Iskusstvo Kino:

Andrei Tarkovsky on Stalker

Interview Pered novymi zadachami with Olga Surkova in "Iskusstvo Kino" 1977 (7), pp. 116–118. Pol. trans. Grazyna Ramotowska. English re-transl. and comp. with the Russian original by Jan at

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 reasons. 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 innermost wish.

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 essence.

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 science fiction 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 the present, 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 as brothers.  end block

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