Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Virtue of Indifference: a review of "Stalker" (1979)

Stalker (1979), like many of Tarkovsky's films, proceeds slowly and thoughtfully through familiar landscapes made strange.  The plot is allegorical: two men, one a scientist and the other a writer, engage a "stalker" to guide them to the heart of the "Zone."  The Zone looks for the most part like normal countryside, except that there are burned out tanks and a few ruined, Soviet-style bunkers laying about.  It was cordoned off by the military of the small, imaginary country in which the film is set, after a few units of soldiers had mysteriously disappeared.  But rumors have it that in the heart of the Zone, there is a room that grants the deepest desire of those who step through its door.  

The Zone represents the Unconscious, and the film is an investigation of the logic of desire.  Its argument is that desire invents its own objects (success, revenge, meaning, escape) but can never be satisfied.  A desiring existence is unbearable--endlessly deferring and disappointing.  

Not until the conclusion of the film does Tarkovsky seem to suggest two alternatives to the manacles of desire.  These are presented by the wife and daughter of the Stalker.  The wife, speaking directly towards the camera, attempts to make suffering into a universal principle, something to be accepted even.  But whom is she trying to convince?  Her eyes, her nervous way of smiling, clearly belie her desperate rationalizations.  The stalker's daughter, on the other hand, never says a word.  In the final scene, her father places her at a table (she was born crippled...or perhaps without the desire to walk); when he leaves, she lays down her head and with a disinterested, bored look on her face seems to push three glasses across the surface with her mind...or at least appears to.  She, it seems, is wired differently, with a mind that does not desire nor accept but rather rejects and destroys indifferently.

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