Greg Polin

Stalker's meaning in terms of temporality and spatial relations

Greg Polin has recently graduated from Trinity College in Hartford, CT. His senior year philosophy thesis was devoted to Tarkovsky — in the author's words "attempting to recreate his aesthetic theory on a more technical level utilizing Benjamin, Adorno, Deleuze, Zizek...". This is the final section of the thesis devoted to a very close (nearly shot for shot) reading of the entirety of Stalker. Greg can be reached at this address.

Stalker, released in 1979, was Tarkovsky’s third to last film. His final three, Stalker, Nostalghia, and The Sacrifice, Tarkovsky claimed embody the full realization of his aesthetic paradigm, or as much of that paradigm that he had yet achieved for he wrote in his journal of Stalker in 1978, “I think Stalker really is going to be my best film … It does not for a moment mean that I have a high opinion of my films. I don’t like them – there is so much in them that is fussy, ephemeral, false. (Less in Stalker than in others.)”1 The Sacrifice is generally considered inferior to the others, a rushed film with brilliant moments, but problematic whole. Nostalghia and Stalker are considered incredibly similar in nature, though Nostalghia is perhaps a more autobiographical film. Therefore, given their identical nature, I have selected Stalker based primarily on personal preference and will attempt to discover how close the film comes to Tarkovsky’s written aesthetics to allow film to reach its maximum potential, and furthermore to consider whether any film can reach the lofty goals Tarkovsky sets forth in his writing.

Given the film’s extreme length, I cannot give a shot by shot analysis, but shall cover the span of the entire film via selected shots. This is not as difficult a feat as one might imagine. Tarkovsky wrote of Stalker, “As a matter of principle I wanted to avoid distracting or surprising the audience … I wanted the whole composition to be simple and muted.”2 I will attempt to fashion a proposed meaning behind various images in an effort to better illustrate some of Tarkovsky’s visual and aural decisions. Except when necessary, the dialogue of the film will be ignored. Finally, the main note of focus shall be the passage of time and how that passage is achieved. Tarkovsky writes of the film, “I felt it was very important that the film observe the three unities of time, space, and action … I want there to be no time lapse between the shots. I wanted time and its passing to be revealed, to have their existence, within each frame … I wanted it to be as if the whole film was made in a single shot.” Furthermore, he writes, “I wanted to demonstrate how cinema is able to observe life, without interfering, crudely or obviously, with its continuity.” In this sense one can understand how Tarkovsky demanded that the atmosphere come from focusing on the content as opposed to actively creating an atmosphere and then creating the content. He writes, “Everything will begin to reverberate in response to the dominant note: things, landscapes, actors’ intonations.”3

Therefore, though I intend to cover most aspects of the film, I will gloss over various examples of proposed religious imagery, as well as proposed political imagery, By Tarkovsky’s own tongue in a vast array of interviews, his films are not ever strictly political, they are always spiritual but never specifically Christian, and no image has a single and direct symbolic meaning. He wrote in a journal dated January 24, 1973, “I think, that as little as possible [of film] has to be shown, and from that little the audience has to build up the idea of the rest … the symbol in cinema is a sort of nature, of reality. Of course, it isn’t a question of details, but of what is hidden.” And he then wrote on a later date, “In cinema – as in life – the text, the words, are refracted in everything apart from the words themselves. The words mean nothing – words are water.”4 Lastly, as Gaston Bachelard wrote, “Indeed, every great image has an unfathomable oneiric depth to which the personal past adds special color.”5

Stalker is based on a short story by brothers, Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, entitled “Roadside Picnic.” Tarkovsky first read the story in 1973, and had the idea to make a film of it from that moment. He played with a number of ideas such as making the lead protagonist a woman, and playing around with the lead’s societal positioning.6 The brothers then collaborated with Tarkovsky on a script. The Strugatskys and Tarkovsky had a tulmultuous relationship however, with Boris eventually refusing to work with the director, leaving Arkady and Tarkovsky to work out a final script alone.7 It is said that the script went through 13 different versions before the one seen in the film. Though Tarkovsky wrote at least fifty percent of the script, he is not listed on the film’s credits under screenplay. Regardless, Tarkovsky’s budget was tight, but not too tight. He was able to receive any materials he required to produce any shot he deemed necessary. After scouting locations for quite a while, Tarkovsky settled on the desert landscape of Tadjikistan, but a sudden earthquake force them to change their plans last minute, and his crew ended up shooting the lush forest that existed around an abandoned hydroelectric plant outside of Tallinn, Estonia.8 He shot on location for a year starting February 27, 1977 using experimental Kodak film.9 At that point the film was sent to be processed, and came back overexposed and destroyed. A year of film was completely lost. However, the actor who plays the character of professor, Nikolai Grinko, notes in his memoirs that Tarkovsky saw the rushes of the shooting and was thoroughly disappointed with how the film was turning out and may have used the Kodak problem as an excuse.10 However, an interview with the production designer described Tarkovsky as weeping and horribly depressed upon hearing of the destroyed footage.11

Regardless, after a lengthy period of time, just shy of a year, Tarkovsky retackled the project with a significantly reduced budget that forced him to find creative ways around more expensive shots, and gave him barely enough film to shoot with.12 Furthermore he took this opportunity to rewrite the script, which among other changes, turned Stalker from a pseudo drug-dealing bully into the slave-like Stalker we see in the finished film, and moved the wife’s monologue from the beginning to the end of the film. He also fired his cinematographer Georgy Rerberg, as well as his art directors Boim and Abdusalamov.13 Regardless, the film was completed. In all interviews it is stated that the reshooting was a blessing, and that though the two films wouldn’t be remotely similar to one another, the second version was by far the greater.

The plot of the film is based on science-fiction, but one would be hard pressed to fit the film under that genre. The story involves a meteor, or some unknown force, which crashed down, utterly destroying a remote area and creating the zone. It is strictly guarded by the military and nobody is allowed admittance. In the center of the zone is a room, and inside the room all of one’s deepest desires will become reality. “Stalkers” are individuals with a specific affinity for the zone, and are hired to lead travelers to the room. The journey is very dangerous, as the zone is described as a living entity filled with traps of infinite danger. A stalker can only lead individuals into the zone if the stalker himself wants nothing from the center room. In what is filmed, the Stalker leads two individuals, Writer, a popular author, and Scientist, a man of science, to the room at the center of the zone. Tarkovsky also wanted to make a sequel to the film in which the Stalker begins taking people to the Zone by force, but this project never came to fruition.14

In terms of overarching themes, Tarkovsky states in Sculpting in Time, “the hero [Stalker] goes through moments of despair when his faith is shaken; but every time he comes to a renewed sense of his vocation to serve people who have lost their hopes and illusions.” He goes on to write, “In more general terms, it is the theme of human dignity; of what that dignity is, and of how a man suffers if he has no self-respect.” Even more generally, however, Tarkovsky writes, “In Stalker I make some sort of complete statement: namely that human love alone is – miraculously – proof against the blunt assertion that there is no hope for the world.” Towards the end of this section, Tarkovsky quickly adds, “My function is to make whoever sees my films aware that beauty is summoning him.” Tarkovsky, in various interviews, stated how he always wanted to be like Stalker, but felt the closest connection to Writer. He describes Writer’s situation as, “the frustration of living in a world of necessities, where even chance is the result of some necessity which for the moment remains beyond our ken.”15

The film opens in black and white, at a bar. As the credits roll, the bartender busies himself with various cleaning actions. The only shot is a static long shot. The entire bar is not revealed, but hidden by a wall, which frames the shot. Then the character Writer enters the bar from behind the camera, positions himself at the lone table visible, and drinks while a light overhead blinks inconsistently. As the title roles, the imagery fades to black. From this brief opening moment we understand a peculiar notion of spatial relations. No establishing shot is ever given, nor is the entrance visible. The wall connotes that there is something behind it, while the fact that Writer enters from behind the camera tells the audience that there is also an unseen space in that direction. The camera places the audience inside a space which it knows nothing about. One critic, Eric Hynes, stated it quite aptly when he wrote, “To get at the heart of things, he [Tarkovsky] never starts from without, but from within.”16 To add to this unsettling of the audience, the musical score which plays is a mix of synthesizer and instruments, and borrows from various traditions including Russian and Oriental.

