Two spaces.  One is has grass and trees, the other does not.  One is mysterious, the other is hopeless.  One has color, the other is grey.  One is only men, the other has a woman and a child.  Both are full of danger.

These are the two worlds of Tarkovsky’s Stalker, which I watched for the first time last night. I am confused. My thoughts on the film are elusive, not unlike the Room to the three characters who journey into the Zone to find it.

Let’s start with a simple plot description. A man leaves his woman and child daughter behind to do something dangerous. He has a rendezvous with a writer and a professor, and they together escape from the compound of real life, ruled by authorities. They journey to a place called the Zone, a territory known to most through myth and superstition.  Rumor has it that somewhere in the Zone there is a Room in which your deepest wish can come true. The only way to safely find the Room is to follow a Stalker. There are only a handful of these sensitive guides alive.  They lead normal people to the Room in exchange for a fee.

To complete the journey and find the Room, the Stalker explains, you must give up all hope and become wretched. Neither good nor bad, just wretched. Since the promise of the Room is hope, Tarkovsky seems to have set up a complicated dynamic: Lose all hope if you want to have any hope at all.

Once the film turns to color, we are on a journey into the unknown.  This territory seems also to exist as a foggy memory of a place that existed before a disaster.  Now the place is full of retribution for what has become of the world. To go back to that bliss and innocence, people must humble themselves before it.

The film is full of nonsense and confusion. Why does a phone ring during a scene in the Zone?  Why do the characters choose to nap on wet ground, with their boots and toes in the water?  Why does the Stalker insist on tossing bolts and lace to determine the path?  Why do the characters, especially the Writer, keep slipping all the time, but never falling?

The film truly feels like an exploration of the unknown, and questions like this are as important as the vivid imagery and sound design. The film’s particular logic of physicality, reason, and time frame the events and bore into the mind of the viewer. We are left with questions, and the feeling that if we ever want answers, we will have to be brave.


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