Tarkovsky's Stalker: a religious experience on film 

No Man's Land

No Man's Land

The Zone exists beyond the gates of the city. No one can say for certain how it got there, but nothing is absolute. Armed guards patrol the exterior, countless many have died exploring it, and deep within it is supposedly a room where your ultimate dream becomes real. So you have a giant id of possibility in the midst of a mysterious and desolate landscape, filled with wreckage and impermanence. And running the show is director Andrei Tarkovsky, the Russian master whose spiritual explorations (Solaris, The Mirror) and willingness to push the boundaries of national censors made him one of the most enduring and unique filmmakers from the former Soviet Union.

His 1979 film Stalker is the journey of human enlightenment. Its visual sensibility is revelation, both in the biblical sense and the sense of gradually establishing the physical extent of a place. Working primarily in long takes, Tarkovsky makes an act as simple as shifting focus almost revolutionary. Especially as regards the physical properties of The Zone, where our initial visual impressions cannot be relied upon — geography shifts, menace lurks everywhere. This makes perfect sense in a film about faith and knowledge — one must soldier on, following the vaguest of impressions from an authority figure we don't understand.

Three men enter The Zone, men with names reduced to "one who does" signifiers. Just as these men are distilled to their actions, the paths of water in this film represent ideas. Outside of The Zone, we see puddles and scattered moisture; but they don't move. As soon as we are loose in The Zone, not only is the color brighter, but there are rivers, and rain, and torrential waterfall (as well as the poisoned river that some believe killed Tarkovsky and several other cast and crew members). It's dangerous and mysterious, but so is any experience once its vast, unknowable potential is exposed.

When Stalker played at Sarratt in 2003, I felt spiritually overwhelmed. It was as if the distinction between cinema and church fell away — not because of a specific ideology, but because the journey of this film eliminates the certainties we carry with us. For some, it could be the submission that comes with recovery; for others, the ecstasy of salvation. For others, it is what Magherini called Stendhal's Syndrome, where simply being in the presence of great art is physically overwhelming. But the experience of Stalker is greater than you can imagine. I can't tell you what will lie at its heart for you. You have to take those steps yourself.

Email arts@nashvillescene.com.

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