Tarkovsky’s film, Stalker is an elusive, beautifully cryptic story that smells as if it foretold the disaster of Chernobyl that occurred in 1986. Which was several years after the film was completed. Creepy? Yes. There’s an eerie resonance that echoes throughout the narrative of the film, where a man known as the stalker acts as a tour guide taking a writer and professor on a carefully, nearly calculated journey into the place that is known as the Zone.
The Zone is an abandoned land of corroded buildings, farms, trees, fields, and seemingly feels like it’s an alternative reality that provides curiosity seekers a chance to find some form of salvation. There’s a zealotry effect at play given that this mysterious room located in the zone has some magical wish-granting power for those who seek it, but its also heavily patrolled by armed guards.
As eerie as the story unfolds, the mise en scène provides an even creepier exposition of obscure dunes, damp tunnels, a lurking black dog, a gorgeous tracking shot that roams through a stream of scattered junk, toxic chemicals spewing through the air, and a decrepit room that looks like its going to cave in on itself. The opening scene has a dank, rustic sepia texture making it feel like a dismal world which ironically is of a room, where the stalker awakens for his morning ritual before he makes his long trek through the zone, to end up in another room. Tarkovsky uses color to distinguish worlds, between the sepia tone for the dismal reality and color for the world of the zone.
Along with the strange moments of Stalker, there are also humorous scenes, where stalker is chauffeuring his travel mates in a jeep, peeping around corner walls, and in a way dilly-dallying they’re way from the armed guards, hoping they don’t get caught while trying to enter the zone. The movement of the actors, and positioning of the camera makes for a comical sequence. There’s also a notable scene, where the three finally reach the room and after a dramatic monologue of each of their intentions and conclusions about the room, a phone randomly rings in the midst of a somber conversation. This breaks the tension but also makes the audience question the purpose behind such an interruption.
Whatever the case it works. Much of the journey has a fascinating essence because the audience doesn’t quite know what’s going to happen, and in a way they’re along the voyage with the stalker. Tarkovsky does an incredible job knowing what to focus on as the camera lingers along the noiseless, meadow landscapes making you wonder what trap is going to land the crew into trouble. There’s an air of mystery about the Zone, making you wonder what is it about this hallowed land that makes these characters yearn for a deeper sense of knowledge or their personal curiosities into the unknown. Perhaps, it was the excess fumes of the toxic chemicals from the supposed meteorite that created the Zone. Perhaps, it’s the voyage is purely about hope and combating the worn down surrounding of their actual livelihoods.