Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Stalker as Holy Fool: Analysis of a Soviet Russian Spiritual Parable


     "The artist seeks to destroy the stability by which society lives, for the sake of drawing closer to the ideal. Society seeks stability, the artist, infinity."—Andrei Tarkovsky

     I love symbolism in art, and working out its meaning. Which is ironic, since I consider Samsara to consist of symbols: Symbolism is Samsara, in a manner of speaking. So loving symbolism is practically like loving Samsara, which of course is not so good for a good Buddhist, or even for a mediocre one.
     But still I love interpreting symbols. I feel satisfaction in understanding why Dostoyevsky's The Idiot starts in November, and why important events therein often occur at around eleven o'clock; that K.'s crime in Kafka's The Trial is essentially questioning the legitimacy of existence, and especially of modern Western "civilized" existence; and that Apocalypse Now represents a journey into the darkness of the human heart, with Do Lung bridge, which is destroyed every night and rebuilt every morning, representing the boundary between the conscious and subconscious minds. And if a story is a profound and fascinating one as well as being symbolic, then so much the better, naturally.
     Anyway, I recently watched Andrei Tarkovsky's great work Stalker (which may be watched for free on YouTube, at least until it becomes otherwise), which is one of the profoundest, most thought-provoking motion pictures I've ever seen. And since it is a very spiritual and philosophical movie, with the director claiming that its main theme evokes the Far East, I consider it fair game for a post on this blog.
     It resembles Apocalypse Now in a number of ways, most importantly in symbolizing a journey into the depths of the human heart. Also, it was released in the same year, 1979. Also, during the production of both movies one of the main participants suffered a heart attack—in fact the filming of both movies was plagued by difficulties, not the least of which for Tarkovsky was that almost a year of filming was practically nullified when the film was botched by the developers. Although the Soviet authorities gave permission to make the movie, it turned out so spiritually oriented and such a profound condemnation of materialism, both Eastern and Western, that it was suppressed in the USSR.
     One way in which it emphatically does not resemble Apocalypse Now is that this is not an action movie. In fact, not much actually happens at the physical level. Profound changes occur within, which is not always obvious. One young critic on the website Rotten Tomatoes said that watching the movie is like watching a boring person watching a PBS documentary about how slugs fall asleep in the winter. Then again, he was probably jaded on Hollywood blockbusters with plenty of explosions and multimillion-dollar special effects. Most critics love it; in fact it is considered by many to be one of the greatest motion pictures ever made.
     Entire books have been written on this one movie, a recent one being Zona: A Book about a Film about a Journey to a Room by Geoff Dyer (Canongate: Edinburgh and London, 2012). I haven't read any of them, but I have looked at some of the many articles on the Internet.
     If you haven't seen this classic, perhaps you might prefer to watch it before reading this, as I'll describe how it ends, thus ruining the surprise. On the other hand, if you've already seen it I hope that this attempted analysis will inspire you to see it again. Those Buddhists who are put off by words like "soul," "God," and "desire" would do well to lay aside some rigidity for awhile, or else spend the evening with a copy of the Dhammapada.     
     Stalker is loosely based on a science fiction story, Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky; but the movie has been transmuted into a spiritual parable transcending genres. Nobody in the movie, with the possible exception of a silent bartender called Luger (or Lüker—Looker?), has a real name, for example—which is par for the course with parables. The original science fiction story is about people infiltrating an area strangely affected by an alien visitation, but the movie was adapted to be more mysterious. All we know here is that something dropped from the sky and caused something mysterious and inexplicable, which the worldly establishment is either ignorant of, or fears. At the beginning these words appear on the screen, by way of introduction:

          ...What was it? Did a meteor fall?
          Was it a visit by citizens of the vast space?
          So or otherwise, in our little country appeared
          the greatest miracle of miracles—the ZONE.
          We sent troops there immediately.
          They did not come back.
          Then we surrounded the ZONE with police cordons...
          And, I suppose, that was the right thing to do...
          Actually, I don’t know, I don’t know...

