Stalker (Сталкер) Made in: Russia (former USSR) Language: Russian Director: Andrei Tarkovsky Starring: Aleksandr Kajdanovsky, Anatoli Solonitsyn, Nikolai Grinko Year: 1979
Synopsis: The Zone is a mysterious, supernatural realm where visitors never return alive. Cordoned off by heavily armed police and soldiers, the Zone is said to contain a room where, upon entering, your innermost wishes will be granted.
The only one with the ability to safely navigate the Zone is a man called the Stalker (Aleksandr Kajdanovsky). For a price, he will sneak visitors into the Zone and safely guide them to the special room.
On his latest journey, he takes two other people. One is a scientist known only as Professor (Nikolai Grinko), and the other is a hardened cynic known only as Writer (Anatoli Solonitsyn).
But during this particular journey through the Zone, the Stalker finds that this time, events unfold in very unexpected ways...
The Good: Like Animal House and Star Trek: The Motion Picture, this is one of the few 70s movies I can name off the top of my head that thankfully does not contain bell-bottoms.
Acclaimed director Andrei Tarkovsky, also well-known for his '75 classic Solaris, creates a haunting, deeply psychological exploration of the human spirit.
Without the use of visual effects, Tarkovsky conveys a sense of foreboding and supernatural eeriness in the Zone mainly through sound, the performances of the actors, and the natural landscape of the location. I'd argue that the detailed sound editing does the most to create the atmosphere of the film.
The overall premise is really cool, and for the most part, Tarkovsky's approach works well. His rich shot composition is unforgettable, and the film is full of philosophical, thought-provoking arguments about life, the human condition, and spirituality.
Many Russian films are known for being deep, and so to call Stalker a deep movie is a gross understatement. For seasoned film aficionados, there will be lots to talk/debate about when it's over (especially the very end).
Stalker also has a timeless look to it. There aren't any clear hints to reveal exactly when the movie was made. And as I said earlier, there are no bell-bottoms!
The Bad: Anyone who voluntarily watches this movie twice is either brave or needs to have his head examined. I won't say to avoid this film altogether, as Andrei Tarkovsky deserves much more respect than that.
But watching this with my 21st Century sensibilities, I must say that this movie is slow. Excruciatingly slow. At almost three hours it made a transatlantic flight seem shorter. And it's not just because of the pacing.
Many of the camera movements are incredibly slow too, making me wonder if Tarkovsky saved money on his budget by hiring sloths and koala bears as camera assistants.
Much of it is shot in a monochrome, sepia-like tint that brought back nightmares of watching the weird, boring stuff I suffered through back in film school. Although the film does turn to color at some point, the temptation to watch Stalker while baked will be difficult to resist.
Who would like this movie: The bottom line is, I still think this is an exceptionally well-made film. However, it's hard to appreciate unless you already have a very, very strong affinity to art, philosophy, Russian film, history, and sitting around for extended periods of time.
So avoid it if you just like entertainment. Incredibly cerebral and layered, this is one for a very select group of people.