Genre: Sci-Fi, Mystery, Drama
Starring: Aleksandr Kaidanovsky, Anatoli Solonitsyn, Nikolai Grinko
Director: Andrei Tarkovsky
Tarkovsky might be a name known to many, or it might just be the select few who have spent any deal of time exploring classic Sci-Fi films, but regardless of how well known he is, he is often praised of something of a 'Russian answer to Stanley Kubrick' with the infamous “Solaris” being his “2001.” But it's not Solaris that has drawn my initial attention but this overlooked work which I already know something about having played through the series of games that draws heavily from this piece, but if you're under the illusion that anything more than the environment is to feature here then remove that notion before you get too far. This is intelligent, philosophically thought provoking and superbly detailed in it's subtle suggestions. It's also over two and a half hours long and mostly filled with prolonged images of three balding Russian men walking through a field. Take from this what you will.
The tale follows the path taken by our Stalker as he leads a small group of people, to the infamous and semi-mythical place known only as 'The Room.' Deep in the heart of the Zone, a place that is rumoured to have been created by a meteorite but for all the talk of advanced alien technology the mystery of how it came to be is never unveiled, it promises to give anyone who enters their deepest and innermost wish in the near future, but approaching this miracle room is not a straight-forward affair. Indeed, you cannot simply walk on up to the room for the short journey is full of traps and pitfalls; invisible 'portals' that send you in circles, small isolated patches of violent wind and other more inherently dangerous traps that can only be imagined. It is for this reason that the Stalker is hired as a guide to carefully traverse the land he has come to learn and respect, giving the last chance of hope to those who have nothing left.
It is through the eyes of these three characters that we get involved in the deep metaphysical philosophy; the nature of your inner desires and whether we genuinely know what we want to wish for, and even if we did, whether we would even have the foresight to realise that such a wish is unlikely to grant us happiness in the long term. It is, as the film describes, a place for the wretched with no hope. The long shots into the dead eyes of our main protagonist as he desperately seeks to help someone and prove his life has some form of worth, and he isn't the only one without any sense of hope. These three are already dead, and it's only the promise of The Room that gives them any incentive to continue on. The problems arise from just how long it spends in divulging these sequences; this is minimalist beyond minimalism, and with such an weight on the little dialogue that is spoken a lot of it becomes lost in translation. There is so much to be explored but instead it poses the question and lets the viewer ponder upon it themselves; there's no exploration of the questions posed within the film itself, and this is pretty disappointing.
That's nothing against the view of the actual backdrop itself, or the cinematography which for all its pacing issues is rarely short of impressive. The manner the decaying ruins surround them, the haunting feeling of a world that was once brimming with life but now reduced to the remnants of what people left behind in their fit to escape and leaving nature to return to its normal overgrown state, dominating over what once was. The same is true for the design of the traps, and whilst incredibly simple in its use of effects remains startlingly effective, one tunnel scene in particular somehow fabricating tension out of thin air. It's simply the pacing that becomes overwhelming. At least 2/3rds of the film is not spent furthering the story at all, but showing us long rolling footage of their surroundings. There are in fact a very small number of shots and you can spend minutes doing nothing but rolling past a decrepit river or watching a man lying in the grass. I can understand the necessity for maintaining the immersion and respect that he wanted to leave plenty of room to interpret events and appearances, but at times this just becomes pretentious.