Stalker ★★★★½

I read Roadside Picnic a few years back and enjoyed it. After seeing Solaris, I was curious to how Tarkovsky would tackle his adaptation of the story. Suffice it to say the director uses the novel as a jumping off point, but pointedly has his own agenda and themes that he wants to explore.

I think this film is massively successful in representing the exploration of the "inner space" of human nature through the exploration of the Zone. This is a unabashedly "Russian" movie. Characters often monologue at length on philosophical tangents, ruminate on their personal anguish, have melodramatic arguments with each other. We're assured by the Stalker that nothing is what it seems but is it true? Things do seem to be pretty normal in the Zone despite his protestations but in the next moment, time and location are unnervingly disjointed. Constantly playing with audience expectations, the steady buildup of tension simply dissolves instead of arriving at an explosive payoff. If the intended effect is subtle disorientation, Tarkovsky nails it.

From the first scene, the film's presentation is arresting. The breakthrough of color upon the entrance into the Zone is such a welcome release from the sepia-tone introduction. The composition of the shots is painting-like. Every scene feels visually rich and interesting. The shots seem to last forever too, the camera is always reluctant to cut away opting instead for a static view or, at most, a subtle zoom which were also very effective. Ditto the audio. The use of sound, particularly the wheels rolling over the tracks, is really great at evoking mood.

This film won't be for everyone and I get the feeling that is just fine with Tarkovsky. Subsequent viewings will be essential to unpack all the dense anthropological musing, but I think that's a reward worth pursuing. A slow paced film but there's an urgency to the message that sinks in if you're willing to go on the journey with The Writer, The Professor, and most of all, the Stalker himself.