\Loom/’s review published on Letterboxd:
Okay, my first time viewing of this film last night officially marks yesterday as the day that I finished watching all of Tarkovsky’s theatrical non-documentary feature films. I still haven’t watched Voyage in Time yet, but my DVD is on my shelf, wrapped and waiting, so it’ll probably be soon. But last night I had the time, energy, and motivation to immerse myself in his world. Doing this already tends to take a lot out of me, mentally, but Stalker may be the most draining out of all his pictures.
I don’t think I’ve ever watched a film that is more simultaneously bleak yet hopeful, but that hopefulness doesn’t come until the very last shot. The two hours and forty minutes that proceed that final shot in question contain some of the most overwhelmingly solemn atmosphere I’ve ever seen in a movie. If the word “desolate” applies to any film, it is this one. The plot involves two characters who are being led through a treacherous series of situations to a location where they may have the capability of potentially making a world-altering decision. The stakes of this journey are immense and you can really feel the enormity of it every step of the way.
However, the title character is the one leading them on this journey. Out of the three main characters, he is, in some ways, the most omnipotent. He’s also the character we feel most close to, emotionally, as we are introduced to him through the context of his hellish domestic life. We immediately learn that his role as a guide is causing his family’s desecration, so we already know that his actions over the course of the rest of the movie aren’t going to benefit him. So from the start we’re following a character who we feel mixed about. It’s through this protagonist that the picture weaves its own internal mysteries, the answers to which lie more in what the picture doesn’t show than what it does.
I think this movie does require more from the viewer in that it asks bigger questions than most pictures typically do. It’s a science fiction in a more spiritual sense. The film isn’t so much based in feelings of wonderment and visionary dreams as much as it is based in experience, opaqueness, and ponderousness. And with all that comes a sense of foreboding that occupies your head after the movie concludes. The haunting tone and observational poignancy give this movie an indelible level of texture that gives its world a truly lived-in feel. Tarkovsky somehow manages to still prove himself to be an exceptional hypnotist. Never before has the passage of time felt so ominous to me.
Overall, definitely the most difficult Tarkovsky film I’ve had to sit through, but its immensity is steadily proving to be psychologically rewarding. I watched it less than twelve hours ago and already I’m replaying certain images, lines, and expressions in my head again and again. Many of its implications are also slowly giving me the impulse to rewatch the films of his I’ve already viewed. As immersive as films get.