Stalker is a two and half hour film divided into two parts. When the first part ended I never felt so patient in all my life, but at the same time I couldn't wait to see what happens -- or what doesn't happen -- next. A movie like this you can't just pause, go take a nap, then expect your mood to pick up where you left off. A musical intermission would have been nice.
So the first half is brilliant. It starts with everything tinted to look like the oldest photograph you've ever seen that's been crumbled up into a ball, flattened out lazily, then smothered in ash. Everything looks decayed and crumbling; industrial and dystopian. Even the plants look like they're made of concrete. There's a scene where a man is near what I think was a clover bush. The clovers blend in with the metallic background in a way that you don't even notice the flowers at first, then when you do it's quite the striking observation.
Soon three men leave the city to find a room that grants wishes. One of the men is a guide and he's been there before. When they leave the city the film becomes colorized. I've never seen that happen in a film before. Very sobering and soothingly refreshing, like a weight has been lift off your shoulders and a veil taken from your eyes. Now the film takes on a more organic feel as we see discarded machines and scrap metal parts scattered around everywhere, and swallowed up by the vegetation. The contrast between the two artist visions is wonderful. Yin and yang. The while experience is like achieving a mild state of zen. The film slows down even more to the point that the men almost go to sleep. After a dream-like transition of images part one ends.
Part two, from my experience, was a completely different film. The journey ends and the men hang out in an old building that looks like a WWII relic. There are a few impressive shots, but not many. Most of the time it's a close up of someone's face. Very boring and anti-climatic. They pretty much just drop the plot up to that point and decide to go in a nonsensical direction because of its philosophical significance.
I tried to keep myself interested but after an hour into part two it was really wearing on my nerves. It's the dialogue that mostly bothered me. Part one was perfect. It was like being at a poetry reading in an art museum. The movie would be quiet with breathtaking images, then the attention would shift from the visual to the men talking. So five minutes of sight and the physical, then five minutes of sound and the mental. Brilliant. This pattern made it so you never got tired of the movie. The dialogue itself, for the most part, is inconsequential. Most of it isn't even that deep, it's just that it sounds so poetic and dramatic. Pretentious, but tolerable. The movie is visual ambiance and psychologically meditative. You could melt your brain trying to ponder all the ideas floating around, or you could just let the movie wash over you. Just experience it. With part one it doesn't even matter if you miss some of the subtitles because the purpose of the film isn't to turn you into a philosopher. Or at least that's what I thought.
But part two I found contrary to part one. Part two is just one long, seemingly endless dialogue about everything and nothing. I don't know and I didn't really care at that point. I think it was about some kind of godhood, or finding God, or just transcendence in general. I think the kid at the end had the power that was in the room. Maybe there is no coherent narrative. It's a head scratcher, that's for sure. It's got a high rating so maybe the point of the movie just flew over my head. I'll give the it the benefit of a doubt and give it four stars. Part one deserves that much anyway. It would get 5 if it had more consistency.
Saw this on 1/4/15
Glacially slow and nothing pretty much happens resulting in an uninvolving, boring film. The camera work is good, but the story is too bad and it lags a lot. A complete waste of my 2hrs and 45 minutes.
After watching this film, I understand Tarkovsky is probably most in the place of the 'Stalker' character, who is most sympathetic, but still, after 4 films from Tarkovsky I have to wonder if we just philosophically part ways when it comes to approaching the existential problems. 'Hope' and 'prayer' are not the answer, but neither is the bleak, nihilistic, self-absorbed end of the rest of the characters. This film garners my respect, curiosity, and possibly admiration in an aesthetic or conceptual sense, but it does not grab my heart, mind, or soul.
The biggest disappointment, from whom I considered my favorite director...I may have to reevaluate, after seeing this useless film.
Of course, it's beautiful, like all Tarkovsky films... but it's also the most boring & pointless movie I've ever seen. Long doesn't always mean deep. Especially when the story is so flimsy. Very disappointed.
An advice: if you're going to watch the masterpiece on DVD, switch from the remastered 5.1 audio track to the original mono audio. The 5.1 audio has been sterilized and modernized too much, killing the original sound which is a significant part of the movie.