After brief scrolling text explaining the zone, the black and white fades up into an incredibly slow zoom into a bedroom through partially opened doors. The space where the camera is positioned is shrouded in darkness. The limits of the bedroom are also not scene. A train is heard in the distance, and as it gets close, rattles the home and moves a glass on the nightstand. The shot changes to a slow pan starting with a close shot from above the nightstand. It pans across three figures in a bed, revealed to be Stalker, his wife, and Monkey, his daughter. As the train reaches its maximum volume classical music is heard over the din. When asked about this overlaying of music with the rush of the train, Tarkovsky replied that this expresses “the movement of the masses, the them of the destiny of human society. But this music must barely reach, through the noises, the ear o the audience, so that, until the end, the spectator does not know if he is really hearing it or not.17 The train also brings unlocalizable sound into the shot, creating a virtual space beyond the camera’s vision, just as the lack of an establishing shot does the same. The addition of classical music, perpetually linked to the train in the film, is yet more disconnected audio. It is unclear whether it is diegetic or non-diegetic. This in turn raises the question of whether the train itself is diegetic or not, as it is never seen in the film when rushing by.

The camera then pans back to reveal a wet floor, and the table again. This wet tiled floor is the same as will be seen in the zone, suggesting a connection. The shot then switches again to a long shot of the bed and back wall framed by two windows. It shows what appears to be a dirty and squalid apartment. The Stalker rises and walks out of the shot. Suddenly he is directly in front of the camera, and he closes the doors enough to frame his wife as she rises. Once again we realize we are outside of the bedroom. The following shot consists of the Stalker in the kitchen, once again avoiding an establishment of the space. A reverse shot to Stalker’s wife, however, reveals that the kitchen is where the camera was positioned while looking into the bedroom. The characters then enter the same shot and frame themselves in front of a window which reflects light, but cannot be seen out of. In another reverse shot, Stalker exits the home, off camera.

The wife then gives a short, but tortured monologue in the kitchen. She goes from standing, to sitting, to lying down. As she lies down another train passes nearby, again striking the house with fierce tremors. The wife writhes in anguish as once again classical music rises that fits the gravity and emotion of the shot. It has often been suggested that though Tarkovsky clearly wished to separate film from all of the other arts, he often utilized references from books and paintings to lend cinema some needed value as an art. Whether or not this was in fact the reason, references abound in Stalker, and the wife in this shot references Tolstoy’s novel Anna Karenina directly. She goes from standing, to seated, to lying down, just as Anna does in the novel, and then the train roles by, simulating Anna’s death by being squashed under a train. Furthermore, in his journal, Tarkovsky often spoke of his childhood and how his Father made him read Tolstoy many times at a young age.18 Finally, as is seen by the wife’s closing monologue at the end of the film, she could easily be compared to an Anna figure. In an interview obtained directly after Stalker’s release, Tarkovsky states, “… recently, quotation is also starting to become interesting to me.”19

Regardless, the sound of the train carries over to Stalker walking outside, next to a passing train, one going too slowly to be the one that drives by the house so often. The background is completely hidden by fog. Suddenly it become clear why Tarkovsky described the point of Stalker as, “What I am trying to do in it is tear apart the way we look at the present day, and turn to the past, during which mankind made so many mistakes that today we are obliged to live in a kind of fog.”20 That intellectual fog is externalized in the physical fog. In turn however, the film itself is internalized. Nonetheless, we have no way of knowing Stalker’s spatial relation to his home, or the time of day. Again there is no establishing shot to describe the space. He is simply walking, with an unknown purpose into unknown space. This forces the audience to actively engage the film and walk with Stalker to his destination. As he walks we hear a voice speaking from an unknown location off camera. The camera then cuts to that voice, which belongs to Writer. The shot begins close, obscuring the background and then zooms out to frame the writer between a large wooden railing and the camera’s boundary and reveals an environment of eroded metal and of a rotting shipyard or dilapidated factory. He then addresses Stalker, while Stalker is still off camera. This changeover of focus, from Stalker to Writer, allows for temporal continuity and successiveness as the sound carries over the shots, linking them.

The characters then gather in the bar, and the camera utilizes the same static bar shot, but soon begins zooming almost imperceptibly. All three characters plus the bartender remains fully visible. Behind Stalker is a doorway, and to Scientist’s back is a window. At Writer’s back is an unknown space. Again the visuals ask questions of what is beyond the space of the camera. The camera continues to zoom until it has framed all three characters perfectly within the shot. A brief high-pitched whine is heard, and Stalker perks up, alerting his travelers that their train has arrived. However, the sound is unnatural, strangely brief, and given that only Stalker hears it, makes one question whether the sound exists in the reality of the film, or if it is merely through Stalker’s head that we are sensing.

Scientist and Writer then exit behind the camera, while Stalker speaks briefly with the bartender. The next shot features Writer looking into the camera, up close, and then turning and walking out the door, followed by Scientist. Interestingly, it appears that this turning around to leave is identical in narrative time to the previous shot of Writer turning and walking out. Finally, all three characters exit, and are miraculously in a space that we could not see as the characters entered the bar. In a long shot we see there is jeep nicely framed on both sides by large walls of industrial debris.

The three get in and this starts a series of shots that are incredibly interesting. In each shot, the action of the next shot can be directly seen or heard. This connection allows the shots to blend into one and have a uniform time in which the audience can get lost. There is also a constant carrying over of sound from shot to shot to aid in this practice. It is in this series of shots that one can perhaps see best Tarkovsky’s wish to make a film which is entirely a single shot. To illustrate this point I will take several examples. Once the characters enter the jeep, the shot pans across and follows the vehicle as it turns and goes down an alleyway and stops. This shot is held for several second with no action, and only various weeds waving slowly in the wind in the foreground. Regardless, the shot captures an incredible combination of time, composition in terms of framing, and suspense. Why did the car stop? In the second shot, from an unknown location and perspective, the jeep roles into the frame of the camera, out of intense fog, and stops. Though this is a different point in narrative time, the identical nature in action between this shot and the one previous to it, immediately link the two together.

However, this shot ends with the sound of a police car and the characters dropping to the ground as an officer appears in the distance. Then the camera immediately cuts to a close up of the officer slowing to a stop and driving off. As he drives off the background refocuses to reveal the jeep in a long shot. Direct spatial, aural, and temporal continuity between these shots is remarkable. What allows it to surpass Hollywood’s constant use of continuity editing is that it completely allows for a shift of focus and scenery. Tarkovsky uses this to allow time to flow through shots with equally balanced time-pressures. Suddenly two shots become a single moment despite a change of camera direction, and shift of focus. Now, given that the Jeep is refocused, the characters continue their journey. They drive off into the distance.