     The tale of the movie is centered on the Stalker, whose profession, or calling, is illegally leading clients into the forbidden and dangerous Zone, where the impersonal laws of physics are frequently broken, and are more personal. In this Zone, it is said, there is a room where one's most cherished dream, one's heart's desire, is realized. This is why people want to go there. Stalker apparently has recently been released from a term in prison for following his vocation, and is still suffering from some kind of abuse he received. His wife desperately wants him to find a normal job. His daughter is a kind of mutant, who cannot walk and, in the movie at least, never speaks aloud. He and his wife and daughter live in a shack by some railroad tracks, not far from a huge power plant. 
     The Stalker is awakened one morning by a passing train which shakes the entire house, causing a glass on a tray to rattle and move about. (Also on the tray are medical supplies, apparently because the Stalker is unwell.) He gets up quietly, thoughtfully trying not to wake his wife and daughter, and prepares to meet his new clients. His wife wakes up too though, and after a bitter, futile attempt to talk him out of leaving on his next journey, she falls to the floor and writhes in hysterical anguish as another passing train starts everything rattling again. I suspect that the shaking of the house (their world) as a result of the trains (the onward rush of mechanical civilization) is symbolic.
     So, I suppose, is the fog that swirls all around. It suggests an intellectual, cultural fog, resulting from the mistakes people have made in the past. A barely noticeable drizzle falls on an industrial, unnatural landscape.
     The Stalker's two clients are a physicist, simply called Professor (or Scientist, depending on the translation from Russian), and a successful popular writer, equally simply called Writer. The Stalker doesn't want to know their legal names. These men represent the two strongest forms of spiritual death in the modern world: The Professor is an emotionally undeveloped, perhaps slightly neurotic intellectual with firm faith in scientific method; and the Writer is a cynical, self-indulgent, refined and jaded hedonist. He shows up for the journey half drunk, accompanied by a young, stylish woman whose name he doesn't know. (Stalker quietly tells her to go away, and after cursing his rudeness she drives away with Writer's hat on top of the car. I don't quite understand the part with the hat.) Writer's first words in the film, directed to the young woman before she goes away, are:  
"My dear! The world is absolutely dull, and that is why there’s neither telepathy, nor ghosts, nor flying saucers...and there cannot be anything of the kind. Iron laws control the world, and it’s intolerably boring. And these laws, alas, cannot be violated. They don't know how to be violated." (Then, a little further on:) "However, in the Middle Ages it was interesting. Every home had its house-spirit, and every church had its God...People were young! Now every fourth person is old. Boring, my angel, oh how boring."   
He says he's entering the Zone because his inspiration has dried up. A little later he admits that he doesn't know what he wants. Professor has a secret reason, secret partly even from himself. The three men are rather like the Brothers Karamazov going on a quest: The stern yet meek, spiritual Stalker, the detached, dissociated, intellectual Professor, and the emotional, sensual Writer—except in this case, unlike the Karamazovs, the emotional sensualist is the cynical one.
     The three tensely run the barbed wire gates of the Zone and the police open fire with automatic weapons. They slip in behind a train loaded with huge electrical insulators, and some of this insulation is (symbolically?) destroyed in the efforts of the police to stop the three men. Before they reach the affected area the whole world is shown in sepia monochrome: not quite in in black and white, but not quite in color either; but upon their attaining the depths of the Zone all appears in bright colors, especially green, indicating that the Zone is somehow more intensely real and alive than the "outside world." The world turns to color when they are near some old electrical poles shaped like crosses, but leaning and dilapidated, as though the primary way in which this greater reality is manifested in the world is no longer with these symbolic shapes. A crossbar on one breaks off as Stalker brushes past it. When they arrive in the Zone Stalker joyfully exclaims, "Home at last!"
     Water is the universal symbol for Spirit, and seems so in the movie; and although it is all around even outside the Zone (for example the Stalker cleanses himself with water before leaving the house), by the time the men reach their destination they're fairly sodden with it. It is mostly stagnant and polluted. When it falls from the sky it's presumably pure, but as soon as it hits this earth of ours it becomes contaminated. It's still real water though, naturally.
     Upon arrival in the Zone, Stalker excuses himself for a little while and goes off alone to look at the building which contains the mysterious Room. He gazes upon it in the distance and falls to his knees, then lies down in the weeds, feeling who knows what, while a small insect crawls on his hand. While he's gone the Professor explains some things about the Zone to the Writer, and mentions that the government has closed off the area, the Room, to guard against people having dangerous wishes come true. This kind of scenario might be more poignantly understandable to Soviet Russians, but it is still applicable there and here.
