Stalker (1979)

stalker poster 1979 movie
9.0 Overall Score
Story: 8/10
Acting: 8/10
Visuals: 10/10

Thought provoking, great looking

The lack of a concrete story is both frustrating and purposeful

Movie Info

Movie Name: Stalker

Studio: Mosfilm

Genre(s): Sci-Fi/Fantasy

Release Date(s):  May 1979 (Moscow)/May 13, 1980 (Cannes)/October 20, 1982 (US)

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

stalker sepia opening

Who wouldn’t want to leave this world?

The Zone is forbidden.  In the Zone the Room exists and in the Room, people deepest dreams come true.  The stalkers leads clients into the Zone to find the Room, but the path through the Zone is dangerous and never the same.  Things have a way of getting lost in the Zone.  A stalker (Alexander Kaidanovsky) takes “the Writer” (Anatoly Solonitsyn) and “the Professor” (Nikolai Grinko) into the Zone…what are their dreams?  What do they hope to find in the Room?  Is the Room’s gift a curse or a gift?

Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky, Stalker (Сталкер) is a Russian science-fiction movie.  Following Tarkovsky’s Mirror in 1975, the story is developed from the 1972 Boris and Arkady Strugatsky book Roadside Picnic and was released at Cannes in 1980 after premiering in the Soviet Union in 1979.  The movie has gained cult status over the years, and the Criterion Collection released a remastered version of the film (Criterion #888).

stalker writer professor nikolai grinko anatoly solonitsyn

Remember we paid for this

Tarkovsky is a tricky director.  His direction is amazing and the results are flawless…but it takes a lot of tolerance and a lot of concentration to get through his movies (which generally aren’t that short either).  With Solaris, you had a story of a planet that tries to appease astronauts by “giving” them their lost loves…here, dreams are tapped into once again for a somewhat companion piece in Stalker.

While for the most part, Solaris can be broken down into “a story” with a plot and pieces that eventually come together, Stalker feels a bit more obtuse and difficult to get a handle on.  The story features characters pontificating in an abandoned world and contemplating the meaning and value of dreams and desires.  The Room gives you what you want, but that gift is a double-edged sword.  Deep down, what you want might not always be what is right (showing in the story of Porcupine), and without sadness and lost, achieving a dream loses meaning.  This seems to be the boiled down themes of the movie, but it is a long right to get there.

stalker tunnel zone

Entering the tunnel of terror

The cast is good.  Alexander Kaidanovsky plays the anguished stalker who feels like a war vet who has spent too much time on the battlefield.  He doesn’t feel right at home, and he doesn’t feel right in the Zone…he belongs nowhere.  Anatoly Solonitsyn as the Writer is bitter and teeters between hoping the Room will help keep his inspiration and fearing that once inspired that the writing will be meaningless.  He is the one who butts heads most with the stalker and questions the rules.  The Professor played by Nikolai Grinko (and voiced by Sergei Yakovlev) thinks the Room is too dangerous and that dreams achieved can only mean a failure and breakdown of society…but his decision about what to about it and if he should decide causes his conflict.  The film also features a strange and rather small role by the stalker’s wife played by Alisa Freindlich who directly addresses the camera and almost serves as a voice of reason to the heavy philosophical questions of the film.

stalker zone sand

I bet there are Grabbers from Tremors under the sand

The movie looks fantastic.  The beginning and ending of the film (outside of the Zone) feature a sienna stylized look that is reminiscent of The Wizard of Oz.  One the group enters the Zone it (like The Wizard of Oz) gains color which is sharp contrast to the dreary world the characters live in.  Despite the hope provided by the Zone, the Zone is littered with things like discarded needles and filth.  It gets progressively worse the deeper that the characters go into the Zone and this also reflects their mental states…but even in the worst locations Tarkovsky’s vision prevails.

Stalker almost feels like a complete mind-f*!% type of movie.  While you watch it, you keep reading into what you are seeing and what the Zone means, but I don’t know that there is really an answer.  It is like an odd Waiting for Godot type moment where you keep expecting the unexpected to happen…but Godot never comes.  I think the enigma of the Zone and the Room are meant to be that since they mean something different to everyone.  I don’t know while watching Stalker if the answers are there at all…which could be extremely frustrating.  It is also something I’ve come to expect from Tarkovsky and his view of cinema and the world.  Tarkovsky followed Stalker with Nostalghia in 1983.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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