Tony Grist (poliphilo) wrote,
Tony Grist
poliphilo

Tarkovsky's Stalker

Tarkovsky lacks a sense of humour. Is that a problem? Yes I think it is rather. Human beings find things funny. Even very grim things. Especially very grim things. It's who we are, it's how we cope. Tarkovsky appears to be telling us deep truths about the human condition, but can you do that without occasionally cracking a smile? I'm not sure you can.
 
In Stalker three middle-aged men travel through a zone of extreme danger towards a mysterious room that is said to be able to make one's innermost wishes come true. In real life people placed in such a situation would josh along with one another- they would make nervous little jokes- as soldiers do when they waiting to go into battle.  Not these guys. These guys bore one another with bitter monologues about art and the futility of human existence. Which makes them unreal. Or- at best- like 18 year-olds in a bedsit. Tarkovsky is a great artist- I've no doubt of that- but his view of life remains frozen in late adolescence.

Stalker is the kind of movie you want to make when you're 18 and you've read a bit of Dostoevsky and you've never had a girlfriend.  It is grindingly slow and scattered with symbols that mean a lot to the artist but not necessarily to the viewer. Very little happens and the action keeps pausing for poems and extracts from scripture to be read. We hear snatches of classical favourites- Wagner- and corniest of all- Beethoven's Hymn to Joy. I'm making it sound absurd- and it almost is- but not quite. 

And the reason it isn't is because Tarkovsky also retains into maturity the intensity and self-belief of adolescence.  The power of his vision is unwavering. I will make you look at this wodge of unremarkable green field until the green of it burns through the cornea into your brain.  Bergman put it memorably. "Film...is dream. That is why Tarkovsky is the greatest of them all. He moves with such naturalness in the room of dreams."  And this is absolutely true. Tarkovsky's movies are the most dreamlike movies ever made. Even the pomposity is dreamlike- the words, words, words that sound so impressive but actually mean very little-  Even the humourlessness. Are there jokes in dreams?  No, I don't believe there are.

There is a difference between profundity and deadly seriousness. Deadly-seriousness is when you look unwaveringly at life's horrors. Profundity is when you also laugh at them. Dreams are deadly serious but not profound. Tarkovsky is the absolute master of the deadly serious. 
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