Barlayne Fletcher’s review published on Letterboxd:
There's a good friend of mine who I've disagreed with about the quality of this film. Before now, I've said that it does achieve at least competency, citing the camerawork and acting, but he believes that those don't make up for what he sees as awful pacing and a lack of purpose. He always says that this is a film where nothing happens, except for three guys talking to each other and wandering around a forest/swap/wasteland. I used to only mildly disagree with him, as my opinion on this film was lukewarm at best already, but after this rewatch, I'll have to go fully up in arms with him to defend this film, because I now see this film as the true masterpiece that it is. This review will attempt to explain why my opinion has shifted on it so radically, and what about this film I find so special.
The way that this film plays with spatial geography and liminal space is so next level that someone with a PhD in film theory needs to write a full essay on just the cinematography, because this is some unmatched work. Tarkovsky's long takes are so well thought-out and calibrated for maximum impact on the viewer that it boggles my mind that I didn't fully appreciate it on my first watch in a theater. How he manipulates the camera and creates depth has only ever been matched by... I don't know, Andrzej Zulawski? The main difference, however, is that where Zulawski was wild and impulsive, using his camera as essentially another character within the world of Possession, Tarkovsky is perfectly patient, willing to let his camera full capture what's happening with a gentle hand. His creation and maintenance of atmosphere is nearly unparalleled, capturing the world that was so perfectly designed by the set designers that it feels perfectly plausible to me. To make something this atmospheric seems impossible, but Tarkovsky has done it without even breaking a sweat.
Also, it seems impossible to write a review of this film without detailing your interpretation of it, so I'm going to say what seemed most significant to ME on this watch. What I think was being conveyed here is that the Zone is Andrei Tarkovsky's mind, and the three travelers are the Id, the Ego, and the Superego of Tarkovsky. The Writer is the pretentious and womanizing Id, constantly moaning about how science has eliminated all fun from the world, and how all people want is garbage from their artists with no variety, only a frequent output to gobble. The Professor, in contrast, is a levelheaded, unselfish representation of the Superego who constantly berates the Writer for his immature attitude towards the world and science, constantly quarreling with him about the value of scientific thought. Finally, the Stalker, the Ego, is supposed to be the leader of the journey, but he spends most of it scrapping for control, being beaten back by the other two, and simply languishing in the presence of the Zone. It appears that Tarkovsky was fighting an internal battle, in which he was angry with the film community for what he might have thought to be stupid hunger for stupid content, but was also angry with himself for assuming that what HE wanted from cinema, EVERYONE had to want from cinema. And all during this fierce battle for purpose, his Ego truly only desired to bask in the beauty of being alive at all; he was tired of fighting for his own meaning, and simply wanted to do things his own way, regardless of what others thought. At the end, even when he's back home, and he seems to have learned his lesson about the Zone, he becomes enraged with both trains of thought, and rejects both sides, implying he will never come to a proper conclusion. The film is truly about the struggle for harmony between what you might want, and what everyone else might want. Whichever one you choose, it's likely that it will never make you or anyone else happy.
To conclude this review, I'm going to address my friend's main criticism of this film. He believes that it's just a few guys wandering around and talking about philosophy, with no substance behind it. While I do get where he's coming from with that critique, I believe that the entire purpose of the film is more based upon inaction than action. The whole film, they pretty much just talk to each other about what they believe in. This is fact. However, the way that Tarkovsky creates a perfectly inhabited world here is what really makes or breaks this film with someone. All the small things, the slips on muddy planks, the panicked confusion while running from gunmen, the sloppy fighting and choked coughing, it all makes the film totally ride on it's own wavelength, uninterrupted. Whether you can get on or not is totally personal, and I get it. But right now, I'm riding this rail cart to wherever it takes me, and I'm gonna be smiling the whole ride.