Andrei Tarkovsky on Stalker
Interview Pered novymi zadachami with Olga Surkova
in "Iskusstvo Kino" 1977 (7), pp. 116118. Pol. trans. Grazyna
Ramotowska. English re-transl. and comp. with the Russian
by Jan at Nostalghia.com.
There is a scene in Ingmar Bergman's film Cries and Whispers that frequently
comes to my mind. Two sisters visit the family home where the third sister lies dying,
and when they are left alone they are suddenly overcome by feelings of closeness,
this human need to be together that they have never suspected in themselves.
And suddenly there arises a shocking feeling of awakening humanity, the more moving
as such moments are rare in Bergman's films, they go by very quickly. The characters
in his films search for human contact yet they cannot find it. Also in Cries and Whispers
the sisters are unable to forgive one another, they cannot reconcile even
when facing the death of one of them. But the more they torture themselves and the more they
hate, the more meaningful and more striking the impression made by the scene
of their spiritual elation is. In addition, Bergman makes us listen to a cello suite
by Bach in that scene. This adds remarkable depth and richness to everything shown
on screen. It forces us to believe in the director's will to express explicitly this
positive element which is usually barely audible in his austere and bitter films.
Thanks to Bach and giving up the dialogue a certain vacuum appears in this scene,
an empty space which the viewer can fill in, can feel a breath of the ideal.
For Bergman this is probably a sign of what is impossible. But if the viewer
nevertheless feels supported in his hope, a possibility for catharsis and then spiritual
purification opens before him. This spiritual liberation whose awakening is art's
vocation. Art embodies yearning for the ideal. It ought to awaken hope and faith
in man. Even if the world the artist is speaking of leaves no room for hope.
I'll say even more: the gloomier the world shown on screen, the brighter the
ideal lying at the foundation of director's creative concept should become;
the more clearly a possibility to lift oneself to a higher spiritual plane should
open before the viewer.
Regarding the screenplay of Stalker which I'm working on right now, there is a possibility
this film in particular will offer me the means, more so than my previous works,
to express something important, perhaps to me the most important. Something I was able
to express in my previous films only partially.
In the science fiction novel The Roadside Picnic by the Strugatsky brothers on
which the film is based, we are told a story of extraterrestial beings who visited
the Earth and left behind them a Zone manifesting many still unexplained but for
human beings presumably very dangerous properties. In order to investigate the Zone
an international scientific research centre was created. In the meantime, as the
unknown possible influence of the Zone on human life appears fatal, it is
forbidden under stiff penalties to cross its boundary.
There appeared many legends connected to the Zone. And as anything that's forbidden the Zone
arouses great curiosity. There are daredevils who attempt to penetrate it for various
Even a new occupation has appeared: stalker (from the English word). This name was given
to social outcasts who made a living by guiding into the Zone people hoping to
become rich or to be the first to find out about the effects of the extraterrestials
on this patch of the Earth's surface. Some of them are consumed by a morbid desire
to risk, a wish to experience firsthand something terrible, hostile to man which is
what the Zone is supposed to be. Desire to reach the Zone is so great also because
apparently in its centre there is a place where one can count on fulfilling one's
This is the novel. One might say that our film begins where the book ends.
The whole history of the Zone is thus left off screen. The film will focus
on one, single situation taking place under the circumstances set up by the
novel's entire plot, a situation which in a sense concentrates within itself their
In the film we'll tell a story of one illegal expedition lead by the Stalker who is guiding
two people — the Scientist and the Writer. Their entire expedition will only
take one day. Beside the Zone, in the beginning and at the end, the viewer is going
to see two more locations: Stalker's room in which he quarrels with his wife who is
afraid of the risks he faces, a room which he leaves to embark on his dangerous journey,
and a café which is where the heroes find themselves upon return and where they are
met by Stalker's wife. Thus in the first and fourth scene there will appear the fourth
character of the film.
In light of my current views on possibilities and peculiarities of cinema as art
it is very important that the screenplay allow me to preserve the three
unities: of place, time, and action, according to the classical rule. In the past
I considered it interesting to exploit to the maximum the enormous possibilities
of editing side by side the present with other temporal planes, dreams, streams of
events — making heroes face unexpected tests and difficulties. Now I would prefer
if there was no difference in time between cuts. I want time, its flow,
to manifest within a shot and a cut to mean only a continuation of action and
nothing more, so it does not introduce mixing of time frames. The point is
to avoid editing as a selector and dramatic organiser of time.
I think such formal solution, maximally simple and ascetic, yields greater possibilities.
That's why I'm throwing out of the screenplay everything that can possibly be thrown out and
I'm limiting all external effects to the minimum. I don't want to entertain or
surprise the viewer with unexpected changes of location,
the geography of events, the intrigue of the plot. The film ought to be simple,
very humble in its construction.
I think current striving towards simplicity
of form did not originate in me by accident. Film is in a certain way a thing
upon itself, a model of life as perceived by man. I would like very much to
convince the viewer, force him to believe in a very important and therefore
not at all obvious thing: that as an instrument cinema has in a certain sense
greater possibilities than prose. I'm thinking here about the specific
possibilities cinema has at its disposal in observing life, observing its
pseudo-commonplace flow. It is in those possibilities, in its ability
to take a deep and unprejudiced look at life, where in my opinion the poetic
essence of cinema lies.