In the next shot sound carries over, and the car stops again, framed in front of a doorway. Writer exits and the car drives on. We hear a sound as writer looks through a door. It sounds like the police officer, but suddenly a large train floats by, shrouding the room in darkness. Although compositionally interesting in terms of depth, this shot shatters expectations and spatial relations. The shots seemed continuous, but how did they get onto railroad tracks? Furthermore, there was a disconnect between an unlocalized sound and what that sound ends up being attached to. Regardless, an establishment shot is never given and writer walks again through unknown space as the camera pans alongside him. He exits to another alley where the jeep is waiting, and it continues on, while the camera continues to pan. Suddenly, the car stops, then reverses, leaving the camera to see a policeman and his car in the distance. Each shot is somehow able to have multiple focuses, and multiple actions, but maintain a constant flow of temporality. The next shot is disconcerting as we see Stalker, framed in the wooden frame of a building, in a new location, apparently having just watched the police officer drive through. He gets back into the jeep and drives off into the distance, turning yet another internalized close up into a deep, angular long shot.

However, this shot continues holding well after the jeep has disappeared, forcing the audience to recentralize the shot before the camera pans over to reveal a man opening a gate to allow a train through. Is this the same train we saw before? It is unknown. Once the train roles by, however, the jeep pulls onto the tracks from off camera. The sequence continues for another minute or so, but the effect is obvious. As much action and tension as possible was shown in as few shots as possible. The lack of cutting allowed for time to exist in each individual shot, but brilliant movement and planning allowed necessary action and narrative time to continue.

At the end of the segment involving the jeep, Scientist, obstructed by poles of sorts, gets out of the vehicle and begins sneaking along a dilapidated brick wall of a destroyed factory. The camera pans to stay on him in a plain americain shot, never revealing his destination, nor the space he is in, other than the wall. There is gunfire. A train is eerily heard in the distance. The walls are weathered and marked with chalkings and heavy shadows. At the sound of nearby gunfire, Writer drops to the ground. The camera follows him down and the screen is filled with plants. Though they may be weeds, their abundance captures a sense of nature that has been absent from the film. They force the audience to notice the disparity, and find the presence of nature quite odd in the environment. This gives the nature an almost spiritual feel. Furthermore, given that Writer drops to this brush when bullets near him, suggests safety with nature and with the earth. Overall, the shot creates a disconnect between what is expected and what is realized. In this disconnect, nature is rendered mystical, and a sense of wonder is built out of a cold and vacuous environment.

Another incredible moment occurs just a minute later. Scientist travels forward alone, and we are treated to a continuation of this transcendental beauty encased in a where house: a large pond with tall grass, and a copious amount of plants. There is however, near silence, suggesting high tension. As gunfire breaks that tension, the camera zooms into the water. We see the bullets spray into the lake, and the reflection of a window opening. The camera then pauses and watches the image swirl about in the disturbed water. The question must be asked: what is important? Why would the camera pause on the movement of water, while scientist is off-screen sneaking about, attempting to elude guards? This lyrical moment is one where the audience gets to experience the time-pressure within the shot; they feel the time pass. However, this image is no more than just that. The camera simply affords us a new way of perceiving the image. Also, this moment is yet another expression of the film’s internalized narrative and style. The camera itself is a subjective entity within the film.

However, this image also carries the disconnection of a repetitive sound of something plodding through water. In holding the focus on a different location then the source of the sound, the audience is forced to consider what that sound might be, and furthermore, creates more tension for the audience, and helps to realize a sense of time in the image all the more. Time does not stop to gaze at the rippling water. Eventually, the camera then cuts to the source of the sound, which is Scientist crossing the water. Here we are also treated to a sort of establishing shot which shows the vastness, height, brightness, and fog of the hollowed out building they have just trekked through. It is not fully an establishing shot, because we are never truly able to locate where the jeep may be located or the route Scientist took to get to his current placement. Furthermore, we are now treated to the bizarre image of a railway inspection car, on a mysterious track which goes through the factory to and from locations that escape the view of the camera, and is suspended above a rather hideous debris strewn shallow swamp.

This long shot then ends as Stalker drives the jeep out of the fog in the distance and the three take off on the exceptionally noisy railway inspection car. However, this sound soon fades as the shot changes over to one of the more famous sequences of the film. Along the moving car, the camera goes from close up to close up of each individual. There is a steady sound of clicking track, along with some non-intrusive repetitive electronic music, which sets a mood of foreigness, and separation from the alien environment. The camera occasionally pans and cuts between the three actors as they say nothing, but merely admire the landscape, which to us is out of focus. What’s incredible about the sequence is how one generally remembers it as a single shot, when it is in fact many. The constant movement, repetitive sounds, similar imagery, and overall feel tend to make the shots seem as one. All of these elements come together to create a single coherent time-pressure that is consistent through each of these shots, allowing the audience to witness time flowing through them. Eventually the camera moves to the landscape. We see a desolate foggy abyss of dead trees and industrial waste and remnants. The camera then returns to close-ups until the sequence ends.

In a quick and simple straight-cut, however, the image is now in color, and thick green foliage surrounds a few lonely broken power lines. The car comes to a screeching, slow halt along with the camera. The sky is still cloudy, but there is absolute silence. A soft breeze appears to be blowing through the flowers. The camera pauses to take this in before panning across to reveal a large lake off in the distance. An old rusted car lies in one spot, but instead of seeming obtrusive it appears as though it has given up its singularity and accepted the environment. As Stalker eventually notes, this car has for him specific memories, and in fact all of the debris in the zone carries permanent memories, whether or not they remain hidden. Regardless, there is then a straight cut to a shot of three character’s backs silently observing what we have just seen. The car from the previous shot remains visible giving us a sense of space. The camera begins a slow zoom with no apparent focus. Instead of following action, the shot seems merely to capture a sense of wonderment. The camera eventually settles on Scientist and Writer, and the howl of an unknown and unseen animal is heard in the distance.

We then get a fairly amazing shot of tattered military remnants as the camera floats upwards in a crane shot to show an elaborate dead tree and above the tree, the building where the room is located. Ambient music fades up. We then cut to Stalker lying on the ground, in the tall grass, face down. A quick cut, and we are suddenly in a close up. He rolls over. While the first shot gives a mystical and spiritual sense to the room and its surroundings, as well as heightens interest by showing the goal so near at hand, the second shot is more confusing. The Stalker lies down in the Earth, finding a pantheistic connection. In a certain sense this is a homage to Alexander Dovhenko and the film Earth (1930). Tarkovsky stated in an interview, “I feel very close to pantheism. And pantheism has left a strong mark on Dovhenko, he loved nature very much, he was able to see and feel it. This is what was so meaningful to me …”21 However, the question arises of why the camera cuts to a close-up instead of merely zooming. This is one of the most disconcerting and awkward cuts of the film. It seems as though Stalker is now dreaming, and perhaps this is a possibility. Perhaps the entire zone is a dream. Regardless, the close-up emphasizes the placement of man in the zone, and the zone’s reflection of Stalker’s interiorized and subjective vision.

