There's a clash at the heart of Stalker between its serene framing of "The Zone" and the self-important dialogue of those within it. Tarkovsky presents this surreal world with minimal camera-movement Ie. without the bravado of a Lynch or a Kubrick. He works as the invisible artist, creating an intoxicating experience through this lack of flamboyance. Annoyingly, his dialogue hampers both the pacing and tone of the film (Apocalypse Now Redux style) with flamboyant philosophical debate that is occasionally directed right at us, the audience. I'm not against this in principle -- I love F for Fake -- but it seperated Stalker into two distinct styles that don't gel together.

Maybe this distinct divide was the entire point. There is a goldmine of meaning to extract from the film with the clear idea being that of "True Desires". All 3 men -- deliberate caricatures of Faith ("Stalker"), Arts ("Writer") and Science ("Professor") -- struggle to bridge the gap between their idea of themselves and what their true desire actually is. Our Stalker believes that he is guiding people to a good place that will help them, yet his own mentor was killed by that room*. Writer wants to be sure of himself, but he worries that he will no longer need to write if he becomes perfect. And Professor wants to understand what science cannot but yet wants to destroy what he himself cannot comprehend. It plays like a fucked up Wizard of Oz (including a dramatic switch to colour when we enter the fantasy world).

What will truly immortalise Stalker in my memory (and in Cinema's Cannon) is the spellbinding poetry of its visuals. The surreal placement of furniture, the emphasis of physical space through long pans and slow zooms and the intricate sound design (such as the rattle of the table in both the first and final scene) draw a perplexing attention to themselves, but the film urges you to brush them aside to focus on the journey inward (and then retreat outward) of our own psyche. One of the few sequences that does draw attention to itself -- the pivotal train escape early in the film -- builds tension through the tangled route of empty factories they take to avoid the troops (mirroring their later tangled journey through The Zone). When we finally break through the gates the light is blinding. I was ready to go anywhere the film took me, including (what seemed likely at the time) heaven itself.

Alas, the heavy dialogue sections of the film feel sluggish and out-of-place (whose favourite scene is the wife's final speech?) but Tarkovsky's mastery of visuals has created an Eden. Albeit an Eden his characters reject on their own faults. Stalker is depressing in that respect, but also overwhelmingly mystical in the potential depth left untapped from my first watch. Like the titular Stalker, I'll be revisiting The Zone again and again.

*Another interesting clash comes from the name "Stalker" itself. A stalker is someone who follows someone else, yet Stalkers lead the way through The Zone.

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