1979, Movie, NR, 161 mins


Andrei Tarkovsky's STALKER is a metaphysical allegory in the guise of a sci-fi adventure, that like most of this visionary director's films, alternates between mesmerizing brilliance and intense boredom.

In a futuristic and desolate industrial wasteland, there exists a supernatural "Zone" which contains a miraculous "Room," where all of one's wishes will be granted. The Zone has been declared off limits, but unauthorized guides known as Stalkers still lead travellers inside. One such Stalker (Aleksandr Kaidanovsky) meets a Writer (Anatoly Solonitsin), and a Professor (Nikolai Grinko) who hire him to take them into the Zone, and the Stalker agrees to do so, despite his wife's (Alisa Freindlikh) fears that he'll be imprisoned again. The Writer says he's going there because he's lost his inspiration and the Professor claims to be going for scientific reasons. The three men sneak past a police guard, then travel down railroad tracks until they reach the Zone. The men work their way through a complex tunnel system, and after emerging from the final tunnel, known as the "meat grinder," they reach the threshold of the mysterious Room.

STALKER is an impenetrable film about the inexplicable mysteries of the universe, that's open to myriad interpretations. Anyone looking for a typical sci-fi film will be sorely disappointed, for Tarkovsky merely uses the basic plot as a metaphor, with the trip to the Zone being a spiritual journey into the heart of one's soul. The Stalker, Writer, and Professor, represent Blind Faith, Jaded Art, and Amoral Science, respectively, and the characters spend most of the trip philosophizing. The methodical tracking shots and lumbering movements of the actors are so painfully slow that one feels the weight and gravity of each and every shot, but just when one is lulled into a narcotized state, Tarkovsky comes up with some stunning cinematic moments, such as the mystical framing scenes, where the earsplitting roar of a train shaking the Stalker's house is undercut by the soothing sound of Beethoven's "Ode to Joy." Tarkovsky was undoubtedly a serious artist, but his films operate on their own private wavelength of sometimes maddening deliberateness which can create a hypnotic and soporific effect simultaneously and STALKER certainly has its share of both, but it also has enough hauntingly beautiful images and profound ideas to linger in one's mind. leave a comment --Michael Scheinfeld

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