Zizek writes, “The Zone is thus not a purely mental fantasmatic space in which one encounters (or onto which one projects) the truth about oneself, but the material presence, the Real of an absolute Otherness incompatible with the rules and laws of our universe.” In this sense, the Zone takes on otherworldly qualities, while it also takes on the qualities of an oneiric inner journey. As Tarkovsky once stated in an interview, “I am often asked what does this Zone stand for. There is only one possible answer: the Zone doesn’t exist. Stalker himself invented the Zone.” Once again, the inherent subjectiveness of the zone is emphasized. Tarkovsky goes on to state, “He created it, so that he would be able to bring there some very unhappy persons and impose on them the idea of hope.”22

Stalker himself walks a line between reality and dreams and exemplifies what Zizek refers to as the Limit. In his least problematic reading of the zone, the materialist viewpoint, Zizek states, “this mysterious zone is effectively the same as our common reality; what confers on it the aura of mystery is the Limit itself, i.e. the fact that the Zone is designated as inaccessible, as prohibited.” However, Zizek doesn’t take this reading far enough. The inaccessible and prohibitive factors of the Zone are not strictly narrative in nature, but also apparent in the cinematography, and specifically the virtual space, which lies outside of the camera’s scope.23 Although, it has to be mentioned that a nearly opposite view exists as well. Film critic, Longtin, writes, “Aren’t the people walking in the space of Stalker dragging their feet inertly? When a space has nothing but garbage in it, we may as well say there is actually nothing there. No! But we have to fill the emptiness with garbage. Nihility has appeared, and it is a very heavy nihility.”24 However, to prescribe to this view one must view the debris visible in the Zone as garbage, which is problematic in itself.

However, there are a number of immediate connections the Russian audience would make with the Zone. Firstly is that of the Zone as a Gulag. This reading is strengthened by Stalker’s shaved head, which is just like a prisoner of the state.25 The second reading, and one which is championed by many amateur critics, is that of the Zone as an environmental wasteland post some horrible event like Chernobyl.26 However, given that Chernobyl occurred six years after the film was released, this could not have been an immediate connection or intention, only premonition.27 This possibility gains credence based on early versions of the script for the film that had Scientist setting off an atomic bomb at the end.28 Yet another reading involves the Zone as governmentally restricted territory, like enclosed West Berlin. Lastly, one final immediate connection, would be, as the opening writing suggests, a meteor struck, like Tunguska did in Siberia.29 However, Tarkovsky stated time and again what he wrote in Sculpting in Time:

People have often asked me what the Zone is, and what it symbolizes, and have put forward wild conjectures on the subject. I’m reduced to a state of fury and despair by such questions. The Zone doesn’t symbolize anything, any more than anything else does in my films: the zone is a zone, it’s life, and as he makes his way across it a man may break down or he may come through. Whether he comes through or not depends on his own self-respect, and his capacity to distinguish between what matters and what is merely passing.30

The scene then switches back to Scientist and Writer, waiting. Stalker reappears in a straight cut and knocks down a part of one of the telephone poles. The dropping of this pole triggers a strange sound that is accompanied by brief ambient music. As quickly as the sound appears it disappears, and the audience is left wondering as to the unnatural sound. Again a disconnection is created forcing the audience to force their own perspective on the enigmatic images. As he rejoins the others the camera zooms to frame them. Though the sky remains shrouded in white clouds, a touch of sunlight arrives giving the journey some sense of time, namely morning, even if only fleetingly.

Once they begin their hike to the room the camera cuts directly into a slow zooming shot of the rusted out car. There is no center of focus and no apparent purpose. It is yet another free roaming zoom. The audience is forced to take in the sense of time that is passing in the shot, and also accept the car as just another object, now part of the zone. Rustling sound is heard with no apparent source. As the camera continues to zoom we hear a bird and see the three travelers nicely framed in the window of the car. This is also the first in the zone of a continuing theme to constantly frame characters in doorways. Though the image carries with it an infinite multitude of oneiric meanings, one is clear, namely that the characters are always attempting to enter and pass through what is not only a physical journey, but a spiritual one, and one that is constant though often horizontally integrated, as opposed to vertically integrated. It is unclear whether the sound of rustling was the non-visible bird, or the characters. The shot continues to zoom, until the frame of the window is no longer visible. Once the characters exit the shot the zooming continues, focusing on rusted tanks in the middle of a field. Ambient wind rises on the score. In this final part of the shot, the camera again attempts to show displaced rusted remnants of humanity as part of the environment, undisturbed. The shot creates a sense of calm as one considers the beauty of the scene, not despite the tanks, but rather because of the tanks. The soft wind accents this calming if not mystical sense of nature.

This shot gives way to a crane-shot that allows an entire field, covered on both sides by trees, which functions like the walls of the bar keeping one in suspense of their boundaries, to be captured. With minimal sound of stepping through grass and the tweet of an occasional bird, the shot is static as we watch the three characters move down the screen from a great distance. Their size allows them to be lost in the shot and blend more thoroughly into the backdrop. The segment loses a sense of centrality where the entire image becomes the focus. On a metaphorical level, one meaning clearly shows the insignificance of the men amongst this living earth.

After brief action where Writer disobeys Stalker’s instructions, Writer attempts to walk directly to the room, which the Stalker declares must be reached only indirectly, taking the long way around. As Writer walks off to this “castle in the fog” containing the room, Stalker warns him that if he feels anything strange, he should turn back immediately. Writer walks a distance, but has yet to escape the boundaries of the camera. Still in focus are Scientist and Stalker watching him. Then the camera cuts to a close shot behind Writer’s head. The soundtrack lets us hear very loudly every step Writer makes. The background is entirely out of focus. Here we are entirely within Writer’s head. We are infinitely aware of his body, his steps, and his movement, but are fully ignorant to the space the body is walking through.

There is then another straight cut. Now the camera is positioned in a long shot in front of Writer. He appears to almost look into the camera. He is standing next to a lone tree that appears small but still manages to dwarf Writer. We no longer hear his footsteps as he walks toward the camera, with his eyes constantly forward. The wind picks up dramatically and we hear a great deal of rustling and swaying. The camera pulls back quickly as we hear an incredibly faint yelling. We see that Writer is now framed within the window of the building, and the camera is inside of the building. This image is then quickly covered by an unknown obstruction near the lens, and then the shot ends and the camera goes back to Scientist and Stalker looking off camera at what is allegedly Writer’s progress. The ambient music quickly fades up and disappears.

There are several elements in this shot that are poignant if not remarkable. Most obviously, is that at no point in this scene is the building ever seen clearly. Either it is significantly out of focus, or only it’s bottom portion is shown. After this brief sequence there are a series of close-ups and when the camera cuts back to a long shot of the environment, the place where the castle should be is entirely covered in a thick screen of fog. This suggests that it isn’t only Writer who is not ready to see the room, but the audience as well. Secondly, however, Writer looking into the camera seems to almost suggest that he sees the audience and that the audience is in the physical space. Tarkovsky writes, “The film was intended to make the audience feel that it was all happening here and now, that the Zone is there beside us.”31 Then, when the camera pulls back, it is almost a realization that the audience is watching Writer from inside the room, or at least inside the building. This contradictory imagery forces one to consider his / her position in relation to the room, physically and philosophically. Finally, the wind, music, and eventually fast zoom-out creates a fast, intense, and mystical time-pressure within a shot that has almost no movement. The emotion and intensity is entirely within the shot and has no real connection with the shot that follows. Editing only plays a role, in that the time-pressure is felt more strongly in relation to the time-pressure of the preceding and following shots, but its singular flow of time is independent.

