According to Andrei Tarkovsky from his book, Sculpting in Time he says, “I am interested in man, for he contains a universe within himself; and in order to find expression for the idea, for the meaning of human life, there is no need to spread behind it, as it were a canvas crowded with happenings.” Tarkovsky examines life by portraying it as is, lingering in on moments that may or may not have material to them that progresses the story forward. It’s not your typical Hollywood format where a story is edited, polished, and reproduced with a happy ending that produces an enormous amount of money for mass audiences. Nostalghia is a story about the protagonist Gorchakov’s state of mind as he’s unable to find tranquility within himself and his reality around him, while yearning for his is old life of his homeland and family.
The story has a moody resonance with profound sadness which is basically what nostalgia is and Tarkovsky translates his own personal awareness of this into the story. There’s a sense of emptiness and longing weaved into the story’s timeline, where we see short black and white flashbacks that appear to be of Gorchakov’s family. Another notion that goes along with Nostalghia is the intrinsic feeling of spirituality, where Gorchakov endures the formidable task of pacing back and forth in an empty pool with a lit candle. He tries to keep the flame alive, which very much represents a metaphor for life.
There’s also an interesting contrast between the Gorchakov character, who is a poet, and the mad man, Domenico, whom he befriends while in Italy. The beauty to both of these characters, is how the mad man and the poet are very much the same person, because in a way to be an artist is to be kind of maddening. There is also a clever line from Domenico that enforces the very idea of the two being one, when he’s pouring a bottle olive oil he says, “One drop plus one drop makes a bigger drop, not two.”
The final scene of the film also has a metaphorical element, where Gorchakov is in an abandoned cathedral and his nostalgia of his loved ones are among him, which shows how is state of mind is converging his reality with his long last past that of which he yearns to be part of again. It’s cinematically breath taking scene that also leaves an open-ended philosophical interpretation which is refreshing to contemplate how it makes a person feel and again question what it means to be human.