Stalker

Stalker ★★★★★

It is nearly impossible, I feel, to fully engage with Andrei Tarkovsky's cinema without first understanding, at least on a basic level, the historical context surrounding both Revolutionary and Post-Revolutionary Russia.  

Though set in the 15th century, Andrei Rublev could easily be surmised as Tarkovsky's veiled critique of 20th-century Revolutionary Russia, with the Tartars assuming the roles of the Bolsheviks. Images of burning cathedrals, mass graves, and desecrated Christian art recall the after-effects of the Russian Revolution, when the red army overthrew the tsardom and proceeded to slaughter the Christian intelligentsia, resulting in the spiritual and physical crucifixion of Russia. On an even smaller scale, sequences sprinkled throughout the film, such as a jester being apprehended by state authorities, never to be seen or heard from again, or a young bellmaker being warned that his failure to complete his job properly will result in imminent death, are also overt anti-USSR political sentiments, openly addressing the abuse of the artist/creator under a totalitarian regime, under which severe punishment (usually in the form of death) often comes to those who do not follow direct orders. Just as Sergei Eistenstein used Alexander Nevsky to draw parallels between Prince Alexander's battle with Germanic forces in the 13th century and the wars to come between the Soviets and the National Socialists in the 20th century, Andrei Rublev uses 15th century barbarism to shed light on 20th century bloodshed. Only one point of difference between both films: Eisenstein was attempting to appease his censors, whereas Tarkovsky was doing the exact opposite. 

If Andrei Rublev serves as a shrouded critique of Revolutionary Russia, then Stalker serves as a shrouded critique of post-revolutionary Russia. The titular "stalker" is a man of faith, living in a secular society completely devoid of religion. Just as Tarkovsky risks his life to make subversive political art, the stalker must leave the confines of his restrictive city, thus running the risk of being apprehended by authorities, whenever he ventures forth to the Zone, a spiritual haven of sorts. To the Stalker, the very act of practicing his faith is an act of resistance. The Stalker's faith is affirmed in the film's final minutes -- when we, as viewers, witness a miracle take place.

With the one-two punch of Andrei Rublev and Stalker, Tarkovsky crafted what are, in all likelihood, the most thoughtful studies of faith in all of cinema, rivaled only by Robert Bresson's and Carl Th. Dreyer's faith-based films.

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