Stalker

Stalker ★★★★½

To begin with an objection, I do think that (judging by this and Solaris) the way Tarkovsky uses sci-fi settings is a bit too much at odds with my own view for me to truly embrace it. While I felt it a bit less with this than Solaris, there's just something about the approach to the mysteries of the natural world that I can't quite get on board with. I suppose the obvious point of departure is that he made Solaris at least in part as a rebuke of 2001: A Space Odyssey, which just happens to be my favorite film. While I shouldn't take this line too far, I do think that one key difference that I observe in the approach of Tarkovsky, is that he seems to think that learning the details of the more mysterious aspects of the natural world somehow robs them of wonder and spiritual content. So instead he infuses the uncharted parts of the natural world with even more mysterious and faith-based elements. There's nothing wrong with that necessarily, but I think it ends up pulling science-fiction towards a different genre landscape. In doing so, Tarkovsky kind of refuses to engage with part of what makes sci-fi so interesting: Speculation and extrapolation and how particular future technological and societal developments affect human beings and the world around them. In Tarkovsky's hands, the mysteries of science are made into the unknowables of faith and in doing so he loses me a little bit. That's a very personal perspective, but one I find hard to put aside.

Apart from that, this film is utterly amazing. Every slow camera motion a stanza of poetry, every slow pull-back a visual revelation, the interplay between color, black and white and sepia always interesting. Perhaps most impressive of all in this film is the production design and locations used. It's the most fully realized scenes of industrial decay I've ever seen and it's always used with ingenious purpose. Despite a small quibble with the performance of the wife in the very beginning, the performances are also quite good. In just about every way this is another stunning work of visual art from Tarkovsky and one where I needed to write the above oversized paragraph to justify calling this anything but a masterpiece. Hell, maybe I'll even call it one on a second or third viewing. I would hardly object to seeing it again at any rate.