The plot centers around a mystical place known as "The Zone". Nobody knows for sure of it's origins other than that it seems to be of an otherworldly nature. Due to the unknown power of The Zone, the local government has prioritized keeping it under wraps as secretive and secure as possible, to the point of arresting or even killing trespassers. Despite this, there is an exclusive group known as "Stalkers", those with esoteric knowledge of the mysteries presented by The Zone. The Stalkers provide themselves as guides to those willing to risk their lives in order to come to an understanding of the power behind The Zone.
The particular story here sees one stalker who has agreed to embark on a journey with two other men simply referred to as The Writer and The Professor, who are both intrigued but skeptical. One of the men declares :
"Our world is hopelessly boring. Therefore there can be no telepathy, or apparitions, or flying saucers...(and no God, that's for certain)"
Once they commence and find themselves approaching closer to The Zone, they learn more about it's nature. Apparently at the heart lies a room that will grant wishes to those who believe. What unfolds is an introspective and soulful journey of man, unlocking deep thoughts and motives that underlie an increasingly dreadful and faithless society.
The story continues with the men escaping military forces and taking a trolley deep into the wilderness. Although trusting at first, the two skeptics waver more and more as the journey proceeds. Testing their faith, the three eventually find themselves presented with the dangers inherent to The Zone. Invisible trappings and portals persist throughout, and the two skeptics must take the word of the stalker in order to avoid the hazards. However, at one point the writer becomes frustrated and takes his own initiative and routes himself hastily toward the room. As he gets halfway there....he finds himself unable to proceed. What is it? Was The Stalker correct in his warning? He uncomfortably stops and heads back to the other two. Perhaps his intuition has declared some bit of truth to this invisible force.
After a brutal day of meandering the wasteland of The Zone, the three take a break. Lying down in the weeds they take a physical respite but seize the opportunity at introspection and then verbal reflection. Expressing their views on life, we see the futility and hopelessness of The Writer and The Professor. Both having their seemingly empty motives, they wonder if their pursuits will lead to any sort of happiness. They yearn for something transcendent but are unsure if they can grasp it, or whether or not they even should.
Overhearing, The Stalker, realizing the weight of the situation, finds himself deep in prayer:
"Let everything that's been planned come true. Let them believe."
Further comprehending the disbelief and frustrations of the others, he continues :
"Let them be helpless like children, because weakness is a great thing, and strength is nothing. When a man is just born, he is weak and flexible. When he dies, he is hard and insensitive. When a tree is growing, it's tender and pliant. But when it's dry and hard, it dies. Hardness and strength are death's companions. Pliancy and weakness are expressions of the freshness of being. Because what has hardened will never win."
Sentiments such as this centralize the film's gems of wisdom that Tarkovsky quite masterfully provides. He tackles the complex study of faith and provides possible answers. The suggestion that perhaps we have become tainted as we age, that maybe we would be blessed to have a child-like faith that opens our heart to a reality that we have closed off, has a resonating truth to it. Still we are left contemplating : Is the inability to accept a higher power a product of emotion or intellect or both? Tarkovsky's film proceeds and gives our brain much more to chew on as we try to put the pieces together and challenge ourselves to decipher this provoking question.
As the story continues we witness The Writer and The Professor's objections to The Stalker's eager attempt to proclaim the good news of the room, which quite candidly mirrors the reality of an increasingly close-minded world resisting the proselytizing of the Gospel.
Giving us scope of the consequences at hand, Tarkovsky assuredly reveals to us the futility of man's endeavors and dreams. This is done most memorably in a breathtaking montage (supplemented by the haunting score by Artemiev) depicting various worldly objects - a gun, money, corroded machinery, etc... - all decayed and rendered useless under rusty water, all the while quoting the final judgment of the Bible's Revelation.
When the men finally reach their destination they are forced to make a decision and either embrace or reject the power of the room. Coming in as skeptics, skeptics they remain. Built in prejudices have failed to be lifted and their doubts have not been convincingly answered in their sights. Is it sheer unbelief, fear, or hard heartedness? Tarkovsky presents us with cryptic answers.