Lastly, noticeable here, but present throughout the film is the strong physical presence, both aurally and visually, of wind. It’s often asked whether the wind appears at specific critical moments, or whether or it has a certain meaning. Obviously, Tarkovsky finds this search ridiculous. One critic, Law Waiming, said it best when he wrote, “The wind does not blow for a reason. The Earth seems shaking. The rain in the distance does not only spatter on the fallen leaves, but also on your heart. You just have to bend over to enquire, you will get poem after poem.”32

At the beginning of Part II, which may or may not have been separated from Part I before the VHS and DVD edition, we find Stalker nicely framed inside of a large door. After a quick cut, we also see Scientist and Writer lounging in front of a doorway of what appears to be a large manmade cavern. As they get up there is yet another aural disjunction as we hear something splash into was sounds like water. The shot then cuts to a shot straight down of the inside of a circular well of sorts in which something was just dropped. The silvery surface swishes about, and the sound is accompanied by a heavy unnatural deep tone. The tone resonates for over 10 seconds. This shot is also accompanied by the voice over, “let everything that’s been planned come true.” And then the voice, obviously Stalker’s continues to make broad moral wishes for humanity. Yet the image is never explained in context. We watch the water ripple for close to 40 seconds, and yet neither before nor after this shot is their any suggestion of it’s physical place in the film, or temporal place. At the same time, the shot does have a very specific time-pressure and emotion. If not for suddenness of its appearance, it would not be as commanding of attention as it is. Rippling water is rendered magical and finds its intellectual place in the zone. Tarkovsky said in an interview, “Water is a mysterious element, a single molecule of which is very photogenic, it can convey movement and a sense of change and flux.”33 However, even once the camera cuts back to Stalker, the voice over continues. The voice belongs in the same spatial-temporal area as the well. The sound and image are permanently bonded together.

Once this monologue ends, the sound and image match up once more, and Stalker makes his way into a dark cavern with dripping water. This is the first “inside” visited within the zone, however briefly. We then follow a close-up of Stalker along a wall while he watches the ground of which we cannot see. Again we get a sense of a larger unknown space. This is aided by the sound of river. In this instance, as in many others, the sound is what creates a sense of space. However, because it’s not visual, it is an imagined space and therefore extends to become whatever the audience perceives in the sound. Only later do we see that is in fact a wide river. As Christian Metz once stated, “… the recognition of a sound leads directly to the question: ‘A sound of what?’”34

Now heard distinctly are droplets of water, but they seem to have no source. Then we hear a strange sound of strained metal, again without a source. There is a long pan across a hidden waterfall behind a wall. The sound is accompanied by a general synthesized tone, that though unnatural, seems natural in the environment, and ends up creating a new virtual space outside the scope of the camera. These sounds then carry over to the next shot of hot embers glowing underneath rocks in a disjointed space. This shot begins to pan closely over the river. Under the water we see a box and syringe, both identical to what we see on Stalker’s nightstand in his room. This has several connotations. Firstly, it implies that Stalker is infecting the zone, either that the film is an interiorized film, subjectified through Stalker, or that his presence is physically affecting the makeup of the zone. Secondly, that Stalker’s home is part of the zone, and lastly, that the zone is the future, and that these items are the very ones that were found on the Stalker’s nightstand, because in the zone, time means nothing.

The characters then discuss the nature of zone and of art. Not surprisingly the main position advocated for is the same position Tarkovsky discusses in Sculpting in Time. Once the characters all close their eyes, a dog begins marching down an unknown shallow part of the river. This is generally marked as the beginning of the dream sequence, despite no strong element to declare it a part of a dream state, especially given that the entire zone gives off the aura of a dream state. This dream is also characterized by a monologue in which Writer specifically discusses only being interested in himself. This is particularly interesting, especially given that the visual image attached to this monologue is mostly of Stalker sleeping. This dream then marks an interiorizing of the already personalized account of reality. The question is, however, is this Stalker’s dream, or Writer’s? The next shot returns the film to sepia tone. This change in color seems to connote a disjunctive element in the dream, separating it from reality, and possibly marking the beginning of a moment of great truthfulness or spiritual integrity.35 We see only what appears to be bubbles on water in an extreme close-up. The camera then pans to show Stalker asleep in a different position and perhaps a different place. One critic, Emmanuel Carrere, saw this and other shots that focused on the water as Tarkovsky possibly not attaching “to much importance to the intellectual structure of the film or its human content.” Carrere goes on to state, “In any event, he allows them [the actors] to fade, without any remorse, and to be left to their vacuity by the evidence and physical apprehension of the mystery. They are no more than a buzzing sound, like insects on the surface of water.”36 Although I would say this reading is problematic, both in Tarkovsky’s proposed overall theme, and his treatment of time. If the water was truly to be the central focus, time would not be as visible flowing through the shot.

After another brief interlude of color, in which Stalker appears to be awake. The “theme” music fades up, and we suddenly find stalker sleeping in the river, the entire image sepia-toned once again. There is no diegetic sound, but the enigmatic dog, certainly being symbolic at the very least of dreams and man’s hope and friend, treks up and lies down next to Stalker. Again, however, this image is interrupted by a cut back to color of Stalker sleeping. The camera then seems to roam freely and zoom to the water near the sleeping Stalker where we see a glass underneath the water, perhaps the same glass that appears on the night stand in Stalker’s bedroom. The music that carries over this succession of shots suggests no true difference between reality and a dream state, for Tarkovsky utilizes many conventions of dreams (those that don’t involve ridiculous camera work or inane sounds) throughout the entire film, such as displaced space and time, as well as changes of color, diegetic sound that does not fit the visual image, etc. This gives the entire film a truly oneiric quality.

As this waking dream continues, we see a shot of quicksand waving in the wind, and dust being picked up and falling back to the earth as snow. Interestingly, the snow was not planned, but merely occurred during shooting. Furthermore, snow wasn’t expected. Instead of being snow, the particles were actually condensed chemicals raining down from a chemical plant that existed up the river from the shoot (and ended up causing severe medical problems in most of the crew, including Tarkovsky, resulting in tragic and early deaths).37 Regardless, it is unclear whether this is the dream within the dream, or merely the dream itself. Eventually shifting back to the sepia-tone, we hear a monologue by two unknown female voices, possibly Stalker’s wife and Monkey. During the monologue the camera pans along the water, revealing yet another syringe, a dirty clear pan, a refractive pan reflecting a tree, and bowl that appears to have encased four fish. Rather than attempt to simplistically discuss the meaning of each of these images, I will leave them simply as images, or singularities, there to be instilled with meaning by the audience, containing no other meaning to be discerned.

However, I will say that they do give an impression of the past and of sadness. The fish are trapped, the syringe is warped by time, the reflection of the tree is false, and the clear pan is smudged. There is a suggestion that all of these objects were once used, once clean, and once new, and once real. The dream, instead of being enlightening for the character having it, is merely a dream that is pondering, but what is being pondered are sad ruminations. More objects continue to drift by, including money, a spring, a gun, the number 28 on a piece of paper, and various other non-descript objects, each demanding a meaning, but offering none in return. The final image reached is a human hand, lying motionless on the water’s edge, suggesting whether the person himself will soon end up as the possessions have. We are then treated to a color image of the dog standing in front of a large dark manmade cavern, beckoning both the zooming camera, and the Stalker.

Finally, we return to Stalker, who rises, and hearing only his own breath, begins telling a brief story, but does not finish as he notices his compatriots are awake. Yet he continues talking, now more philosophically. The shot changes and we see the camera, again close to the earth, zooming along a rock surface until it reaches grey water that is either several inches away, or several hundred feet. The shot manages to fool our sense of depth and make it unclear whether the camera is on the edge of precipice capturing a vast space, or incredibly close to the ground, capturing less than two square feet of space. The actual again becomes the virtual, and the audience is left to decide by themselves. This space takes over the screen, turns to white, and eventually rotates to show us a full serene landscape. Eventually the shot cuts back to Writer and Scientist, but soon fades to near black as the scene ends.

