It’s cold and grey and January. I’m chilly in my flat and have gifted myself a day of doing nothing. So I’m watching a DVD that’s come to us accidentally. Something that floated up from the bottom of my LoveFILM wishlist. Probably put there in a moment of arthouse ardour. Tarkovsky’s Stalker.
I thought I’d probably moved away (outgrown?) those very dour Eastern European movies. And Tarkovsky is almost like a joke amongs anyone who went to University in the 90s. Akin to mentioning Derrida or Foucault. Or thinking Morton Feldman was fun.
But actually I’ve grown to love Morton Feldman and while D & F have thankfully dropped off my bookshelf clearly I was meant to watch Tarkovsky at 38 as opposed to 18.
It’s already (an hour later) one of those movies that I want to watch again. It’s all so ridiculously Russian and serious and profound – but as usual I’m most impressed by the unembarassed seriousness of European art. No apologies. Certainly no punchy editing or quick montage. There are shots that last for five minutes. There’s no ripping storyline. There’s lots of poetry and philosophical chat.
I know on paper that sounds dreadful and perhaps I could live without quite so much anguished writhing but the whole film is magical.
It treats on the journey of three men into the Zone, a mysterious area filled with abnormal physical laws, possibly created by a meterorite fall. You would never know this looking at the film. It’s shot without any technical effects or wizardry. It’s the 1979 version of Von Trier’s Dogma. All the mystery and magic is created by the actors and the music.
Outside the Zone it’s all sepia – inside it’s brilliantly colour. Two of the men are being guided by the Stalker, a sort of holy fool who takes people to the Room inside the Zone that allows them to realize their deepest wishes.
God, it all sounds so ridiculous written down. But in fact the imagery of the film is really mentally invasive.
The journey outwards – away from home into the unknown and the magical – is something I’ve experienced in ayahuasca, so the men’s plunge into this strange, scary, colourful, profound landscape is resonant for me. But essentially it is (or might possibly be) an experience of going into the Unconscious, into the bright-dark vegetation of the inner mind. As the film (slowly) precedes, the imagery becomes more striking. The vision more sonorous to some hidden bit of the viewer.
Can’t quite explain it. But the knowledge that Tarkovsky spend a year filming all the outside footage in Estonia and then had all his stock destroyed completely amplifies the film’s power. To know that he went back and started from scratch – refilming every meticulous scene is awful/wonderful. Because even though it looks like it was filmed with no preparation at all – just wandering over a post-Soviet landscape – actually listening to the interviews on the DVD every single shot – down to the last dandelion – was painstakingly created and perfected.
It’s one of those magnetic films that keep dragging your mind back like iron filings.