This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
FilmEnthusiast3’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
I am currently in the process of revisiting Andrei Tarkovsky's filmography. I wrote reviews for The Sacrifice, Andrei Rublev, and Solaris in the past several weeks. Two of those were re-reviews and one of them was a brand-new review. I have reviewed Stalker in the past, but it was a really terrible and surface level, so I decided to delete it and re-review it.
Similar to my review for Solaris, I do not want to provide a plot synopsis for the film. Similar to Solaris, Stalker is not a plot heavy film. I just want to go straight into the deeper meaning of the film explore the important components. Like Solaris, Stalker is a masterfully written script, but it relies a lot more on its visual storytelling to communicate its ideas. I am going to talk about the four most important components of the film and then try to all four pieces together.
1. The Zone
Before I talk about the characterization, I need to talk about what The Zone is and what it represents. The Zone is a mysterious place that goes completely beyond human understanding. It does not obey the laws of physics. It can also grant people whatever they want if the person decides to enter the Room. It takes a lot of faith for someone to enter the room because it involves people putting faith in something they cannot understand.
As I have said in previous reviews for Tarkovsky's films, Tarkovsky was a devout Christian. He was someone who was really passionate about his faith. A lot of his films endorse faith and view Christianity and God in a much more positive light. In order to talk about The Zone and what it represents thematically, it is important to keep Tarkovsky's perspective in mind.
The Zone itself represents God's creation. In the Bible, God created the Heavens and the Earth. The Zone itself is also beautiful. It's visually beautiful and the spirituality behind it is also beautiful. It is beautiful how The Zone doesn't abide by the laws of science or the conventions that humans want it to. The Zone is used to show the beauty of God's creation and how God works in really mysterious and unique ways. One the best scenes in the film is the one that takes place in the room full of sand. The cloth that is thrown by the Stalker disappears and appears on the sand on the opposite side of the room. Then a bird flies, disappears, and appears on the same side of the room that it started. This scene is incredible because it is visual portrayal of the beauty of God's miraculous power.
Entering the Room represents receiving salvation and trusting in God. In the New Testament of the Bible, if someone trusts Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, they receive salvation. In the Bible, trusting in God is someone putting faith in something they cannot see. Often times, important characters in the Bible don't know how God will answer or how much hardship they will have to go through in life, but God ends up fulfilling his promise in the most powerful and miraculous way possible. The birth of Isaac and Joseph becoming second of command of Egypt are perfect examples of this. Both Abraham and Joseph received a great promise from God and faced a lot of hardship in life, but they are willing to place their faith in something they could not see and ended up receiving what God has promised them. In the context of this film, in order for someone to receive God's promise, they need to put their faith in something they cannot see and walk inside the Room.
2. The Writer
The Writer wanted to go to the Zone because he was afraid of losing his inspiration in art and literature. However, when he gets to the Room, he refuses to walk in. He is frustrated that the Zone goes beyond his understanding the laws of science and his understanding of the world. He also believes that it is impossible to enter the room without using it for selfish ambition. The writer uses what happened to Porcupine, the previous Stalker, as a reason to not enter the Room. Porcupine entered the Room because he wanted to bring his brother back to life. Instead of his brother being brought back to life, the Room decided to fulfill his other desire and gave him a large sum of money. Instead of taking the large sum of money and using it for the greater good, he decides to commit suicide. As a result, he ends up with nothing at the end of the film.
The Writer's character represents the mindset of the nonbeliever in the Bible. The Writer is someone who has no faith. He refuses to put faith in the Room because the Zone goes beyond his understanding and believes he will become a selfish person. He never considers the possibility that the Room might give him something he needs. The Room might not have given him the first thing he wanted, but it might have fulfilled one of his desires that could be used to help society. We do not know what exactly The Room would have given him because the film doesn't reveal it to us, but it could have something amazing. In the Bible, people often have no faith in God because they are unable to put their faith in something they cannot see and do not believe that God can fulfill his promise. This is very similar to the story when the older generation of Israelites were unable to enter into the Promise Land because they didn't trust in God. If they were able to trust in God and put their faith in something they could not see, they would have been able to enter into Promise Land. However, they didn't enter the Promise Land and were forced to wonder the desert for the rest of their lives. The older generation of the Israelites missed out on God's amazing promise that the younger generation got to be a part of because of their lack of faith. In this film, the Writer was unable to walk into the Room and receive whatever promise it had waiting for him because of his lack of faith.
3. The Professor
The Professor wanted to go into the Zone because he wanted to destroy the Room. He wanted to destroy the Room because he wanted to prevent evil people from accessing it. He secretly brought a bomb with him. He tried to use the bomb to destroy the Room, but the other two characters stop him in a physical confrontation. This causes him to give up his plan and dismantle the bomb. Similar to the Writer, he ends up with nothing because he refused to enter the Room.
The Professor's character represents the mindset of the Pharisees in Bible. I find it really interesting when the Professor said he wanted to prevent evil from entering the Room. Was he talking about actual evil people or was he talking about specific group of people he didn't like? The film doesn't explain, but I personally believe the latter. I genuinely believe he hates the idea of evil people receiving the opportunity to repent and actually do something great with the Room gives them. In reality, everyone is a flawed person with moral weaknesses. Who is he to decide who is worthy and unworthy of entering the Room? In the Bible, it establishes that everyone is a sinner and falls short. However, in the New Testament, the way to salvation is by accepting Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Jesus Christ changed a lot of the rules that were set in the Old Testament, making it a lot easier for the Gentiles to receive salvation, form a spiritual relationship with God, and be a part of God's promise. The Pharisees did not like this. They wanted to preserve their tradition and have only their group of people get saved, have God's favor, and be a part of God's promise. They hated the idea of the Gentiles receiving salvation. They believed they were in the position to determine who deserves to receive salvation, have God's favor, and be a part of God's promise. As a result, they wanted to murder Jesus. Jesus did end up getting persecuted and murdered on the cross, but he raises from the dead, reaffirming the new way. In this film, the Writer was unable to walk into the Room and receive whatever promise it had waiting for him because of his gatekeeping mindset.
