Stalker (1979) – A Sense of “Nothing”

“The Zone is a zone. It’s life.” – Andrei Tarkovsky in his book, “Sculpting in Time”. It’s an embarrassment when you just watch this film. “Stalker” is one of the most sophisticated philosophical films. If not, then why is this movie so influential in filmmaking and even in video games? Whether you want to say what, this is a science fiction movie. Regardless, there is no actual futuristic tech or else. It’s a story about a journey to the Zone and reaches to the Room. It’s an enigmatic paradox than can grant a wish if you believed in the Zone. Loosely based on a novel, “Roadside Picnic”, none other that, it’s a dense, complex, endlessly parable movie. It talks about human conditions. It’s about how dreams and rational humans are when you try to touch their hearts.

Andrei Tarkovsky is a gem, or even more than a gem, in filmmaking. People always know him as one of the illusionists and so-called poetic directors. Tarkovsky also has a small history with Stanley Kubrick. While Kubrick directed “2001: A Space Odyssey”, Tarkovsky hated the film. However, he hated it in an inspirational way. He tried to fight the work with his sci-fi work called “Solaris”. Tarkovsky and Kubrick have a grand yet expanded scope and interpretation when it comes to movies. Although I have ever seen “Solaris”, you can’t deny that they both have a unique game to their audience.

Back to “Stalker”, this is a movie about the Zone. The Zone is a restricted area where the government strictly prohibits people from going into it. Therefore, the military protects the area. The writer (Anatoly Solonitsyn) and the professor (Nikolai Grinko) try to enter the Zone. They came to one of the stalkers (Aleksandr Kaydanovskiy) or a guy who always guided a person into the Zone. The stalker has repeatedly gone to the Zone so his characteristics are quite a bit of paranoia. Anyway, the writer went to the Zone to look for “inspiration” for his book. On the other hand, the professor tries to research to find a “discovery”. The stalker is trying to bring these two guys to stay “believe” and continue to have a “hope”. So, you don’t have to disappear in the Zone.

“Stalker” reminds me of many video games because of the urban set and the theme. The game was “Crysis 3”. It’s a groundbreaking visual action just like this movie. The lush, the green landscape, the husks of automobiles, military tanks, there are so many. The poles, pools of water, debris, all of them remind me of the game. In the Zone, there isn’t the logic way of how the area works. The stalker always thinks that you can’t just walk. However, the Zone can make you disappear. Don’t do the thing that isn’t polite in such a place. This journey seems to be a meeting with God. You cannot do anything but follow the guardian or the stalker in this movie.

This is a science fiction movie but different from sci-fi films in general. All of the sci-fi things only work as thematic. The characters and audience can only imagine what the Zone and the Room are. There is nothing to explain rather than the sci-fi that only arises from the dialogues between characters. While on the other hand too, there is the footsteps in water, the underground tunnel, the mysterious silence ambiance sound. I also cannot say that this is a psychological film but it’s difficult to relate it to films in general. All these aspects can only depend on how you experience, witnessing firsthand its nature and soul character.

All of the dialogue between characters didn’t reveal clearly how they were coming out in the first place. The movie prefers to play subtly. It gives some subtext without any clear character development or the traditional way, the three-act structure. Dialogue between characters, the writer, the stalker, and the professor, creates a lot of revelation. You just keep on knowing what they are talking about. It’s like one question appears at the beginning. But, there are more rooted questions came. Along the way, these three guys talk about how they regretted entering the Zone. They also talked about what if they had sacrificed everything to reach in the Room.

The writer enters the Zone to find inspiration for his book. Along the way, he questions himself about why all of these were useless. It’s resulting in him falling into despair and not thinking about it all. The stalker is the most unique character. He prefers hiding from behind while telling the two other guys to walk first. Even though he looks coward, we barely witnessed anything he had witnessed in the past. The professor is looking for knowledge in the Zone besides he has to sacrifice his work. But, he doesn’t have any revelation after knowing what his real motives are.

This movie plays in a weird and out of a sense of logic. You don’t just watch three people find out what’s in the Zone. But, you witness these three guys change into other people continuously. It’s as if you are witnessing three characters of varying complexity, a common thread, and the relations between the three. It’s like three people in many roots and many characters. Still, you want to find out what the Zone means. Tarkovsky has explained that there is no symbolism in the Room. It’s just an experience. Like Ingmar Bergman said: “it’s like standing in front of a locked room. And the key never gets into my hands.”

To summary, Tarkovsky used mystery to keep the plot flow. He keeps this mystery alive and exists so that the actual question there. The audience doesn’t need to know how the Zone and the aliens look after it. We don’t need to know how they exist or why they are dangerous. All we have to need is how these characters serve our expectations and fulfillment of the story. We just don’t know everything in this movie. Our imagination stays alive and stays on so we don’t need to know how all of them work clearly.

This is a well-crafted philosophical film. Tarkovsky always puts their character into one of the magnificent and beautiful visuals. He always keeps his actor’s expression into close up. He described reality into a sepia-toned color, like black and white movies. The rough light of the daylight and morning, the fog in the Zone, and the dark shadow in the Room. Every composition in the frame is rich, sorrow, yet very poetic. Most of the time, you have to think about what Tarkovsky wants to put your attention on the screen. The establishing shot, the transition, the slow movement, disorienting pans, the reverse shot, all of them create their mood. In the form of images and physical, the cinematography is very describing the condition of the protagonist.

This movie is like an anecdote. You never know what a ghost looks like just because you listen to rumors, stories, or experiences from your friends. It’s the same as when your friend recommends a film and you try to visualize through your mind. All of them at points and the world sometimes is boring. You have never seen UFOs, aliens, and other creatures. But, we are the ones who make it more unique and cool. Likewise with the supernatural yet haunting final image.

It means if all of this is real or not, it depends on how we try to visualize this film. We try to imagine how this movie was. “Stalker” reminds us that there is no easy path to our wishes. It requires process, repetition, and trial. In the end, you don’t see any light but not necessarily the second person. What if he can see the light? We never yet solved this enigma even to this day.

5 out of 5 stars.

Salman Al Farisi

An Indonesian who loves to watch and read everything. A literary student who likes to write about reviews and essays on Crackdown Review. But, I just wannabe critics who love arthouse than anything.

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