I can describe Stalker in a few terms; labyrinthian, enigmatic, despairing. These terms apply not only to The Zone within the film, but the film itself.
Even though a good hour and a half of this film is set in essentially one location (the building in which houses The Room and the surrounding area just outside), the film makes a dream-like and confused journey of it, with characters disappearing from frame on one side and reappearing again on the other as the camera pans over, or characters getting left behind only show up again as the others press on ahead. The masterful camerawork shows us so much, each shot perfectly framed, and yet, we are never convinced that we are being guided through anything less than a open spaced maze. The viewer is never sure where they are going, where they are or where they have been and through it all, likely left feeling as lost as the Writer and Professor must have felt as they follow the Stalker’s lead though the enigma they know as The Zone.
The Zone is utterly confounding. One is never at any point sure what is possible in this place or of what it’s capable. We know that many have disappeared here or otherwise met their demises, but we never see by what means their fates have been met. Tanks and various vehicles lie desolate, a pair a skeletons lay forgotten in a final, eternal embrace. We are told The Porcupine’s brother was killed during a venture to The Room, but otherwise we have little to go on as to what happens to those who evoke The Zone’s punishment. And what is it that’s behind The Zone? Aliens? God? Something unfathomable perhaps. Is it even something with consciousness? Perhaps it’s an unimportant question, really. What we know is that The Zone and the consequences for “disrespecting” it are real.
And The Room with it’s promise of granting one’s innermost, secret desire is real, as evidence by the unseen Porcupine character, who committed suicide one week after returning The Room. The Room is a deeply troubling concept, and it’s function seems to be, rather than the bland “your wish has been granted” type miracle that some a who have ventured to that place presumed it would be, but rather a journey to meet oneself, one’s true inner self, which can be soul-crushing and traumatizing, as your secret, unconscious desire is laid bare to be reckoned with. Porcupine, in his conscience mind, thought to bring his brother back from the dead, only to be rewarded with a big pile of money once he returned home. Most of us consider ourselves good, well-intentioned people, but how many of us would also find a pile of cash once we got home? Even if consciously we set out to fulfill a desire of noble intent? The Room, in a way, is a mirror for looking into one’s own ‘soul’, which I think would break many of us. And in the end, the Stalker’s clients wisely chose not to enter. I think that only those who have pure hearts, either pure goodness or evil, could theoretically use The Room with satisfaction. But it begs the question if anybody like that actually exists. The Professor sets out with the intention of destroying The Room, lest it fall into the hands of an evil sort, but who knows if somebody as such could even make it that far into The Zone? Either way, The Room is not what you’d imagine it would be at first based on a simple one sentence description of it.
A few more things about movie; This is a near perfect film, I’d say. Given the time and place (and production setbacks as well), one can easily forgive the very few technical imperfections and Stalker is about as perfect as one could possibly hope for it to be. As I said, the camerawork is masterful. Every shot in the film can be used as a desktop background. I love the use of sepia-tone in this film. It somehow feels more colourless than black & white. To me, I interpret the colour change shifts to reflect The Stalker character’s hope, as all parts of the film that are in full colour are in The Zone or focused on his daughter (I love that colour shot that starts off appearing as if his daughter is walking on her own, implying the wishes he holds for her future.)
The best films have the least amount of editing and the editing very restrained (I doubt Tarkovsky shot much coverage at all). Because shots last so long (and not without purpose) there are many, many, many shots that will stick with you long after you’ve seen it. The sound design is on point. The acting is wonderfully restrained at most times, but when the actors are required to give strong emotional performances, they deliver splendidly. The music, also restrained, provides so much whenever it is used, adding to the strange atmosphere. Perhaps what I enjoy the most is the film’s atmosphere. The desolate, quiet and lonely nature of the world, as we see it, really speaks to me and reminds me alot of Eraserhead in a sense. It sounds weird, but I kinda want to visit the areas as portrayed in this film.
I would probably give the film a 9/10 overall. Very close to a 10 out of 10. I will, likely, never fully understand this film, and I’m fine with that. Stalker will be a film I’ll keep returning to and maybe I can grasp a little more of it’s truth (and perhaps my own) with each subsequent viewing.
TD;DR - Stalker is a masterpiece.