Review: Stalker (1979)



Screenplay By: Arkadi & Boris Strugatsky & Andrei Tarkovsky
Directed By: Andrei Tarkovsky

There isn’t a hard rule when it comes to films giving you time to think about the issues they present. Some movies hit you fast and move on, while other movies stop and linger for long periods of time. Movies that take either tract have worked and have failed. But, I happen to be a fan of the middle ground between those two styles. The films that give you something to think about and allow you to think but don’t dwell and linger so long that it reaches the point where I no longer feel the need to pay attention. Andrei Tarkovsky is not a fan of that middle ground, he is a fan of long movies with long periods of reflection. I am not a big fan of Tarkovsky, I respect his skill, and he makes good movies, but I have yet to see a movie from Tarkovsky that I would label as great.

I have spent a good deal of my life entrenched in philosophy and ideas, applying them to life around me, to history, to movies, to books, to everything. But, philosophy can’t exist by itself, it needs something to be applied to. I mean, it can exist by itself, but that type of philosophy has never appealed to me. Stalker applies philosophy to some base human emotions and actions, but I never felt there was enough of a tangible connection between the philosophy of the film and the real world. One of my philosophy professors once told me that the worst thing any philosophy student can do is become so enveloped in the tenets of philosophy that they lose sight of what drives philosophy, humanity. I won’t say that Tarkovsky goes that far, but he comes awfully close.

It’s odd, I love the work of Gus Van Sant, and he is along the lines of Tarkovsky in using long extended silence to explore philosophy and mankind. But, I find Van Sant’s movies to be more human than Tarkovsky’s. In his world, as well as in that of another philosophical director, Stanley Kubrick, the idea of humanity is never for a second left behind in favor of dissociative philosophy. Despite the wonderful look of the film and the ideas it does put forth, Stalker felt to me like a philosophy project, and one that goes so far in its efforts to explore the idea of philosophy that it often dissociates itself from what makes philosophy tick.

I’m sure many will vehemently disagree with what I have written. I know of a few people who I talk to who will be among those in disagreement. Stalker is visually appealing and it does give the viewer a lot to think about, but too often it forgoes what should be at the root of thought. Stalker feels decidedly foreign and without humanity and that type of philosophy has never appealed to me. So, while a well made film, Stalker didn’t appeal to me all that much and for that reason I can’t fully get behind recommending it to anyone.




14 responses to “Review: Stalker (1979)

  1. It really has nothing to do with philosophy, but with the path towards belief.

  2. God! You’ve forgotten how to do and to watch good movies … You want fucking, blood,explosions and flashing images on the screen … Do you remember that cinema is an art rather than a way to relax and have fun …You are watching a movie in which “good guy” kill hundreds or even thousands of people reaching out to the “evil”, then when guy finding it, is a long and painful struggles with it and as a result of this fight evil divide on 17 pieces, and “good guy” standing knee-deep in blood and smiling Hollywood smile. And for this film you bet 5. And for one of the best in the world history science fiction film you bet 3! When you cease to be such a flock? This film is not Russian its made in the USSR!!!

  3. Gabi – That’s a valid take, but I disagree.

    Timan – If what you just wrote made the least bit of sense I would properly reply. I mean I get the gist of it it, but about one third of that was actually intelligible. As for your base argument, you really have no base. I like all kinds of movies, I love even more than that, some have explosions, blood and fucking, some are nothing but two people walking and talking for two hours. Stalker I happened to like and not love, you’ll just have to deal with that.

  4. I agree with you about the film.There are some great images,but I kept wishing that someone would rewrite the dialogue-which I considered turgid.
    I do think,however, that Mirror is a superb film-visually pleasing and it really connects with me.

  5. Stalker is about visual art and raising questions.

    And I do prefer it so much to most action/horro thrillers that left nothing.

  6. I myself have been a great fan of Tarkovsky’s oeuvre and I must agree with you that it’s not for everyone. I think that you analysis of Stalker does great justice to the movie as well as Tarkovsky’s style of filmmaking. Congratulations on your great movie website.