     After Stalker returns, they pass by wrecked military vehicles from the doomed and futile army expedition, and what appears to be human remains. Writer is nervous and worried, although Professor remains detached. Stalker directs them to within plain sight of the building, telling them that the Room is just inside and to the left, but that direct routes are practically forbidden in the Zone—"the longer the route, the safer"—and that they'll have to go around by another way. Besides, it simply doesn't do to arrive at a Holy of Holies by turning left. Writer, stressed and irrational, finds this ridiculous and marches straight for the entrance. As he approaches the open doorway the wind picks up, there is a sound like a flock of birds taking flight, a mysterious voice calls out "Stop! Don't move!", and a wad of cobwebs, like a veil, falls across the entrance. Writer loses his nerve and returns to the others, more willing to follow Stalker. Or rather, more willing to go ahead of Stalker, as the guide usually goes behind, merely directing the way.
     Stalker warns them about the strange rules of the Zone. He says, 
"The Zone—it’s...a very complicated system...of traps, let’s call it, and all of them are deadly. I do not know what happens here when humans are away, but if people appear here, everything starts moving. Previous traps disappear, new ones emerge. The safe places become impassable, and the way one moment is simple and easy, the next—it turns insuperably complicated. This is the Zone. It may even seem that it is capricious, but in every moment it is such as we made it ourselves...with our inner state. I will not hide, it has happened that people were forced to return empty-handed from halfway. There were also such who...perished on the very threshold of the Room. Nevertheless, everything that happens here, depends not on the Zone, but on us!" 
Fog obscures the building now, and a cuckoo calls in the distance. 
     The next scene begins with water splashing in a deep well, and Stalker praying within himself: 
"Let it come true what has been planned. Let them believe. And let them have a laugh at their passions; for what they call passion is not some emotional energy, but just the friction between their soul and the outside world. And above all, let them believe in themselves, let them become helpless like children, because weakness is great and strength is worthless...When a man is born, he is weak and supple; when he dies, he is stiff and insensitive. When a tree grows, it is tender and pliant, and when it is dry and hard, it dies. Hardness and strength are companions of death; suppleness and weakness express the freshness of living. That is why what has hardened will never win."
     The Professor shows much attachment to a knapsack he has with him, more than once refusing to part with it. When the three move on, the Professor announces that he has left his knapsack and must go back to retrieve it. But retracing one's steps on this journey is forbidden—one must continue moving forwards (this has been the case even since before entering the Zone). The Professor goes back anyway, and the other two leave him behind and enter a dark tunnel.
     When they come out the other end of it though, there is the Professor leisurely drinking coffee from his thermos. Stalker asks him how he overtook them, and Professor replies, "What do you mean? I came back here to fetch my knapsack." Stalker looks around and sees that they've ended up where they were before, and that furthermore they exited a tunnel marked as a trap by Stalker's teacher, a previous stalker called Porcupine who attained his heart's desire in the Room and shortly thereafter committed suicide. Stalker is shaken and frightened by these strange occurrences (Professor breaking the rules and remaining unharmed, the other two unknowingly coming around in a circle, and exiting through a trap), and insists that they rest before continuing on. Fog and polluted, foaming water are all around them.
     At this point in the movie, symbols runs rampant. As Writer and Professor bicker, the camera looks into the water for the first of several times. Under the water in these scenes we see assortments of ordinary human objects: hypodermic syringes, metal containers, guns, coins, bits of printed paper, electrical wire, a piece of a broken mirror, machine parts, white tile, a Christian icon, and much else besides, including some live and apparently trapped aquarium fish. These are all part of the three men's world—money and print for the successful Writer, for example—common objects from the outside world. But here, saturated in the water of spirit, they lose their validity and value, and become worthless debris. In one of these shots the last object to be seen is Stalker's hand in the water, shown in monochrome.
     There are a number of times in the Zone when the film returns to sepia-tinted monochrome, three of them during this dreamy (un)rest by the water. Each time the only human shown in the shot is Stalker, apparently when his faith begins to falter. In the first he's lying face down, yet when Writer calls to him he's suddenly face up, and in color again. In the next, a few minutes later, he's lying on his side on a tiny island surrounded by water and stagnant muck, when a black dog, a perhaps unclean denizen of the Zone, approaches and lies down next to him. In the third he's still lying down, but viewed from an angle that makes him appear upright, with a dreamlike recitation going on, seemingly by his wife, of part of the Book of Revelation describing the end of the world.