Regardless, the camera cuts quickly to the next scene where we see a large tunnel, dirty, covered in icicles, dark, and leading towards a bright light. Overall, this image serves to contrast greatly with the open space of the zone, which is primarily what we have seen so far in the film. Yet from this point on, there are only interiors within the zone. There is a slow zoom into the corridor. Then there is a cut to the three travelers at the door leading into the corridor. Yet again, the characters are framed by doorways. After a brief discussion Stalker throws a rock into the room and shuts the door. The camera, and the audience are lost inside along with the stone and whatever the stone may trigger. Then writer enters the corridor and walks its length. The camera tracks behind the characters, occasionally giving a close-up of writer.

Most interesting in the scene is the sound. From the crackling of glass resonating down the tunnel’s length, to the dripping water, to creaks and other various non-localized sounds, the corridor gains its reality. Visually it is merely a dark tunnel. The sound is what turns it into something dangerous, and somewhere one doesn’t want to be. Again, the sound creates a virtual space which becomes actualized within the audience. Furthermore, long shots where the camera slowly creeps along behind or directly in front of the characters aids in creating a tense time-pressure. At the other end of the tunnel there is yet another door. Framing him through the door, the camera captures writer pass through this next room and travel up a staircase out of sight. Once more, the real space is hidden by the framed door and implied by the staircase. In this way the space becomes infinite. The audience is forced to imagine their own boundaries. Furthermore, to pass through this room each character must nearly submerge themselves in dirty water. Though it may have a number of connotations and cannot be reduced to a single metaphor, one direct reference is to a sort of perverse baptism or cleansing of the characters, perverse because the water is so disgusting.

The next scene tends to be the most confusing for any type of interpretation, and most discussions of Stalker tend to gloss over this integral event. However, under the guise of his own aesthetics, some of Tarkovsky’s purpose begins to become accessible. The scene occurs in a large room, whose boundaries are never seen, with high ceilings and large stone pillars. The floor is covered with sand shaped into miniature dunes. Writer begins walking through the space, despite Stalker’s warnings, in a close-up totally obscuring the space he is walking through. Stalker and Scientist drop to the ground in a long shot showing the depth of the environment for the first time. Stalker throws a bolt and in a new shot it drops to the sand in relative slow motion before the entire shot fades to white in under a second. However, it must be questioned whether this slow motion only takes place for the audience, or if it also exists for the bolt and the characters. As the bolt falls, ambient music fades up.

The shot then quickly cuts to Writer covering his eyes. This either suggests that Writer is covering his eyes because everything turned to white, at which point the temporal distortion of slow motion does exist in the filmed reality, or he is about to cry, caught up in some great emotion. The camera then cuts back to a long shot while a falcon flies through the space and off to one side, before magically flying through the space again and landing on the sand. The camera then cuts to Stalker and Scientist, both still with their heads down. Therefore, given that they weren’t watching, and neither was Writer whose eyes were also covered, the only witness of the bizarre spatial and temporal distortions is the viewer, and he/she is left to apply meaning to the event alone. Alternatively, the audience may merely accept the images as they are, and allow them to be merely the subjective portrayal of the objective filming of the film.

As Scientist and Stalker look up, the camera cuts to Writer waking up in the middle of the room in a puddle of water next to a pipe. Behind him is either a destroyed column or a statue, and beyond that one can barely make out the shape of a large ovular object. Regardless, the extreme background cannot be made out and remains shrouded in the audience’s imagination. He gets up and sits on the edge of the pipe after tossing down a rock.

The rock makes no noise in the pipe for at least ten seconds. The camera begins to zoom in. Then the rock hits something and makes a reverberation which is accented by an unnatural low tone. This is then followed by a muffled splash and louder unnatural low tone. This set of sounds again serves to create a virtual space beyond the image and suggests infinite. It also seems possible that the source of the shot twenty minutes before of the disturbed water in a well has its cause in Writer dropping the rock down twenty minutes later in the film. Here we have a possible temporal distortion which could break apart the narrative sequential temporality and release the film into a broader context of time. Furthermore, the dropping of the rock is incredible because it suggests a future event while memory and nostalgia suggests a past one. In this contradiction we find ourselves in the present moment, seeing and feeling the time-pressure within the shot.

Nonetheless, the shot continues and a slow zoom centers writer in a medium shot. Here he looks directly into the camera and asks questions. His monologue is directed beyond the reality of the film to the reality of the audience. If it is not already clear, one goal this film is attempting is to not simply destroy the “fourth wall,” but suggest that it doesn’t exist. This film gives so little information visually and aurally, that it demands to exist only in the minds of the audience, for they have to complete the creation of almost every space.

Strangely, several shots later, still in the same room, Stalker somehow finds a window, which he looks through into an unknown space. A sound which is directly related to light coming though the window seems to suggest shutters opening and closing in the wind, but again this is never seen. He recites a poem, which happens to be one of Tarkovsky’s father’s,38 and in so doing brings himself and his surroundings into the world of the dreamer. He then begins another monologue, and during this monologue the shot cuts to the dog walking through shallow water in yet another unknown space, also unknown in relation to the three characters. As we cut back to the characters, they are now in a completely new environment, by a window in what appears to be a dilapidated house of sorts. The characters are once again framed through a doorway. We do not know the extent of the space inside the room where they are situated. There is now a disconnect between the continuous monologue and the striking change of environment which once again suggests a certain subjectivity within the frame, and an internalized perspective.

However, the notion of a house, along with idea of all of the empty buildings and dilapidated structures suggests a certain element of history and nostalgia. Specifically, a house represents an enclosure that keeps, and specifically, that keeps memories. In this way, all houses become homes, even ones that have never before housed people.39 In an interview, when asked about the objects that appear in his films, Tarkovsky stated “Only that which I would like to have in my home has the right to find itself in a shot of one of my films.40 Here the building that contains the room is further conditioned as a home by Tarkovsky’s own memories.

Regardless, this shot remains static while a phone rings. The repetitive sound brings added attention to the passage of time, though the phone soon becomes a part of the action as Scientist proceeds to make a phone call. When speaking he steps out of the room, and the camera zooms in to greet him. It almost appears that the camera is not welcome in the room with the characters, but is free to roam in its current enclosed space. As he returns to the room, the camera zooms out and once again becomes static while scientist walks back and forth through the unseen room, constantly going in and out of view, trespassing in and out of imagined space. As he does this, Writer moves slightly, revealing a giant electrical lever.

This newly revealed object helps create an even stronger sense of the unknown and the dreamlike. Also now visible is the water which flows under the floorboards they are standing on. This strange element removes the space from the normal only after the audience has already developed a sense of nostalgia in relation to the house. This also gives the house a feeling of totality. A cellar, or underneath, exists, and it is filled with water. Reality and dreams join together in this vertically oriented house. It stretches from earth to sky. What Bachelard writes of a poem by Bosco also rings true for Tarkovsky’s house in the zone: “It possesses the verticality of the tower rising from the most earthly, watery depths, to the abode of … heaven.”41 However, for Tarkovsky the earth and heaven are one, hence how water seems to find existence everywhere towards the end of the film. Regardless, Writer then pulls the lever, causing the large bulb attached to the ceiling to briefly flare up in a brilliant display of man’s great power, before quickly burning out again. During this time all of the characters avoid looking at the light, signifying, among other things, a rejection of the world of man.

