Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan


(Сталкер, USSR, 1979)

If you ever suffer from a bout of insomnia I have a sure cure for it. Just start playing this movie and you are bound to snooze like a baby. I never fall asleep while watching a movie, but I felt myself nodding off several times during this one. It is the most soporific, most boring, least interesting, most deliberately obscure movie I have seen in a long time, maybe ever. And it is looooooong. Two and a half hours of stultifying bullshit tarted up to be an art movie. But I wasn’t fooled, as all the critics were. I know a load of crap when I see one. This film is obviously just oozing metaphors, and you know what? I hate metaphors, especially in films. If you’ve got something to say, say it!

How dull is it? Several times I was tempted to hit the FF button, just so I could get these characters moving. Who cares if I missed the dialogue? So far it had all been bullshit.

I guess I should summarize the plot. There is a place called the Zone. It isn’t clear what it is and how it came to be, but the legend is that it’s a place where all your dreams can come true. Which would hold a certain allure, because everything outside the Zone is black and white. Well, more like brown and white, sepia tones. When we cross into the Zone things are in color. But it is also said that the Zone will probably kill you, or at least you’ll have defective babies, or something like that.

We follow a trio of men into the Zone, named Writer, Professor, and Stalker. (The Russian spelling transliterates as Stalker, too.) What is a stalker? A sort of guide, it seems. And this fellow is a hell of a guide. He invariably leads from behind. He always sends the other guys in first. (This is how the Iranian Army cleared mines during the war with Iraq. They sent civilians walking across the minefields. Anywhere one of them was blown to pieces was safe to walk!) Their destination is a room where all will be granted. Or something. Stalker is forever telling the other guys how incredibly dangerous the Zone is. Anything can happen! Horrors lurk around every corner! Never take the short route! And nothing happens! Never! The worst danger facing them, it would seem, is that moss might grow on them. Every scene they enter is at least ankle-deep in water (outside the Zone, too, only the water is sepia-toned), and they move so slowly that snails could probably be seen passing them by if we panned downward.

There are two and a half hours of this shit. Every shot is either an agonizingly slow dolly-in, pan, or long, long, long, long close-up of nothing happening. Then at the end, there is a little bit of conflict between the men, one of whom has brought along a 20-kiloton nuke about the size of a tall can of beer. But he decides not to use it. Then we get a long, long, long, long, long shot of the three of them sitting in standing water. It rains for a little bit, then it stops. That was a finishing shot if I ever saw one.

But no! There’s more! We see them standing lugubriously around in the same horrible bar where they started off. They say some incomprehensible things the writers (Boris and Arkady Strugatsky, and shame on the both of you!) and director (Andrei Tarkovsky, and ditto to you!) probably thought were deep and thought-provoking, and we fade out …

But there’s more! Stalker’s wife talks to the camera for about five minutes, saying that her life with him has been awful, but she’s glad for every minute of it. Or something like that.

And there’s still more! Now we see Stalker’s crippled daughter (because he goes into the Zone?), as she reads from a book. Now there’s a compelling scene. A girl reads from a book! Then she puts it down and rests her head on the table and, in the most godawful non sequitur I’ve ever seen, she moves some glasses across the tabletop, apparently with her mind. Telekinesis. What the fuck was that all about? No! Don’t tell me!

That’s enough of that. The critics creamed their knickers over this one. It is rated 100% at Rotten Tomatoes. The users at IMDb who wrote reviews were overwhelmingly positive, too, though there were a few one-star or even half-star opinions. And I think I have an explanation. There must be subliminal suggestions in there. Like …

“You are getting sleepy … sleepy ………. sleepy …… you can barely keep your eyes open. You are drifting off into a pleasant sleep … and you are now deeply asleep. You hear nothing but the sound of my voice … When you awake, you will believe that you have seen one of the finest films ever made. You will write a rave review, and when you are finished you will forget everything about this movie except that you loved it. And nothing will shake you from this opinion, even if you see it again, years later. When you hear the sound of the glass hitting the floor after the girl’s mind pushes it off, you will awaken and have no memory of being asleep.”

Come to think of it, that would explain a lot of reviews …