, the entirety of my review was "oh... wow." Now that seems highly inappropriate for such a mind-bending masterpiece. Tarkovsky gives us all we can handle for almost 3 hours so I've got to write something more worthwhile this time around.

I write these reviews mostly for myself but apparently a few of you like them, and that's cool, but I can't pretend I'm some real film critic. I really only became a cinephile about 6 years ago... for a very strange reason that was more about boredom and circumstance than anything. But here I am, having now probably watched hundreds and hundreds of movies in that time, and all I can do with works of art like this is compare them to what I know: ordinary movies.

But that's precisely what this is not, like each Tarkovsky film I've now seen. It's "an experience," similar to what one of the best lists (with 8000+ "likes") ever published on this site says, which sadly hasn't been updated in 3 years. The entire atmosphere, the entire universe in Stalker is unto itself. And contrary to the first time I watched it, with a bad static-y copy, the version I see now -- restored, crisp, blazing with purposeful color -- is incredible, and I think I get the closest I'm going to get to seeing what the director had in mind almost 40 years ago. That sudden shift from sepia to verdant vegetation is gorgeous.

I could go on about the visuals, but what also struck me this time around in this enhanced version was the incredible sound quality. To anyone who's viewed this before, you know how visceral the sounds are here: at times cacophonous and echoing over and over, at times quiet bursts that disrupt a pattern, at times evocative of nature and how even it seems unsettled as we head to The Zone. And the haunting score by Eduard Artemyev complements the film in just the right places. It disappears when needed, and fills the scenes when needed.

Now that I felt like I could take the film in a little better than at first viewing, I came to understand the journey of our three men much more, and also how the sentient Zone ebbs and flows with their intrusion. And I also came to see the allegory much more clearly, one that ruminates on existence and purpose, as well as the power of -- and limits to -- consciousness. While the obvious comparison that many make is to Apocalypse Now, I feel like after seeing all three epic parts to the masterful trilogy The Human Condition... that maybe that's a more apt "journey" upon which to draw comparison.

So, no, I don't have all the answers or reasons beyond the parable of Stalker, to me the masterwork of Tarkovsky. But after a second viewing, more intensive this time, I'm beginning to see just how many mental layers you can peel back before getting to the core. And like our journeymen, we take what we're given on our way and see how deep the rabbit hole goes.

Added to Andrei Tarkovsky ranked.
Added to My Subjective List of the Best Narrative Films.

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