The characters finally begin to filter out of the space as the incredibly lengthy shot comes to a close. Writer places upon his head a crown of thorns, but of what relation this has to the rest of the film is left purely to the audience, especially given that Tarkovsky denies any clear cut, simple, or direct symbols. In the next shot a rotating camera searches along with Scientist for the sourceless sound of a dog whimpering. The camera then cuts to the dog at the end of a hallway, next to a large bottle. The camera zooms slowly to reveal behind the dog two skeletons. The slow zoom, relative silence, along with the constant changing of light with what is assumed to be window shutters, again allows one to feel the time-pressure within the shot.

Then, after a brief shot of all three characters gathered in the main room, Stalker in a close up announces that they are on the threshold of the room, which of course is blocked from the camera’s view by a wall. The camera, then, for the rest of this incredibly long shot, vascilates between imperceptible and reasonably swift zooms. Again, the mere length of the shot, along with its resistance to cutting down into smaller shots weighs heavily on the viewer, forcing him/her to take notice of the real time that exists and is captured within the frame.

In fact, we never see inside the room. Its mysteries are left purely to the imagination. Certainly this fits with the rest of the film, but it also explains the oneiric qualities the house possesses, for as Bachelard writes, “For the real houses of memory, the houses to which we return in dreams, the houses that are rich in unalterable oneirism, do not readily lend themselves to description.” Specifically, the past, the memories cannot be readily shown, and this is what an oneiric house is created from. It has infinite depth and permanent shadows, which is also all the audience ever sees of the room itself. Furthermore, Bachelard states, “All we communicate to others is an orientation towards what is secret without ever being able to tell the secret objectively.”42 Furthermore, when speaking of a dreamer’s room, which Tarkovsky’s can certainly be described as, Bachelard writes, “The room in which the poet [or dreamer] pursues such a dream … is the ‘solitary’ room … It would be ridiculous, in fact, to ask the dreamer its dimensions. It does not lend itself to geometrical intuition, but is a solid framework for secret being.”43

This is then followed by a series of shots with a great deal of action that are either brief, or act in a similar manner as the shot mentioned above. Writer declines to enter the room. The professor pulls out a bomb to blow up the room. Stalker struggles with him, and then pleads for him to not do it. Eventually Scientist does dismantle the bomb and tosses it into the water. The three characters, tired and defeated, fall to the floor at the foot of the room.

The phone, again rings in the distance. This creates yet another sense of mystery, but also, again, allows one to be aware of the flow of time through the shot via the repetitive nature of the sound. The phone stops and all three characters sit silently at the foot of the room. The camera pans back to frame the characters in yet another doorway, and reveal that the camera, and so the audience, is actually inside of the room. However, this also means that the audience is also outside the room of action, as it generally is throughout a great portion of the film, and therefore only receiving one specific, limited perspective of the reality.

The color of the image warms up considerably, and off to the side a light pours in from an unknown source before quickly dying out. Then the color again returns to its normal state, shrouding all dimensions of the room in darkness. All that is visible of it is the wet tiled floor that also appears in Stalker’s bedroom. This gives a sense of nostalgia, reemphasizes the film as Stalker’s subjective journey, but also merely completes a series of repeating images that seem to appear everywhere. This then feeds the oneiric feel of the film. Then as the characters stare blankly into the room, the shot now static, it begins to rain in the room, but soon stops. Again, it is merely an empty singularity left to the audience to imbue meaning. The shot then continues to be held for another solid minute.

Eventually the shot changes to the tiled floor of what may be the room, or may not. Already can be heard the disconnected sound of a train, so long missing from the film. A fish is seen swimming up to a piece of the bomb that Scientist tossed into the room. Soon, however, the entire image is covered as the water is filled with black ink. Traditional Russian classical music follows the sound of the train. As the sound comes to an end, the image has already changed back to black and white, and returned to the bar from whence the journey started. We see Stalker’s wife and daughter outside. The wife walks in and finds the three men exactly as they were at the start. The entire trip could have been a dream. After several brief shots we see that all three characters are quite dirty, and Scientist is missing his hat. Furthermore, during this shot, from off camera the wife asks, “Does anybody want a dog?” and the audience immediately knows which dog it is. It follows the wife and Stalker out of the bar. The shot then reverses to reveal Scientist and Writer staring blankly. As Scientist just appears a zombie, Writer lights a cigarette and moves to the window, where the camera zooms in and nicely frames him. He appears lost in thought, but joyful thought, as the camera cuts and leaves the two travelers for the final time.

This scene back in the bar is slightly odd, however. While extended scenes in the Zone had a strong sense of continuity, the return the bar seems almost meaningless. The wife collects her husband, and we see that all three men made it back alive. But without any (comparatively) long shots, or any great stressing matter or focus, the scene appears lost. Its only non narrative related purpose seems to be a nice framing of the entire film by the bar and Stalker’s home. However, for Tarkovsky this scene is one of the most important for the film ideologically. He writes:

The arrival of Stalker’s wife in the café where they are resting confronts the Writer and the Scientist with a puzzling, to then incomprehensible, phenomenon. There before them is a woman who has been through untold miseries because of her husband, and has had a sick child by him; but she continues to love him with the same selfless, unthinking devotion as in her youth. Her love and her devotion are the final miracle which can be set against the unbelief, cynicism, moral vacuum poisoning the modern world, of which both the Writer and Scientist are victims.44

However, Writer’s wry smile at the end of the scene is also validating for the figure, as Tarkovsky writes, “… it is simply a woman [the wife] who startles him [Writer] by her faithfulness and by the strength of her human dignity.”45

Regardless, the camera shifts outside and suddenly everything is in color again as we see Monkey in a close-up moving across an out of focus landscape. Perhaps, as so many have suggested, the color suggests that a little bit of the zone has escaped into the real world, but this seems false. Rather, I suggest that there is no true difference between the two. Both are filled with dreams, time, and space. The same objects appear in both. Stalker’s room is very much similar to the building housing “the room” at the center of the zone. Both are also given a mysterious and hidden element. As Monkey continues on the camera does not cut away, but instead fades up the theme music. The audience is forced to regard Monkey, her expression, and her appearance. As she travels the path home, one can truly feel the presence of time.

Eventually the camera does pull back, revealing a snow covered lake, and in the background a large factory of sorts, spilling out billowing clouds of smoke or steam. We then return to the interior of Stalker’s home, again in sepia tone. The shot begins in close, with a bowl filled with milk. The dog soon enters the shot and begins lapping it up. Then Stalker lies down next to the dog. As the camera pulls back we are treated to an incredible and unexpected sight: that of a wall completely filled with books. As the shot continues, this room is revealed to be the very bedroom where the film begun. The books were simply stacked along a wall that was not visible. This immediately sends the audience into a flury of thought. The entire concept of the Stalker must be reanalyzed. One of the most important meanings is clearly that Stalker is not just a simple spiritual fool following the idol of the zone, but an intellectual. It also must make the audience wonder what was behind so many of the walls or boundaries that the camera never dared enter.

Stalker climbs into bed with the help of his wife, and we see snow like particles that appear to be falling from the ceiling, not unlike the rain inside the room. Beyond Stalker is a bright window, but yet it cannot be seen through. It is but one more boundary, and beyond it lies only the virtual space of the audience’s imagination. As Stalker sleeps the wife sits in a chair next to the window, facing the camera and looking directly into it. Here she addresses the audience directly. There is no longer any doubt as to whether the audience was part of the film or not. The film simply could not exist without the audience. The film showed almost nothing, and what was shown was never explained. Without the audience, the imagined space beyond the boundaries doesn’t exist, nor does a meaning for any of the hundreds of rich symbols which appear.

