Saturday, September 12, 2015

STALKER (1979)

Running Time: 163 (metaphysical) Minutes

Directed by:  Andrei Tarkovsky

Based Upon: The Novel Roadside Picnic by Boris and Arkady Strugatsky

Staring: Aleksandr Kaydanovskiy
Nikolay Grinko
Antoliy Solonitsyn

Plot: "This science fiction milestone from director Andrei Tarkovsky takes you into the Zone, a mysterious, guarded realm containing a mystical room in which occupants' secret dreams come true. Stalker, a man able to lead others to this holy grail, escorts a writer and a scientist through this foreboding territory and confronts several unexpected challenges along the way." -Netflix

 How I Discovered It:  Years ago I  found this movie on a list of the top ten best science fiction films of all time.  I immediately put it on my Netflix queue and ended up only getting thirty minutes into it before turning it off.  Since then I have seen it mentioned in a number of lists and articles on the greatest sci-fi films and surreal films from around the world.  Last week I gave it another shot with a better understanding of what I was getting myself into.

Memorable Moment: Stalker is filled with philosophical concepts and discussions on the nature of reality so it's kind of embarrassing to admit that the moment that stands out the most to me was when the three central characters sneak through the military perimeter surrounding the Zone.  This intense action sequence was filmed in black and white which makes the sudden transition into the silent yet color-filed zone all the more shocking

  • According to the Director, Andrei Tarkovsky, the film and the original novel have nothing in common except for the words "Stalker" and "Zone."
  • After a year of shooting the exterior scenes, Tarkovsky discovered that the film had been improperly developed and the footage was unusable.  All of the scenes had to essentially be reshot. 
  • Many of the scenes were actually filmed in locations where the crew was exposed to toxins in  rivers.  There is one scene where snow appears to be falling in the middle of summer.  This "snow" is in fact poison produced by nearby plants or factories.  Several members of the crew (including the director) died from conditions supposedly connected to this exposure.  

Connections to Other Works: 
  • The video game S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl is loosely based on the movie as well as it's source material.
  • This isn't necessarily a connection to another work so much as real life: seven years after the film was completed, the Chernobyl disaster took place.  The surrounding area is called the "Zone of alienation" and many of those who are employed to take care of the abandoned nuclear plant call themselves "stalkers."
Who Should Embrace it:  Anyone looking for a film with heavy philosophical concepts and who enjoys (or doesn't mind) a slow, easy going pace.  This is a film for people who are looking for the next 2001: A Space Odyssey or Solaris (same director).  

If Hollywood were to make a film about a mysterious area guarded by the military where laws of physics no longer apply the results would probably look a little something like this.  

If I were completely honest with myself, I would have to admit that I'd probably enjoy the Hollywood version more.  That's certainly not to say that I don't appreciate Stalker for what it is.  The film is simply not what most American audiences (including myself) are used to.     

To give an idea of what I'm talking about, Stalker is 163 minutes long and contains 142 shots.  The average length of each shot is more than a minutes and many last for more than four.  (To put this into perspective, Inception's average shot length is just over three seconds.)  Many of these long takes follow the three main characters through fields and tunnels as they discuss the nature of humanity and nature.  This produces a movie that is slower and heavier than your average work of cinema.        

Tarkovsky was reportedly frustrated with people who were dissatisfied with Salker's pace.  He stated, "[T]he film needs to be slower and duller at the start so that the viewers who walked into the wrong theatre have time to leave before the main action starts."

I will be the first to admit that much of the film went over my head.  For English speaking audiences, the dialogue is completely given through subtitles.  I normally have no problem with subtitles, but in this film I got the impression that the translators had to trim vital information because the characters talk faster than the audience can read.  Also there are many cases where the subtitles ran uncomfortably fast.  In many cases following the story would have been easier if it had been told in novel format because re-reading passages is much easier than rewinding a DVD.  In fact, I can think of more novels I could compare Stalker to (The Heart of Darkness, Crime and Punishment) than movies.       

Okay, so after reading all that you might not be leaping out of your chair and declaring that Stalker is going to the top of your Netflix queue.  It is a heavy, slow film.  In some ways it is one of the most challenging movies I have ever watched.  However, it is a film that has perked my curiosity and I will be watching it again because I do feel like it is a movie that has a lot to say.

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