The Professor seems to scoff at the notion of faulty men being given this eternal power, which could potentially be abused :
"As long as this plague lies in the open, accessible to any scum, I can get no peace, no sleep", he claims
He threatens to destroy the room with a bomb, while The Writer simultaneously accuses The Stalker of an ulterior motive to cruelly swindle money out of the desperate, but relents when The Stalker explains in hysterics that the room provides the only source of hope to a fallen society, and that he is genuine in his evangelism. (Surely this must have been a strong statement on Tarkovsky's part toward his native religious intolerant and atheist heavy Soviet Union of the time).
While the professor expresses his own concerns and objections, The Writer has found himself more shattered than ever. His lack of humility and bitter pride has rendered him unable to make the crucial step into the room. As is preached by The Stalker, one needs to think of the past and submit himself in prayer in order for the power to be endowed. The Writer however scorns the idea, omitting himself from humbling and sniveling in remorse, as he considers it. We then realize, as the viewer, that the entire pilgrimage has been fruitless and pointless.
What ultimately culminates is a nihilistic impasse in which no truth or meaning can be derived. It would have been typical and simplistic for Tarkovsky to follow a Hollywood blueprint and resolve the situation in a heavy handed manner, but he makes the wise decision to pull back and present us with an enigmatic statement on faith's place in a cold and cynical world. Although pessimistic and morose throughout, Tarkovsky does auspiciously provide us with one glimmer of hope that transcends the previous despondence and encourages us that there perhaps really is something grander and bigger than what our mundane life exposes us to.
Analyzing the story arc, what "Stalker" does so well is present a complex but authentic view of skepticism and faith. Although best viewed as a religious allegory, the film capitalizes in it's ambiguous approach by allowing each viewer to apply their own meaning.
As a personal way of viewing the film, I find the portrayal of the characters poignant in their response to the supernatural : the guide desperately attempts to convert the skeptics in order to shine light on their spiritual blindness, but their hardness of heart clouds their view. The simplicity of the treasures provided by the room resembles that of the simplicity of the treasures provided through salvation by faith. What is it that could cause a man to reject his greatest wishes coming true? Could it be a torn and conflicted soul? In one scene The Writer ponders aloud :
"My conscience wants vegetarianism to win over the world. And my subconscious is yearning for a piece of juicy meat. But what do I want?"
Bitterness, cynicism, and pure unbelief roadblock The Writer and The Professor from embracing the supernatural. Throughout the journey the men convince themselves that they don't even want or need the room. This pessimism is best revealed by The Writer upon the prospect of the room granting him greater intelligence as a writer, when he muses :
"A man writes because he is tormented, because he doubts. He needs to constantly prove to himself and the others that he's worth something. And if I know for sure that I'm a genius? Why write then? What the hell for?"
Lines like these provide an insightful revelation into the unwilling and unable mind. That, in a nutshell, encapsulates the vision of Tarkovsky's brave and thoughtful "Stalker". A bit of a trudge at times, but the powerful conclusion is sure to provoke thought and discussion, as Tarkovsky's parable of dying faith in a decaying society resonates strongly.
This is a very haunting, beautiful and often poectic film about a group of three men who sets out for a room that can grant your deepest desires known as 'The zone'. And what follows is a very surreal and dark journey into the subconscious filled with a lot of philosophical quenstions about life, the human condition, science and religion.
Andrei Tarkovsky's directing is absolutely stunning. It gives it a certain feel and atmosphere that I can't really describe unless you have seen the film. And unlike Solaris, Stalker had in my opinion a very well executed story, great performances, interesting and deep characters and very well written dialog.
Now this film will not be for everybodys tastes. The way it's directed may put some people of, since it uses a lot of slow panning shots and a little amound of editing, that will make the film seem slow for a lot of people. And since it's running time is 2 and a half hours, you have to go in with caution, because if you're not going to be as pulled in by the films atmosphere and directing like i was, you will have a very painfull experience. But if it does draw you in, you will probaly have one of the most unique movie-experiences in a long time.
Personally I was absolutely facinated by it and to my suprise, those 2 and a half hours went by a lot quicker than I expected. And when that happens, it only proves that the movie has sucked you to it's world.
So, I highly recommend Stalker, but i cannot promise you that you will love it, you might even hate it.