Finally, in the last shot of the film, Monkey sits in a medium shot at a table in front of a window, in color, reading a book, as the snow like particles flutter around her. The camera slowly pulls back as we hear a voice over of Monkey reciting a poem, once again suggestive of a dream, and of a personalized film. A train is heard nearing in the distance. As Monkey stares at one of the three glasses on the table, it begins to move towards the camera. The dog’s whine is heard. The second glass then begins moving and eventually falls off of the table, but does not break, creating yet another disconnect between sound and expected action. Everything begins to rattle all the more as the train passes. Monkey places her head on the table and stairs at the final glass. The camera pulls in tight on Monkey as the train passes by. Along with the sound of the train is the classical piece “Ode to Joy.” The shot then fades to black and the film ends. The audience is left wondering whether the moving glass was magic, a miracle, or simply the vibrations from the nearing train.

Though many have attempted a symbolically oriented analysis of this final scene, one critic in particular attempted to attach specific catholic messages to each of the glasses on the table, and the action of one of them falling off. While certainly Tarkovsky aimed to allow each viewer to attach any message they see fit, no specific message can be correct if it doesn’t take into account multiple viewpoints. The origin of this scene, as cited by Vladamir Sharun, the film’s sound designer, revolves around a film by Eduard Naumov. Naumov was a self-appointed scientists and filmmaker who filmed, or ‘documented’, paranormal events and psychic abilities. He was a friend of Tarkovsky, as Tarkovsky himself believed in UFOs, spirits, and most other supernatural phenomenon. One day Naumov visited the crew of Stalker during pre-production and showed his latest film. In Sharun’s words, “On the table there was a lighter, a spoon, some other items. Kulagina’s face darkened with exertion, she fixed her unblinking stare on the lighter which followed her gaze. Tarkovsky attentively watched Naumov’s film and after it was finished he immediately exclaimed: ‘Well, what do you say, here is the ending for Stalker!’”46

1 Tarkovsky, Andrei. Time Within Time; The Diaries 1970 – 1986. Pg. 172

2 Tarkovsky, Andrei. Sculpting in Time; The Great Russian Filmmaker Discusses His Art. Pg. 194

3 Tarkovsky, Andrei. Sculpting in Time; The Great Russian Filmmaker Discusses His Art. Pg. 195 - 196

4 Tarkovsky, Andrei. Time Within Time; The Diaries 1970 – 1986. Pg. 65, 92

5 Bachelard, Gaston. The Poetics of Space. Trans. Maria Jolas. Boston: Beacon Press. 1969. Pg. 33

6 Tarkovsky, Andrei. Time Within Time; The Diaries 1970 – 1986. Pg. 66, 105

7 Tarkovsky, Andrei. Time Within Time; The Diaries 1970 – 1986.

8 Tarkovsky, Andrei. Collected Screenplays. Trans. William Powell and Natasha Synessios. New York: Faber and Faber Limited. 1999. Pg. 376

9 Johnson, Vida T., and Graham Petrie. The Films of Andrei Tarkovsky; A Visual Fugue. Pg. 138

10 Tarkovsky, Andrei. Collected Screenplays. Pg. 377

11 Dir. Andrei Tarkovsky. Stalker (disc 2). 1979. Mosfilm. DVD. RUSCICO. 2000.

12 Dir. Andrei Tarkovsky. Stalker (disc 2). 1979.

13 Tarkovsky, Andrei. Collected Screenplays. Pg. 376 - 377

14 Tarkovsky, Andrei. Interview with Leonard Neuger and Jerzy Illg. Res Publica. March, 1985.

15 Tarkovsky, Andrei. Sculpting in Time; The Great Russian Filmmaker Discusses His Art. Pg. 197 - 200

16 Hynes, Eric. “In the Zone.” Reverse Shot Online. Spring, 2004. 5 pgs.

17 Tarkovsky, Andrei. Interview with Tonino Guerra. Panorama. No. 676, April, 3, 1979. Trans. by David Stringari. 1 / 18 / 05.

18 Tarkovsky, Andrei. Time Within Time; The Diaries 1970 – 1986.

19 Hynes, Eric. “In the Zone.” Reverse Shot Online. Spring, 2004. 5 pgs.

20 Tarkovsky, Andrei. Time Within Time; The Diaries 1970 – 1986. Pg. 159

21 Tarkovsky, Andrei. Interview with Leonard Neuger and Jerzy Illg. Res Publica. March, 1985.

22 Zizek, Slavoj. “The Thing From Inner Space.”

23 Zizek, Slavoj. “The Thing From Inner Space.”

24 Longtin. “A Curse But Also a Miracle.” Andrei Tarkovsky; Journey of a Saint; Repertory Cinema 2004. 10 / 15 / 2004: 18 – 21. Pg. 21

25 Johnson, Vida T., and Graham Petrie. The Films of Andrei Tarkovsky; A Visual Fugue. Pg. 192

26 Zizek, Slavoj. “The Thing From Inner Space.”

27 Unver, Bircan. “Andrei Rublev, The Stalker & Social Realism … (Part: II)”. The Light Millennium. 1 / 18 / 2005. 7 pgs. Andreij Tarkovskij. 1 / 18 / 05.

28 Tarkovsky, Andrei. Collected Screenplays. Pg. 376

29 Zizek, Slavoj. “The Thing From Inner Space.”

30 Tarkovsky, Andrei. Sculpting in Time; The Great Russian Filmmaker Discusses His Art. Pg. 200

31 Tarkovsky, Andrei. Sculpting in Time; The Great Russian Filmmaker Discusses His Art. Pg. 200

32 Waiming, Law. “Why Does the Wind Blow, Tarkovsky?” Andrei Tarkovsky; Journey of a Saint; Repertory Cinema 2004. 10 / 15 / 2004: Pg. 11

33 Mitchell, Tony. “Tarkovsky in Italy.”

34 McCombe, Christine. “Imagining Space Through Sound.” Queensland University of Technology. 2001. 9 pgs.

35 Johnson, Vida T., and Graham Petrie. The Films of Andrei Tarkovsky; A Visual Fugue. Pg. 240

36 Carrere, Emmanuel. “On Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker.” The Unflinching Gaze, The Guardian. 11 / 30 / 2002. 1 pg.

37 Tyrkin, Stas. “In Stalker Tarkovsky Foretold Chernobyl.” Komsomolskaya Pravda. 3 / 23 / 2001. Trans. by 5 pgs.

38 Johnson, Vida T., and Graham Petrie. The Films of Andrei Tarkovsky; A Visual Fugue. Pg. 260

39 Bachelard, Gaston. The Poetics of Space. Pg. 6

40 Tarkovsky, Andrei. Interview with Tonino Guerra. Panorama. No. 676, April, 3, 1979.

41 Bachelard, Gaston. The Poetics of Space. Pg. 25

42 Bachelard, Gaston. The Poetics of Space. Pg. 13

43 Bachelard, Gaston. The Poetics of Space. Pg. 228

44 Tarkovsky, Andrei. Sculpting in Time; The Great Russian Filmmaker Discusses His Art. Pg. 198

45 Tarkovsky, Andrei. Sculpting in Time; The Great Russian Filmmaker Discusses His Art. Pg. 199

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