Sat November 18, 2017, 7:30 PM

Muenzinger Auditorium

Intro by Jillian Porter

Andrei Tarkovsky’s epic length sci-fi opus “Stalker” chronicles nothing less than the journey of man toward happiness and enlightenment. Set in the near future, the film uses highly metaphorical archetypes for characters as three men, a Writer, a Professor, and a Stalker, or guide, named only by profession, move through “the Zone.” The Zone is a wasteland roped off by the government after a meteor strike twenty years earlier, and they make their way toward a fabled room that will supposedly grant the innermost desire of any whom enters it. Progress is maddeningly slow, as the Stalker informs them that a direct route to the room is not possible in the Zone, since it punishes those who do not show it proper respect. As such, the bulk of the film records the last two hundred meters of their journey almost in real time, as they crisscross their way toward the Promised Land.

Their slow trek allows much time for philosophizing, and the Writer and Professor spar with each other about their ideals and methodology. Clearly, the film means for us to take these two characters as representatives of man’s approaches in the great struggle toward knowledge, and it works, for the most part. The Writer is a particularly fascinating creation and his arguments against himself are eternal dilemmas caused by knowing too much. Since he is fully aware of the ramifications of true wish fulfillment, it creates a sense of fear of his own limitations and the implications of the room’s very existence. When faced with the prospect of actually reaching Nirvana, which the film presents as impetus for all art and science, it becomes daunting to them, lending tragic dimensions to their journey.

The pleasures felt while watching Stalker are mostly sensory. The film’s use of sound is sophisticated and its cinematography is stunningly good, representing both some of the best color and black and white lensing ever done. The wasteland of the Zone is ultra-detailed, brimming with textured filth. The editing rhythms rarely exceed the pace of the journeymen, and as a result of all this the film manages to transport us elsewhere without elaborate effects. (J. Heilman,

Against the fractured density of Mirror, Stalker sets a form of absolute linear simplicity. The Stalker leads two men, the Writer and the Professor, across the Zone - a forbidden territory deep inside a police state - towards the Room, which can lay bare the devices and desires of your heart. However, let no one persuade you that this is sci-fi or common allegory. The ragged, shaven-headed men are familiar from Solzenitzyn, and the zone may be a sentient landscape of hallucinatory power, but its deadly litter of industrial detritus is all too recognisable. The wettest, grimmest trek ever seen on film leads to nihilistic impasse - huddled in dirt, the discovery of faith seems impossible; and without faith, life outside the Zone, impossible. But hang on in to the ending, where a plain declaration of love and a vision of pure magic at least point the way to redemption. As always, Tarkovsky conjures images like you've never seen before; and as a journey to the heart of darkness, it's a good deal more persuasive than Coppola's.

-CPEA, Time Out London

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