I’m going to be honest. I did NOT want to pick this movie for this week’s film of the week. But since I started this series of blog posts, it was always in the back of my mind. And honestly, it’s the only movie off the top of my head that I can relate to Barbie and Oppenheimer.
A guide leads two men through an area known as the Zone to find a room that grants wishes.
Andrei Tarkovsky, the film’s director, is regarded as one of the best filmmakers ever. Tarkovsky’s movies often feel more like visual meditations than films, having loose narratives that care more about deep characterization and heavy use of themes providing the pulse for them. This film is about a smuggler, known as the Stalker, escorting two men (known as the Writer and the Professor) through the Zone, an irradiated wasteland where nature overpowers the laws of physics. They are on an expedition to the Room (creative names, I know), a place said to grant the wishes of anyone who steps inside.
I like separating films into three categories to better understand them in my head. Stories, Conversations, and Lectures. Great movies either execute one well or mix two of them incredibly, rarely all three. Stalker is a lecture through and through. It feels like Tarkovsky himself is guiding you into his musings on men’s desires, the nature of man, and how humanity clings to faith or pushes it away with skepticism. There’s incredible acting by the three leads, each having memorable moments to shine. The story balances slow, melodic moments with tense setpieces as the characters traverse the Zone and its reality-warping traps. And the cinematography is astounding, capturing the locations used beautifully.
How do I relate this to Barbie and Oppenheimer? Not to spoil those movies, but the existentialism and themes of being trapped in a world you can’t escape from ring heavy in this movie. Each character has different viewpoints, but all have the same melancholy that no matter how hard they try, they can’t escape their reality.
As a side note, this movie is also known as the film that might’ve killed its director. Throughout the film’s long and tedious production, they shot around chemical factories, industrial complexes, and power plants. Many of the crew members of Stalker died of illnesses likely related to shooting near these locations. Tarkovsky, his wife Larisa Tarkovskaya, and Anatoly Solonitsyn (the actor who plays the Writer in the film) died of the same lung cancer. There’s a wonderful youtube video by CinemaTyler detailing the film’s production, like how it was shot three different times. You can watch it before or after the movie, but I recommend watching it before. It adds a lot of context to what you're seeing and adds another layer when watching the film.
It’s hard to describe, and I certainly didn't do it justice, but it is certainly worth the watch. It is required viewing for any cinephile or filmmaker.
And the best part, the film is available to stream for free on Youtube.