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.
First Tarkovsky premiere in my short cinematic vocabulary. Probably not the most accessible initiation but something tells me that previewing any other films from the Russian director wouldn't make "Stalker" any easier to digest. It's a difficult movie of very slow pace, sober camera work and a plot device apparently propelled by pure intellectual premiss. The cinematic aesthetic is distinctively bleak, one of the bleakest I've ever seen, and yet the cinematography has a singular quality that fascinates me. I look forward to the day "Stalker" receives Bluray treatment, watching a dubious quality DVD rip on an HD capable screen doesn't work it any favors, this was the main reason why I've been delaying the premiere of "Stalker". Not easy to fully dissect what a first view unravels but I'll say it seemed to me an essay/allegory about faith, about the eternal search for the Truth and about how different thought paradigms deal with the task. I liked the resolution of this last point. 3 characters: Stalker, the one who guides the other 2 through The Zone seems to represent the religious or moral paradigm, the Writer, the Art paradigm and the Professor represents Science. Each character, i.e., each paradigm has its own point of view and its own reason to search for the Truth, the way that their interaction was developed seemed well judged and congruent to me. At the edge of the room where the Truth is to be finally consummated, the 3 paradigms start fighting between each other and with their own reasons, naturally no one goes into the room because the Truth can only be aimed at from a distance, we still cannot touch it.
Hard to give a rating here, this is quite different from most cinema, it's a unique language or Tarkovsky simply masters it like no one else. I feel like it makes no sense to rate it lower than 10, nor higher than 0 depending on the love hate camp we land. Hard for me to see this work in the same scale as most other films, a feeling I share with "Eraserhead" and "The Tree of Life" (saw this one a few weeks ago and still haven't decided). I don't love it (close but not yet) nor hate it, but I highly respect it. In one hand I enjoyed very much the dreamlike quality of the whole experience, the bleak and surreal atmosphere carved by the singular cinematography and camera work, the very interesting "intellectual plot" (I guess it's more accurate to just describe the whole work as an allegory), the excellent dialogues and something about the Stalker character that just doesn't go away from my head, his angular face is quite an unforgettable view, seriously I can't think of anyone else to play his role (I know it sounds weird...), nice acting. But on the other hand this film is almost tortuously slow at times, unnecessarily so, a few scenes could be chopped a bit, but maybe compressing it all to a shorter work would take away some of the immersion factor and post-impression this film produces on us... I'm still digesting what I saw and I'm going to lay my eyes on it at least one more time. I think I will dream with "Stalker" some night. This is a fascinating and singular work of cinema. Mandatory!