I understand excessive simplification of form may also seem unaccountably
bizarre, artificial rather than sublime. But I know one thing: one must reject all
vagueness and insinuation, all that's usually called "film's poetic
atmosphere". We usually want to create this atmosphere on screen deliberately
and carefully. But atmosphere need not be created, it goes together with the most
important task the author is trying to solve. The truer the formulation of this task
is and the more precisely its meaning is defined, the more significant atmosphere
will accompany it. In direct correspondence with this tone
the other elements will begin to resonate: the landscape, the actors' intonation.
Everything will connect and become indispensable. All elements will echo
and answer one another and atmosphere will appear as a result, as a consequence
of being able to focus on what's most important. Atmosphere cannot be created
out of itself... That's why impressionistic paintings were never very close to
my heart with their desire to freeze a moment, a fleeting and changing state of things:
to capture what's transitory. This doesn't seem like a serious artistic goal to me.
And in my new film, I'll say it again, I want to focus on the most important —
and I hope a more dynamic atmosphere will appear as a result, exerting more
influence than it did in my other films.
What is this main theme which should be clearly heard in the film? It's the theme
of human dignity and the theme of man suffering through the lack of his own
dignity. What matters here is that when our heroes embark upon the journey
their goal is to reach the place where innermost wishes come true. And during
the journey they reminisce on either a true story or a legend about a man called
"Porcupine". They recall how he went to the magic place to ask for his son's
health. And he reached the place. But when he came back it turned out his son
remained ill and he instead became extraordinarily wealthy. The Zone had
fulfilled his true nature, his true wish. And "Porcupine" hanged himself.
In the end the heroes reach their goal. But they arrive there after so many experiences
and ruminations that they do not make the decision to enter it. They realised their
morality was not perfect. And they do not find enough spiritual power yet to have
faith in themselves.
This is what the situation seems until the last scene
in which they are resting in the café after their expedition and Stalker's wife
appears, a weary woman who has seen a lot in her life. Her arrival forces the
heroes to face something new, unexplained and astonishing. It is difficult for
them to understand the reasons for which this woman, who suffered so much because
of her husband, she gave birth to a sick child through his fault, still loves
him with the same limitless generosity she felt for him in the days of her
youth. Her love, her devotion — this is exactly the miracle with which one can
counter the lack of faith, spiritual emptiness, cynicism — that is, all which
the heroes of the film have lived until now.
In this film I'll attempt for the first time to be unhesitating in showing the highest value
through which man lives. Solaris spoke of people lost in Cosmos and forced,
whether they liked it or not, to expand their comprehension. This drive to
comprehension which is sort of forced on man from the outside is dramatic because the
fundamental truth — linked with perpetual anxiety, losses, bitterness,
and disappointments — is after all unattainable. Besides, that man also has
conscience which forces him to suffer when his deeds do not correspond to moral
norms. Thus conscience is tragic in a way as well.
Disappointments accompanied the heroes of Solaris and the resolution we
proposed there was still illusory. We saw the resolution in a dream,
in becoming aware of one's roots, those bonds that forever connect
man to the Earth which gave birth to us. But these bonds were not real enough either.
Even in The Mirror which spoke of deep, primary, lasting, eternal human
emotions, the emotions transformed themselves into the hero's misunderstanding,
disbelief as he couldn't understand why he had to be constantly in pain through
them, in pain because of his love to those dear to him. In Stalker
everything must be spelled out to the end — human love is this miracle
which can defy all the dry theorising about hopelessness of the world. This
emotion is an undeniable positive value in every one of us. It is what man
leans on, what remains his forever.
Writer makes a long tirade on how boring life in the world of rules and regulations
is, life in which even chance is a result of rules — hidden to our
perception too. Perhaps the reason Writer embarks on his trip to the Zone
is precisely because he wants to be astonished by something, he wants to cry
with surprise. But it is a simple woman who will surprise him, her devotion,
her force of human dignity. So, is everything subordinate to logic, can everything
be decomposed into components to be counted?
It is important for me to create something specifically human in this film,
something indecomposable which crystallises within the soul of each of us and
determines our value. Because although the heroes suffer an apparent defeat,
each of them gains something incredibly important: faith, discovery within
themselves of that which is the most important. This most important is within
every human being.
Thus both in Stalker and in Solaris the fantastic interests me
the least. Unfortunately, in Solaris there were a little too many
elements which diverted attention from the most important matter. The rockets,
space stations — Lem's novel required them — were interesting to
make but now I think the film's idea would have been more clear-cut if there
had been a way to avoid them. I think the reality which an artist uses
to realise his ideas ought to be, excuse the tautology, real, that is: understandable
to people, known to them since childhood. The more real — in this
sense — the film is, the more convincing the author.
In Stalker only the point of departure might be called fantastic. We needed
this situation as it helped to present the fundamental moral conflict most
vividly. Besides that there won't be anything fantastic in the
picture, even the Zone will be real. Everything should be happening in
as if the Zone existed already, somewhere near us. Because the Zone is not
just a territory, it is also a trial which man can either withstand or not.
And whether he withstands it is dependent upon his dignity, his ability to
distinguish what's important from what's temporary.
G. Rerberg is again the cameraman, the music is composed again by E. Artemyev,
the set design is by A. Boim. The roles of Stalker and his wife will be
played, working for the first time with me, by A. Kaidanovsky and A. Freindlikh.
The Writer is played by A. Solonitsyn, the Scientist by N. Grinko.
Kaidanovsky, Solonitsyn, and Grinko resemble one another. For the film this is
important. I think having spent in the Zone even one day, one of those days
worth entire life, they should reemerge from the Zone looking as much alike