4. The Stalker
Out of all of the three characters in this film, the Stalker is the most complex one. Throughout his life, he has taken tons of people to the Zone, but no one wanted to enter the Room. He took the Writer and the Professor to the Room and got the same result. At the end of the film, the Stalker himself loses faith. He expresses his frustration with society by saying that society has no faith and doesn't want to live a joyful life. His wife wanted him to take her to the Zone, but he refused because he was afraid of getting the same result. After the conversation, a supernatural encounter takes place. Three glasses on a table move without anyone touching it. Two of them move around the table, but still stay on the table. The tallest glass moves off the table. If you listen to the sound effects very carefully, when the glass made contact with the floor, it made a lot noise, but it didn't sound like it broke. I'll talk about the deeper meaning of this scene soon.
The Stalker's character represents the mindset of the ineffective vessel of God. The Stalker is someone who is a believer of the Zone, the Room and its power, but he fails to get people to enter the Room because of his lack of faith in other people. Throughout the film, the Stalker seems like a pessimistic and joyless person. Instead of being positive, showing compassion, and trying to encourage the other characters, he tells the other characters about the tragic story of the Stalker before him. While I believe the other two characters had their own baggage, I believe the Stalker's negative mindset is the main reason why the other two characters refused to the enter the room. Sure, the other two characters didn't have faith, but the Stalker didn't give them a reason to have faith. Had the Stalker been more positive, showed compassion, and tried to encourage the other characters, maybe the other two characters would have entered the Room. Tarkovsky uses the Stalker's character to critique the Church. Christians are supposed to be joyful, uplifting, compassionate, and understanding towards the struggles other people go through, not joyless, negative, uncompassionate, and indifferent towards the struggles other people go through. A lot of Christians do not live the lives they are supposed to live and do not have faith in God's promise and what God is capable of. The Stalker is used to represent the failure of the Church.
If we put all four of these components together, Tarkovsky uses all aspects of this film to show the misery of faithlessness and different forms of it. According to Tarkovsky, God is loving and compassionate. He wants everyone to live a joyful and fruitful life, as long as they accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior and have faith in God's promise. This film shows what causes people to not have faith and receive God's promises. Some people are unable to put their faith in something they cannot see and believe God won't deliver. Some people do not other people to repent and receive God's promises because they believe they are morally superior to them. Some people are believers in Christ but are ineffective vessels of God because they don't properly represent how a Christian should live and do not have faith in God's purpose and calling on other people's lives. This film shows different forms of faithlessness and how all of it connects to a life full of misery. Despite a lot of this film being depressing, this film does show a spark of hope. The Zone itself is used to show the beauty and mystery of God's creation, power, and his calling on other people's lives. The miracle at the end of the film is used to show that God is loving, compassionate, and protects the people who are faithful to him. Tarkovsky uses this film to show the complexity behind faithlessness and express his frustration towards society and the Church for not being able to have faith in God's power and promises on their lives, but Tarkovsky also has hope for people and believes they can learn from their mistakes, repent, and obtain the joys and promises God has on their lives.
I know that everyone is going to have a different viewpoint of faith, God, and religion. Personally, I am a Christian who is really passionate about my faith. I believe my faith has helped me get through life and also helped shape the way I think today. However, I understand that not everyone shares the same experience as mine. Religion is a very interesting topic to talk about because everyone has their own unique experience and beliefs with it. When I interpreted this film, I was trying to look at this film though Tarkovsky's perspective, not my own. As a Christian, I try to remove my bias and experience when it comes to religious/faith-based films. Instead, I try to see what the filmmaker is coming from. I do not agree with Bergman's and Kobayashi's perspective on religion, but I respect their point of view and try to analyze what they are saying in their films. Even though I do not entirely agree with their beliefs about religion, I still believe both of them provide a lot of meaningful insight. As a Christian, I get to learn how an agonistic or an atheist looks at religion and life in general. I might not agree with them, but I do believe there is a lot I can learn from their perspectives and experiences. Even if you are not a Christian, there is a lot you can learn from this film and from Tarkovsky's filmography in general. I believe the film does an amazing job showing why people do not have faith in God and why people are miserable in life. Stalker is a really depressing film, but it is a really important film.
Stalker is an outstanding work of art that I appreciate the more time progresses. It is a cinematic masterpiece that challenges the way people look at faith, spirituality, and life in general while providing a unique perspective. While I believe Andrei Rublev is Tarkovsky's best film, Stalker might be his most complex film. Tarkovsky might be my favorite filmmaker of all time. Before I call Tarkovsky my favorite filmmaker of all time, I want to wait until I finish rewatching all of his films. At the moment, I cannot think of another filmmaker who has a filmography where the majority of their films are masterpieces that resonated with me a lot and helped shape the way I think as a person today. Tarkovsky is not only a genius. He is one of the most inspirational people in my life. I cannot into all of the details of my life, but Tarkovsky’s films have changed my life.