    During their restless rest there is a scene showing a rippling field of dirty foam which looks like rippling ground, with dust swirling over it in the air, the foaming river behind, and something that looks like snow falling. (This snow was not real snow, nor was it a created special effect; it was in fact some kind of chemical waste blown from a factory near the place in Estonia where the filming took place. Most of the crew experienced health problems, and at least three of them, including the director himself, died of a kind of pulmonary cancer years afterward.)
     After the recitation of the Apocalypse, Stalker gets up, in color again, and recites the scene from the Gospel of Luke describing the two men walking to Emmaus and being joined on their way by the resurrected Christ, yet somehow not recognizing him. When he finishes, Writer and Professor are wide awake, scrutinizing him, and he says to them, "Are you awake?" At least they look awake. Stalker, like all Holy Fools perhaps, definitely has some Christlike qualities.
     Shortly after this they arrive at a place called "the meat grinder," the most dangerous place in the Zone. Stalker is unabashedly afraid; Writer is scared and angry because he's been chosen to go first; yet Professor, as usual, remains impassive. Writer begins his long, solitary walk through a long, echoing tunnel littered with ice and wet, broken glass, walking deeper and deeper into the unknown depths. In a moment of panic he draws a pistol, which Stalker in the distance franticly begs him to throw away, as the Zone will certainly not permit it. Who would he shoot at anyway? Writer drops it, reaches the end of the tunnel, wades through shoulder-deep stagnant water, as though going through some kind of baptism, comes out the other end, and wanders to a deep well (the same one that begins Part Two, seen when Stalker begins his prayer? Who knows.). He drops a rock into it, and more than fifteen seconds elapse before a splash is heard; he sits briefly on the edge of this profound abyss. Here things are unpredictable: Stalker, not far away, tosses a machinist's nut with a streamer tied to it, and it bounces strangely. A bird flies over the sand, suddenly disappears, and then flies over again. When the other two catch up, they find Writer lying in a puddle near the practically bottomless well, wallowing not only in the puddle, but also in a profound existential crisis. Writer lies there in tortured despair, questioning his own value as a successful writer, and as a human being.
"…Who is going to get pangs of conscience? Me? I do not have a conscience. I have only nerves. Some scoundrel scolds me—a wound. Another scoundrel praises me—another wound. You put your soul in it, you put your heart in it—they will devour both the soul and the heart. You extract the baseness out of the soul—they devour the baseness….And I did think earlier that somebody must become better because of my books. But nobody needs me! I will die, and in two days they will forget me and begin devouring somebody else. For I wanted to remake them, but I myself was remade! In their own image….They do not want to know anything! All they know is how to devour!"      
But he survives this inward meat grinder. Stalker is hugely relieved, praising him, saying many do not survive. But Writer is angry and resentful because he's the one who had to go first into it, and maybe also because the other two were present when he was baring his hateful, tormented heart.
     At the far end of the meat grinder they enter a strange little room with an ordinary-looking house window, a floor of planking much like the floor in Stalker's house (yet with water visible beneath the planks), a bare lightbulb that flares up and goes out, also like one in Stalker's house, and a bottle of sleeping pills—also like in Stalker's house. Writer, incensed, is complaining, accusing, and sneering. But then, oddly, a telephone starts ringing. Writer finally answers it, and it is a wrong number: He says, "Yes? No, this is not a clinic!" and hangs up. Odd, but they are creating the rules of their reality here, and they needed an interruption from the tense unpleasantness. 
     The Professor then impulsively picks up the phone and calls his laboratory. He tells a colleague there that he has found what was hidden, and that he intends to use it. The colleague accuses him of wanting to do this "vileness" out of spite at him, simply because he slept with the Professor's wife twenty years previously. Professor hangs up on him, and then in an unusually emotional, agitated state begins rationalizing why the Zone must be destroyed. Scum yearning for world conquest, or for who knows what monstrosities, will come to the Room to have their dreams come true…Strange crimes and super-diseases are already occurring, no doubt because of that Room….
