Jesse’s review published on Letterboxd:
The last month of my life has been one of the hardest I’ve ever endured emotionally. I won’t get into detail, but I lost the most important person in my life, and since then I have felt totally lost. My purpose is no longer clear and my spark for all things creative feels as if its gone out. The things that once brought me comfort now seem to bring on a sense of unease. Even watching films is a challenge because my conscious is so occupied with my own issues. I know it’s probable that this devastating state of mind won’t last, but these 30 odd days have already felt like eternity, so an end doesn’t feel near. Every day however I fight hard to turn the negative energy into positive; keeping busy with new experiences, continuing to write despite my insecurities, hoping that better days may soon come.
I’ve also started reading again, (a hobby which I’ve neglected my whole life) and decided picking up Tarkovsky’s Sculpting in Time could provide some needed insight in order to start demolishing my mental road blocks. It’s fascinating reading him describe his philosophies in such honest detail. It’s already made an impact on my perception of the medium and further added to my understanding of his work. It even has shed some light on deciphering problems of the self. Conveniently, the new restoration of Stalker was playing at the cinema this past weekend and I thought there was no better time to return to The Zone than now. Also, how was I supposed to turn down the opportunity to see this on the big screen? I was nervous though that I wouldn’t be able to contain my attention within the film and my thoughts would begin to spiral inwards, but I’d forgotten that Tarkovsky’s work is some of the best to turn to in such times.
Initially at the start of the film I tried very hard to keep my life’s problems out of my head and instead focus totally on the film itself. The mechanics of it, the narrative structure, spotting meaning in the poetry and symbolism. All of that proved fruitless pretty quickly as I’d feared, but at that point I realized that may be exactly what is supposed to happen. Watching Stalker, and the rest of Tarkovsky’s work, can be like a form of therapy. The long meditative sequences give you a profound opportunity to truly think while watching. It seems Tarkovsky designs his films to speak as honestly to the human experience as possible, not through narrative and character, but in feeling, emotion, and poetry. His visual language speaks to me on such a visceral level that it’s terribly hard for me to truly explain just how it effects me so. Tarkovsky was brilliant enough to know exactly how to tap into certain parts of the brain and make you think for yourself, and take from his work what you need from it, as long as you’re willing to give into it. Tarkovsky’s films wash over me like a warm ocean wave and I absorb all the rich texture and beauty presented.
I felt a kinship with the characters in Stalker this time around, as they each travel into The Zone for essentially the same reason; to obtain that which will make their life perfect. The Stalker agrees to guide them to this miraculous “Room” (which supposedly grants those who enter their deepest desires) only because he is sure that these men need to go. They are lost, at rock bottom, and in need of a miracle; or so they think at least. If such a room existed, I too would probably desperately want to venture to it right now. Many speculate over what exactly The Zone is or represents and what it specifically means to Tarkovsky. In Sculpting in Time Tarkovsky had this to say...
“The Zone doesn’t symbolize anything, any more than anything else does in my films: The Zone is a Zone, it’s life.”
The Stalker warns both The Writer and The Professor that The Zone is an endless maze of traps, that are constantly changing. A path there that was once safe is now littered with danger. If you disrespect The Zone, The Zone will do the same back to you. It’s alive. Like life. Of course. So does this mysterious “Room” really do what these men believe? Maybe. Maybe not. It’s not really important. These men are not ready for whatever “miracle” lies inside that room. They have to conquer life their own way first. For as long as they’re still breathing, they haven’t reached the end yet. So keep trying. Fail, and try again.
Like The Zone’s ever evolving nature, each experience I’ve had with Stalker morphs into something entirely unique each time. I always take something different away from it, which is probably why my feelings on it have fluctuated slightly over the past couple of years. It’s always been hard for me to nail down exactly what Stalker meant, but I think that earlier quote provided some understanding that will endure with me. All of us will continue to wander aimlessly, hoping we each take the right path, continuing the search for that which is divine and prosperous. That thing is different for everyone, but at our core I think most of us want the same thing from life, love and happiness. Even when things feel hopeless, there is hope. Both darkness and light are temporary. Use life while you have it. Explore. Make the world a better place for yourself and everyone around you. I think that’s ultimately what Tarkovsky wanted to do with his work, make the world a better place. I’m going to continue to try and do the same.