This week’s Criterion Review wanders into the realm of science fiction with Andrei Tarkovsky’s final film, Stalker. It is a gorgeous, sprawling film that meditates on nuclear war, finding one’s purpose in life, and even religion. Despite covering such a wide variety of themes, Stalker is a film that will take your breath away with each drop of water.
This essay is by our guest writer, Vikram Zutshi.
When people first encounter the cinema of Andrei Tarkovsky, it can feel akin to a religious experience. Time seems to stand still and one beholds the world as if through new eyes. “My discovery of Tarkovsky’s first film was like a miracle. Suddenly, I found myself standing at the door of a room the keys of which had until then, never been given to me. It was a room I had always wanted to enter and where he was moving freely and fully at ease“ rhapsodized Swedish auteur Ingmar Bergman. “I felt encountered and stimulated: someone was expressing what I had always wanted to say without knowing how” he said, adding that “Tarkovsky is for me the greatest, the one who invented a new language, true to the nature of film, as it captures life as a reflection, life as a dream.”
Born on April 4th, 1932 in the Yuryevetsky district of Russia, Tarkovsky made only seven films over the course of his career, cut short by terminal cancer on 29th December, 1986. Tarkovsky’s works Andrei Rublev, Solaris, Mirror, and Stalker are regularly listed among the greatest films of all time. After his death, some former KGB agents testified that the director did not die of natural causes but was poisoned to curtail what the Soviet authorities saw as production of anti-Soviet propaganda. The allegations were backed up his doctor.
Tarkovsky came of age as a filmmaker in 1950’s Russia, during a period referred to as the Khrushchev Thaw, during which Soviet society grew more accepting of foreign films, literature and music. He was able to see films of European, American and Japanese directors, an experience which influenced his own ouevre. He soaked up the films of the Italian neo-realists, French New Wave, and of directors such as Kurosawa, Buñuel, Bergman, Bresson, Andrzej Wajda and Mizoguchi.