     Writer, in cynical typicality, retorts that nobody has such universal love or hate, that all people want is sex and more money, plus maybe some petty revenge, like the death of their boss—and then Stalker, who's been mostly quiet, observes, "There cannot be happiness at someone else's expense." This one sentence in the movie has stayed with me more than any other. It is profoundly true. Or so it seems to me. But Stalker tends to be dismissed as a naïve ignoramus by the other two.
     Writer sarcastically makes a crown of thorns and puts it on. Why? Merely to show that wearing a crown of thorns doesn't necessarily mean anything? I don't know.
     At last they find themselves at the threshold of the Room. Near the doorway are two skeletons, one male, one female, locked in a lovers' embrace. They obviously didn't quite make it. Perhaps their attachment for each other, apparent even after death, somehow hindered their access to the Holy of Holies. The black dog is still with them, and whimpers. It lies near the skeletons, as though it's on their side; perhaps this dark spirit fears the Room, or the idea of the men entering it.
     Here Stalker delivers a little speech:
"I know you will be angry…but anyway, I must say to you...Here we are, standing at the threshold. This is the most important moment of your lives; you must know, that here your most cherished wish will come true. The most sincere one! The one born of greatest suffering!  You do not have to say anything. You have only to concentrate and try to remember the whole of your life. When people reflect upon the past, they become better. And, above all, the most important is...to believe! OK, and now you can go."
But nobody is eager to go in.
     By this time Writer has perceived that one's inmost wish may not be one's conscious wish; that an ugly heart is bound to have an ugly heart's desire. He declines.
     Finally, Professor agrees to enter. But first he pulls an apparatus out of his cherished knapsack (the knapsack the Zone allowed him to break the rules by retrieving), and begins fiddling with it, explaining that it's a twenty-kiloton nuclear bomb. "This Room will never bring happiness to anybody," he says. The Room must be destroyed, for the good of society.
     Scientific materialism tries to eradicate Mystery. The "Enlightenment" movement of a few hundred years ago combating "superstition." Marxist governments banning "the opiate of the masses."
     And he decides to annihilate the Zone with a nuclear bomb largely because somebody slept with his wife twenty years ago. See the danger of emotionally undeveloped intellect. 
     Stalker leaps at him, trying to tear the bomb out of his hands, but, surprisingly, it is Writer who fights him off again and again, eventually bloodying Stalker's face in the process. This surprises even the Professor. Finally, Stalker sits on the wet, debris-strewn floor, sobbing, his heart broken.
     Through his tears he says, "There’s nothing else left for the people in the world, is there! It’s the only...only place where one can come when there’s no hope left. You came here, didn’t you! Why are you destroying the faith?!" He wants to throw himself upon Professor again, but Writer flings him away.
     The Writer exclaims, "Shut up, you! I can see right through you! You don’t give a damn…" etc., etc.
     Then Stalker gives one of the most moving monologues in the story.
"It’s not true! Not true! You...You are wrong!" (He kneels in the stagnant water, washes tears and blood from his face, crying.) "A stalker must not enter the Room! A Stalker...must not enter the Zone for any ulterior motive! He must not; remember Porcupine! Yes, you’re right, I’m a louse, I haven’t done anything in this world and I cannot do anything. And neither could I give anything to my wife! And I do not have any friends and I cannot have any, but you cannot take what’s mine from me! Everything is already taken from me, there, on the other side of the barbed wire. All I have is here. Can you understand! Here! In the Zone! My happiness, my freedom, my dignity—everything’s here! For I lead the same as me here, unhappy ones, suffering. They...They have no other hope left! And I—I am able to! Can you understand? I am able to help them! Nobody else can help them, but I, the louse, I, louse, am able to! I am ready to shed tears of happiness that I am able to help them. That’s all! And I want nothing else."
Then, sitting there on the wet, filthy floor, he lowers his face to his knees.
     Such a heartfelt speech cannot but move the other two. The Professor changes his mind about using the bomb. But still neither wants to enter. The intellectual Professor may be, deep down, simply afraid of what he can't understand intellectually. On the other hand, Writer says,
