Wednesday, July 25, 2007
Stalker, to put it simply, is the best movie ever made. It sounds like a tall claim, I know. However, if we look at it dispassionately, we realize that Stalker is more than a movie, it is a minefield of cinematic excellence, exploding when we least expect and rewarding on every new viewing.
Andrei Tarkovsky needs no introduction. Son of the Poet Arseni Tarkovsky, Tarkovsky made immortal movies in a mortal world, though amusingly this movie was shot twice, as the first original prints were lost in a mysterious fire. The second effort drained everyone, and it is a tribute to his grit, imagination and his entire cast.
What do we expect from a movie? Entertainment, passing a vacant hour or so, debate on crime, politics, social imagery? How relevant is an environmental issue to a man in spiritual torment or to people who have chosen to choose and oppose? What use drama, stories, immaterial plots of suburban housewives, infedility, war angst, remorse after killing people, emotional tripe for holocausts when new holocausts are being perpetrated every day? What use watching absurdism and existentialism on a screen, why allow ourselves to be sermonized, to be prepared, to be made malleable for propagandist emotional nonsense?
We need the stalker, in every sense, in every measure for cinema to flourish in our minds, for real spiritual metaphysics to bloom in our lives, for cinema to enhance and not impinge on our sensibilities, not drag us into the morass of cinematic illusions. Stalker brings into our ken not just technical excellence but spiritual cinema, food for lesser Gods and tormented mortals.
In a setting described as tranquil and desolate and peaceful and isolated, I watched Stalker again for perhaps the sixth time. Each new viewing of stalker rewards one with fresh insights into the complex imagery of this movie, and leaves one feeling emboldened to face one's demons.
Two men, a writer searching for inspiration and a physicist searching for empirical truth, employ a man, simply called the Stalker to lead them into an area called the Zone, where there is a room that grants one any conceivable wish. After reaching there, he shows and guides them to this room, with restrictions on how to actually get there, following certain rituals that the two men find baffling. They reach the room and the writer decides against wishing anything leaving the physicist wanting to blow up the entire zone and the Stalker aghast, dumbfounded and broken at their empty eyes and lack of faith. This is the bare story and seems quite simple. However, into this tapestry is woven an intricate pattern of illusions, allusions, religious imagery, symbolism, and metaphysical allegory.
Throwing the nuts
The stalker allows the two men to look for the room in the zone only by following a certain path that is free from danger, for one cannot offend the zone. The zone, the stalker warns is not for casual strolls, for it can punish if offended. The path is made safe by the nut throwing ritual, tied to a bandage, signifying safety. The procedure seems so medieval, so bizarre that from the point of view of the two men, the stalker could be insane. However, his warnings ring true for their is surreptitious fear in the zone where flowers don't smell, where damaged tanks and armoured cars lie broken covered with overgrown vegetation.
The tunnel scene is a heart-stopper, a cinematic rarity, a sequence that leaves one rattled and dumb, in mortal terror, but then all quest is uncertain, all search is madness. The tunnel has to be traversed for there is no easy path to the room, no short cuts. The harder the path, the reward is more, the benefits better. There is no scene in any cinema like the tunnel scene and I am not being flippant. The tunnel seemingly too long and narrow, goes more than into the room, it goes into our psyche's where fear lurks, where unfaith and faith jostle.
Stalker is a movie about the quest for hope and God, the most important question in all ages, about the absence of faith, about spiritual cogitations, about mental fatigue, about not knowing and believing. Mercifully it does not elevate faith or atheism into a glorious ideal but elevates search, the hunt, the quest for faith into a cinematic discourse as never sen before. Bergman's The Seventh Seal seems a child's attempt in a similar vein, though Bergman was a great director.
Stalker could only have been made in Russian by a Russian for Russia is in the East and the intense religious nature of this movie cannot be replicated in Western Europe and will never be achieved by Hollywood. The discourses, soliliquies, debates between the principal characters are a joy to watch and Arseni Tarkovsky's poems add and enhance the fervour and the aura of this movie. Alexander Kajdanovsky, who played the Stalker has succeeded in portraying the mystic fervour of a religious guide, not zealous prejudice or fanatic fascism but a spiritual torment, such as is commonly reported to be the experience of Muslim Sufi's or hermetic Sadhus. His performance elevates the art of acting to heights that can be achieved by only a few.
Stalker stays with you, with its iconic imagery, its haunting performances, its poetry, its drama, its fear, its beauty. Regarding the dog in this movie, I don't know why but I have a hunch.