Stalker ★★★★★

Stalker has been at the very top of my watchlist ever since I found out about its existence and last night, I walked right into the Zone and fulfilled my innermost desires. And now I feel like some missing piece of me has been found through an impossibly immersive spiritual journey born out of Andrei Tarkovsky's sheer visionary genius. There are only a few films in the history of cinema that even the word 'masterpiece' sells the experience short, and Stalker is one of them.

If there was a room that somehow can grant your most deep-seated wishes, will you go? To seek out the roots of man's unhappiness and suffering and rip them straight out of the ground, to live in perfect harmony with yourself and the world around you, to know the meaning of life itself: every person has a different reason to enter the room. But in order for these desires to come to fruition, one must believe-- faith in the Zone, the divine, the reward of struggle, the goodness in men, themselves, and faith itself. This isn't just a leisurely trek, but a sacred passion wherein one must bear his own cross in a land full of earthly temptation and exoticism in the self-affirming sacrifice for some greater good at the end of the pilgrimage.

But alas, humanity's faith has been shaken by the constant battering of life outside the Zone in the heavily-industrial modern and postmodern era of Soviet Russia and all the world by extension. An absence of belief in a supreme being brought about by the terrible living conditions in a seemingly absurd, Godless dystopian state has taken hold of men. There are men of the arts, of the sciences, and of pure altruism who try to remedy their meaninglessness and faithlessness through their profession, but the elusive nature of a heaven on earth calls them forth, but not without internal torment.

To know our innermost desire is to know ourselves, and there is a thick wall called hubris that distances our conscious reach from the truth. The mysterious room will expose the underlying nobility and morality in our deepest wishes. A foreboding sense of cynicism and self-doubt arises from the possible fulfillment of these dreams, and faith in the Zone is destroyed. Hope led them there-- the Stalker, but especially the Writer and the Professor-- and it was despair that scared them away. They did not want to know who they were because of the possible disillusionment it might bring. They do not enter the room.

Having not entered the mysterious room, the three men's return to the world barricaded from the Zone is their acceptance of the suffering of their previous life. The Stalker, lying on his bed, cries out over his two companions' and the whole of humanity's lack of faith in themselves and the goodness in their hearts. It's as if his faith depends on theirs. But in his wife's touchingly optimistic worldview, we are told that evil and suffering must exist for goodness and hope to also exist, that only in the continuous struggle of mankind that the creation of meaning and the need for faith can persist and uplift the spirit. The room in the Zone may suffice one's greatest hungers but in turn wipes out all possibility of human struggle which is essential for true good to survive in the world that needs it.

Like they say, it's not about the destination, but the journey. Life has given us fragments to piece together in a way that puzzles us but gives us purpose, and it would be foolish to have it all assembled by someone or something not us. This is the passion we feel not as some internal energy but a friction between our soul and the outside world; the deficiencies in our surrounding-- whether moral, social, aesthetical, and whatever-- are all reasons for our actions and desires. There is no use living in strength and hardness, indifferent to the pain of living, but in weakness and meekness we find it necessary to feel and act accordingly. That's what it is to live.

Understanding Stalker in one go is impossible. One thing about Tarkovsky's films, and all great films for this matter, is that they're open to many interpretations. At first I thought the journey into the Zone was some metaphor for the search for God but my thoughts changed as the film went along. One could still interpret it that way of course, but leaving the viewer seek out their personal relevance of the film brilliantly reflects the primary characters' search for their own meaning and desire. It invites you to participate because Stalker isn't simply a story of three unhappy men but of every unhappy human being, and yes, that's all of us. It is merely a matter of opening yourself up to the intentions and the subjectivity of the film that you will appreciate its greatness.

Andrei Tarkovsky is the greatest filmmaker of all time and this isn't the first time I've said it because this isn't the first time he's proven it either. Masterpiece after masterpiece, Stalker puts the cherry on top of the most enviable filmography we've ever known. Tarkovsky's second crack at science-fiction, loosely based on the novel 'Roadside Picnic' by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, doesn't adhere to the tropes of the genre as much as his first did in Solaris released seven years prior. The setting is futuristic dystopian and the premise involves a mysterious region rumored to have been a meteorite landing spot but Stalker, more than anything else, is a philosophical and psychological meditation, a prayer poem even.

I'm guessing everyone knows about the hellish production woes behind the film at this point. Crew replacements-- including Mirror cinematographer Georgi Rerberg, extensive reshoots, and of course, Tarkovsky and other members of the crew contracted cancer that would eventually take their lives, resulting from the poisonous chemicals in their toxic shooting locations in Estonia. It's so unfortunate that some very talented people lost their lives making a film, but despite how somewhat ignorant to the human cost this next statement might be, what a final output they accomplished. The images are exceptionally beautiful and haunting, the atmosphere so otherworldly yet grounded to real-world familiarity, the long takes so hypnotizing, the music so specifically profound in tone, and the acting so real and intuitive.

But I have to admit that I was disappointed by the tiniest fraction. Yeah. There's always a high expectation for films near or at the top of my watchlist, and though that's more of my fault than the film's, twists do happen. With Stalker, I expected more serious and heavy philosophical musings, and what I got was probably the wittiest and most unusually fun of all Tarkovsky films. So many people complain about the pacing and the length but I didn't even feel it at all; I even wanted more, I'll most likely watch it again days from now! Time moved fast in my first viewing of the film and I missed that much slower pace in previous Tarkovsky films. At some point I even thought Solaris gave me much more humanistic depth. I don't know. It's all in my head and my very light letdown doesn't take away from the perfection of Stalker.

I've been writing for a longer time the film runs so I'd like to end it here. I'm very happy I was able to get a good night's sleep to process all of these things and write a substantial review you might be interested in. Stalker is finally off the watchlist and that is a triumph in itself. Double-featuring it with Persona yesterday was one of the best viewing experiences of my life; how often do you even watch two perfect masterpieces back-to-back in one night?

That'll be all for now and thank you so much if you've read up until this point. This binge week was something I was always looking forward to because of all the tasty opinions I wanted to share with you all, and thank you for leaving a like an a lovely comment! Peace be with you all and have a blessed day, everyone!

Aronne liked these reviews