"What is in accordance with your nature, your essence, is what comes true here. That essence that you have no idea about, but it sits in you and rules you all your life! You understood nothing….Porcupine was not overcome by his greed. He crawled on his knees in this very puddle begging for his brother [who died in the meat grinder]. And he got a lot of money, and couldn’t get anything else. Because a Porcupine gets everything that’s porcupine-like! Render unto Porcupine what belongs to Porcupine! And conscience, throes of the soul—it is invented, it‘s brain work. He understood that and hanged himself. I will not go into your Room! I do not want to spill all the trash that has accumulated inside me on anybody’s head, not even on yours, and afterwards run my head into the noose like Porcupine did. I’d rather drink myself to death in my mansion, in peace and quiet."     
There is truth in this. Most people simply are not ready for such a gift. They lack sufficient purity of heart to wish for or realize what is best, or even very good.
     The three men sit there together, at the threshold of the Room. Stalker is still quietly sobbing. The phone rings again, offering some distraction, but they ignore it this time. The Professor slowly disassembles the bomb and throws the pieces into the moving, stagnant water. The Zone can be neglected, and polluted by the rubbish of mankind, but never destroyed. Everything fades toward monochrome again. There is brief yet heavy rain, spirit falling from heaven through a hole in the roof. Really, it was not a meteor or an alien spaceship which caused the Zone to be, but Spirit which rains upon the earth every day, and flows through it. 
     There is one last view into the water: A large fish inspects a piece of the bomb above the ubiquitous white tile, and then something dark and reddish—apparently either oily sludge or Christ-like blood—covers the water and obscures the view, to the sound of another train. All becomes darkness.
     The journey through the Zone goes from outdoors to indoors, outward to inward. We never actually see the Room, the Holy of Holies, the Inner Sanctum which grants our heart's desire. Of course not! How can we see Nirvana, or God, or any absolute summum bonum? It's too inward to see. 
     Despite this climax, the movie isn't finished. By the time the train has stopped making its noise the scene is back in the barroom, with the men in the same positions they were in before they left (suggestive of the nonphysical nature of their journey), except now they're exhausted and covered with muck, and the Professor has also finally managed to lose his hat. The goblinesque black dog has followed them, and Stalker feeds it. Stalker's wife comes with Monkey, the silent, crippled daughter, and cheerfully greets them, asking if anyone wants to take the dog. Writer says he already has five (dogs or dark spirits: take your pick). Stalker leaves with his family. Professor seems simply exhausted and blank, but Writer, although tired, appears satisfied and thoughtful. He seems to smile while watching Stalker walk away with his family, his crippled daughter riding on his shoulders. 
     The movie's director has written: 
"The arrival of Stalker’s wife in the café where they are resting confronts the Writer and the Scientist with a puzzling, to them incomprehensible, phenomenon. There before them is a woman who has been through untold miseries because of her husband, and has had a sick child by him; but she continues to love him with the same selfless, unthinking devotion as in her youth. Her love and her devotion are the final miracle which can be set against the unbelief, cynicism, [and] moral vacuum poisoning the modern world, of which both the Writer and Scientist are victims." 
Maybe she is the reason why Writer smiles at the end as he watches them walk away? There may be some hope for him; his journey into the Zone seems not to have been totally in vain. He is less cynical now, and more humble. He has begun looking in a new direction.
     Suddenly, the world is in color again: It is a closeup of the girl Monkey as she rides solemnly on her father's shoulders. Nobody else is shown in color outside the Zone.