    Also, I had only recently written a review of Stalker for my movie-blog ‘A Potpourri of Vestiges’. I would be honored if you could take sometime out to read it and let me know of your opinion:

  7. D – I have yet to see Mirror, but someday I may.

    Nemo – It’s all in the eye of the beholder. There are many action/horror thrillers that I would say are full of much more substance than Stalker.

    Murtaza – Thanks for the comment Murtaza, I’ll have to check out your review sometime soon. 🙂

  8. Tarkovsky is one of the few directors who managed to address complex morality and existential subjects in such a poetic, human and touching fashion. Stalker is great example of that. For me and many others this film resonates with deep soul corners, and its cinematographic beauty is not the main reason.

    I am surprised that as a film critic you have not noticed any of these and found in not connected enough to the real world. Our perceptions of the real world must be very different then.

    The review itself is very weak, sorry to state that. You are free to have your own opinion, that OK. But its clear that you did not even try analyzing and understanding the film. Your grasp feels too shallow, that’s not the way to review… anything. It may go well for Hollywood stuff, which is more straight forward and simple, but not Stalker.

  9. Yes, by offering actual analysis of the film I clearly did not attempt to analyze and understand the film. I analyzed the film just fine, I understood it just fine, and I offered far more than just surface level discussion. It just so happens that I did not care for the film all that much, and in the end it is because what you find so complex I find so simple that it is ultimately a shallow exercise in navel gazing and street preaching by Tarkovsky.

    You can dislike my review all you want, such is the way of film criticism. But, I did offer insight into Stalker and dig deep into what I thought the film was about and why in the end it didn’t work for me. You can disagree with my points and my opinion, but dismissing a review that says the movie is simple as shallow because you think the movie is complex strikes me as a misguided effort to casually dismiss criticism that is different than your own.

  10. Its clear that our views about the film differ. That’s completely fine, we can stay with our own opinions.

    What I miss in this review is lack of … review. Your message is very clear – nice film, but too slow and philosophy too theoretic. OK, good start. But tell us why do you think so – that’s the most interesting thing about opinions. Anybody can say something like: “nope, didn’t like, did not connect to me”, but it doesn’t make a review yet. Well, you sort of stated the answer: “I did not care for the film all that much”, but that’s not an excuse. My rating: **.

    “and in the end it is because what you find so complex I find so simple that it is ultimately a shallow exercise in”. What a nice personal flavor 🙂

  11. I gave all the depth that this film needed in my review. The only element of Stalker that is worth discussion is the philosophy and I stated why that did not work for me and why I did not find it to be good filmmaking. Beyond that there’s no substance in Stalker to dig into because the movie is so simple. I told you why I think the movie isn’t good, you didn’t care to actually read that part.

  12. Bad review. Not because of my opinion of the film. You can accuse this movie of many things – slow, boring, bad scenario, dull acting, etc etc. I agree. But not that it’s a simple movie. Not seeing that just diminishes you as a reviewer. It’s like looking at The Last Supper and saying “oh it’s just a bunch of old men eating”.

  13. Or, possibly it means you are looking for complexity where it does not exist? And, actually, I can accuse the movie of anything I want, that’s why we have discourse on film. You watched this bloated navel gazing and saw depth and complexity. I watched it and saw the exact opposite, and seeing different things does not diminish either of us, just means we had different opinions, interpretations, and takeaways.

  14. Well, I didn’t mean it exactly in this way. Being simple and complex are not necessarily opposites. There are many other forms. There are many shades of complex. That was my point.

    You saw the movie as an immersion in philosophy, but I have never seen it in that way. At least, not only. It is a complex movie not because it is not a simple movie (pardon the word play), but also because it leaves huge space for various interpretations and emotions. For example, even if a person doesn’t want to connect with the film on the level of interpretetions, you can do it just on the emotional level.

    I say it because normally I am not really into artsy pretentious slow movies that pretend to be deep but are pretty shallow.

    There are some things where I may see complexity and I totally comprehend that it’s only me who is seeing complexity there due to various reasons (mood, current thought, personal interpretations, etc) and that it totally fine.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s