Year: 1979

Production: Mosfilm

Director: Andrei Tarkovsky

Starring: Aleksandr Kaidanovsky, Anatoli Solonitsyn, Nikolai Grinko

Screenwriter: Arkady and Boris Strugatski

Based on their Roadside Picnic (1972)

161 minutes; Color

The original novel tells of a mysterious Zone in Canada where enigmatic artifacts can be found, left there like picnic litter by aliens. Tarkovsky's somewhat inaccessible film, set in a desolate, unnamed country which is probably to be read as an allegorical Russia, de-emphasizes the sf elements. In place of the alien artifacts is the Room, where (maybe) one's most secret wish will be granted. To reach the Room, one must enter the Zone (photographed in muted color, as opposed to the bleak b/w opening sequence set in an industrial wasteland) - perhaps an ironic gift from a probably nonexistent God - which is a little like the alien killer-maze in Algis Budry's Rogue Moon (1960): it is a mixture of dereliction and greenery, waterlogged, a maze of ever-changing lethal traps, to be traversed only in a kind of drunkard's walk, an arbitrary zigzag. The Stalker, the shaven-headed smuggler-saint whose wretched life flares up only within the Zone, which he loves, is guided to the Writer and the Professor, the former seeking genius, the latter secretly planning to bomb the Room.

Stalker is agonizingly static, punctuated by abstract philosophical conversations with long pauses, and yet for some viewers it has an almost unequalled hypnotic intensity. This is partly due to Tarkovsky's lingering artist's eye, catching the beauty of ugliness as, for example, the camera pans endlessly across a shallow lake in the Zone whose floor is kitchen tiles, passing indifferently across coins, syringes, icons, calendars, a gun, all looming through the weed. The Room is reached, but left unentered and unbombed. Afterwards, at the Stalker's home, we witness his legless daughter (the children of stalkers being often mutated) push a glass slowly across a table by telekinesis while her exhausted father sleeps, the only unambiguous miracle of the film. Stalker is a meditation on faith and cynicism, certainly pretentious, memorable for some, and perhaps the grimmest metaphor for Russia produced by a Russian in our generation.

The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction

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