A writer, a professor, and a naturalist walk into a field. The naturalist says, “Follow me and I will take you somewhere that will make manifest any wish dear to your heart.” This may sound like a joke – it certainly is written as one – but it is not; this is the plot to Stalker by Andrei Tarkovsky.
In Stalker, the main character, played by Aleksandr Kaidanovsky, has a unique gift to navigate through The Zone. The crawl text at the beginning of the film explains that something peculiar happens, creating a mysterious area outside of town that has been named the Zone; it’s an area that someone is rarely able to leave if they enter, unless they are led along by a stalker. In the film, the Stalker is paid by the writer and the professor, Anatoli Solonitsyn and Nikolai Grinko, to help them find their way to a room within the Zone.
The idea of the Zone is left incredibly vague to the viewer, mostly because it is not important, but also to help and vault the metaphysical idea. We do learn, early, that the stalkers are convinced that the only unsafe way to traverse the Zone is in a straight line, but however you do manage to get through, you need to prepare yourself for what you will learn about yourself.
There are two aspects of Stalker that need to be highlighted. As the film begins, the images have a visual tone that seems to fluctuate between black and white and sepia, leaving it with an eerie filtered appearance, but once the three men enter the Zone we are filled, mostly, with lush color. The colors and Tarkovsky’s penchant for long and distant shots almost seem to defy time itself as the film feels like it keeps a good clip.
The second aspect seems to be fairly common among all of the films on this list. Something that almost commands a viewer to take several steps back and see themselves in the films. In the same light, it is very difficult to write about these effects without detracting from someone else’s experience.
Stop here if this sounds like a film you intend to watch as I am going to get introspective and speculative.
The Zone seems like an extension of the stalker’s mind, insomuch that he takes personal journeys into his subconscious and the professor and the writer are different aspects of himself. The pitfalls throughout their path are choices that we all have to make throughout our lives that dictate who we eventually become. Some decisions that we make could lead us to abandoning our creativity, for instance, in the pursuit of a more logical path.
The professor’s intended actions terrify me. If you consider the film as I just did, imagining that any portion of someone’s mind may be interested in destroying hope must be frightening. I suppose that is why we should not go it alone in life.