     They go home, trudging past a cooling pond near the power plant, and lots of mud. The wife gives milk to the dog (spilling some), and Stalker lies down next to it on the floor, in agonizing despair. His wife gently comforts him, and helps him to bed. Ironically, when the wife coaxes Stalker to bed, she tells him he shouldn't lie on the floor because it's too damp—after he's been wallowing in a swamp all day long. A cuckoo clock in the house makes its cheap, artificial little call, a shabby imitation of the cuckoo calling in the forest of the Zone. Wisps of something like cottonwood fluff float around inside the house, reminiscent of the snowy fallout in the Zone. The clear suggestion (as with the room near the Room with the house window, the plank flooring, the flaring light, and the pills, as well as with all the common objects lying underwater) is that the Zone is actually just a more real version of the everyday world—which, however, we fail to experience fully through cynicism, materialism, and spiritual bankruptcy, among other things. 
     Also ironically, one finally sees that in Stalker's bedroom is a wall covered from floor to ceiling with bookshelves, and well-used books. This implies that in addition to being a simple-hearted Holy Fool he is actually more intelligent, more cultured, and more civilized than the two leaders of society who had considered him such an ignorant wretch.
     Stalker's wife continues to comfort him, very different than before he left in the morning.
     He: "My God, what kind of people they are…"
     She: "Calm down...Calm down...It’s not their fault...One should pity them, and you’re getting angry."
     He: "Haven’t you seen them? Their eyes are empty!"
     His wife gives him a pill, then, holding his head, makes him drink some water from a glass. Then she strokes him and wipes his face. He is crying, and closes his eyes.
     He: "And they're thinking every minute how not to be sold too cheap, how to sell themselves for a higher price! So that everybody pays for every movement of their soul! They know that they are "born for a purpose"! That they are "called upon"! After all, they “only live once"! How can ones like this believe in anything?"
     She: "Calm down, stop...Try to fall asleep, ah?…Sleep…"
     He: "And nobody believes. Not only those two. Nobody! Whom should I lead in there? Oh, God... And the most terrifying thing is that nobody needs it anymore. Nobody needs that Room. And all my efforts are worthless!"
     She: "Why are you saying this. Don’t."
     He: "I will not lead anybody in there anymore." 
     She (with compassion): "Well...If you’d like, I will go with you. There. Do you want that?"
     He (opens his eyes, looks at her): "Where?"
     She: "Do you think I have nothing to wish for?"
     He: "No...You mustn’t…"
     She: "Why?"
     He: "No-no...And what if suddenly you will not...succeed either."
     Stalker closes his eyes again and turns his face away, a track of tears now visible across his dirty cheek and neck, and clearly showing the (roughly heart-shaped?) patch of white hair above his left ear. His faith is so shaken that he fears even his wife would fail. Perhaps if his faith were completely sound, that black dog wouldn't have followed him home. Stalker is no Buddha or Christ; he has his own struggles to deal with. And of course, outside the Zone he's always monochrome.
     His wife sits down on a stool and lights a cigarette, plenty of white tile behind her, and for the first time someone talks directly into the camera, looking the viewer in the eye, further incorporating him/her into the alternative reality of the movie, which is the reality we are creating.
"You know, my mom was very much against it. You must have, I suppose, realized he is blessed—'God’s fool.' The entire district laughed at him. And he was a blunderer, such a pathetic fellow… And my mom said, 'Isn’t he a stalker, isn’t he a condemned man, isn’t he a perpetual jailbird! And children. Remember what children stalkers get.' And I...I even...I didn’t even argue...I knew all this myself: both that he is a condemned man, and that he is a perpetual jailbird, and about the children too…And what could I have done? I was sure that I'd be happy with him. I knew also that there would be a lot of grief, but sorrowful happiness is better than...a grey and dull life." (She sobs, then smiles.) "Or perhaps I thought all that up afterwards." (She stands up, then moves to the window…) "And then he simply came up to me and said: 'Come with me,' and I went. And I never ever regretted after that. Never. And there has been a lot of grief, and it was frightening, and it was shameful. But I have never regretted and I have never envied anybody. It's just our fate, our life. Such are we. And if we hadn't had our misfortunes, it would not be better; it would be worse. Because then there would be...neither happiness, nor hope. That’s it."
He called her like Christ calling an apostle, and she had to follow, with love being her primary motive in life. Hence the miracle at the bar.
     Meanwhile, the little girl, Monkey, is in the kitchen, shown in full color, wearing her golden scarf. She sits at the table and reads a book, then putting it down, without moving her lips, recites a love poem by F. I. Tyutchev:

          "Your eyes I love, my darling friend,
          Their play, so passionate and brightening,
          When a sudden glance upward you send,
          And like a heavenly lightning
          Take all in from end to end...
          But there is a stronger spell I admire:
          Your eyes when they're downcast
          In bursts of love-inspired fire,
          When there through the lowered eyelashes
          Burns a somber, dim flame of desire."

The heart's desire. Her recitation of it may also signify her precocious (spiritual) maturity.
     Then, as the dog whimpers somewhere out of sight, she moves three glass vessels on the table with her mind, under the power of her gaze, so to speak. A hard-headed devotee of Scientific Materialism might insist that it was caused by the vibrations of yet another passing train. 
     She is crippled and dysfunctional in a worldly sense; but being the child of a dedicated stalker has its advantages too. 





Select Webliography

YouTube, The Movie Stalker with English subtitles
Part 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JYEfJhkPK7o
Part 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hUHBgqx8YP8
(You may have to turn on the English captions.)

Transcript of the Movie Stalker, by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, and Andrei Tarkovsky, translated into English by Kirill Zimin

The Guardian, "Danger! High-radiation arthouse!" by Geoff Dyer

"Andrei Tarkovsky's Nostalghia for the Light" by ???

East-West Church Ministry Report, "Tarkovsky's The Stalker: A Christian Allegory Set in the 'Evil Empire'" by Gregory Halvorsen Schreck

nostalghia.com, "Stalker's meaning in terms of temporality and spatial relations" by Greg Polin

nostalghia.com, "I'm interested in the problem of inner freedom…" by Andrei Tarkovsky, Jerzy Illg, and Leonard Neuger

nostalghia.com, "Tarkovsky at the Mirror" by Andrei Tarkovsky and Tonino Guerra








2 comments:

  1. Stalker is one of my all-time favorites. To me, it is ultimately about liminal spaces--those areas where the veil is thin. Thresholds, and how one walks though them. Those areas (be they temporal, spatial, or internal) where the vertical and the horizontal intersect and things...change. It was pointed out to me once that humans are attracted to areas where basic elements interact in panoramic/“wide lens” views, like the shoreline of a beach (earth, water) or mountain vistas (earth, air) precisely because these are natural liminal areas. Zones where distinction melts away and things...mingle.

    So outside of the obvious journey from the post-apocalyptic “normal” world of Stalker into the Zone--and all of the accompanying potential transformation and weirdness inherent to traveling from one world into another--there are plenty of other areas where the veil is pierced (to say nothing of the temporary veil pierced by the viewer of cinema itself: the willful desire to be taken somewhere).

    That’s the resonance of the film itself; the attention paid to scenery, pacing, actors’ inflections, etc. is extraordinary. The space between characters, and the time given to letting them explore that space, are fairly unique to me. And of course, the more the characters journey “forward,” the more things start to overlap, less like oils and more like watercolors, until past/present/future are blatantly reflecting each other, as are various geographical areas and motifs. Even dialogue gets overlapped here and there. Laws of physics fall apart, etc.

    From the hat of the Writer to the destroyed electrical insulators, those things that protect and insulate are falling away. Natural denizens, from dogs to flocks of birds to the webs of spiders, are guides and gatekeepers into the precipice. And because the film is more about thresholds as opposed to what lies beyond them, things fall apart every time the characters move past one of these sentries. Zone tunnels that loop back upon themselves, indirect methods of entry, foamy waves of water over human detritus, rippling ground; all ways in which the structures of humans fall apart once the insulation is removed.

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  2. Man's attempt to reconnect with 'heaven'. To return to divine consciousness. Creating myths and stories in an attempt to satiate the mind. And then, as when the girl moves the glasses with her mind, we find that we are still unsatisfied with our 'finding'. An eternal hell of the mind.

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