Stalker (Criterion Collection Bluray Edition)

In 1979’s StalkerAlexander Kaidanovsky plays a man obsessed with breaking into a forbidden area known only as “The Zone”. Offering to act as a guide (or “Stalker”) to a jaded writer (Anatoly Solonitsyn) and an ambitious professor (Nikolai Grinko), all three of the men head into The Zone. However, once inside, will they find the much-fabled “room” which can grant anyone their deepest desires? 

… Stalker is certainly one film that every dedicated movie buff should take in.

Director Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker is both a ravishing and bleak vision at the same time. With its pools of water bouncing golden light everywhere, Stalker‘s opening scenes are achingly etched in contrasts: The squalor of an unloved bed; the pleadings of a desperate wife; and a man who is caught deep inside a mysterious addiction to – The Zone. A mysterious and surreal place, where physics has lost its grasp and its secrets promise life-altering results, it pulls him away nightly.

As an addict-turned-guide, Alexander Kaidanovsky‘s stalker will be going back to The Zone again, but this time not alone. Taking with him a vain yet disillusioned writer (an excellent Anatoly Solonitsyn) and a repressed yet ambitious professor (Nikolai Grinko), they will have to dodge the Stalinist sentries that guard The Zone’s hidden borders. Yet, however, once inside, it is really the silence that takes over.

Tip-toeing their way through overgrown vistas and pock-marked by rusting wreckage, it feels as though The Zone itself is one huge, mass grave. Furthermore, beset by guilt and recriminations it seems as those the deeper that each man ventures into The Zone, another layer of privacy is peeled off their souls – and in this respect – this is where the film may also take its toll on you. 

You see, like director Andrei Tarkovsky‘s earlier Solaris (1972), and David Lynch’s EraserheadStalker owes more of its dread to its pacing. Moving ahead at a maddeningly slow pace and awash with long speeches of self-doubt and paranoia, the film characters try to sow a dozen interpretations about what might be happening at any given moment. All of which results in a highly disorientating viewing experience. Although seen in hindsight it could be argued that was the very purpose of the film at its outset. With the film itself becoming an extension of The Zone, Stalker isn’t so much a narrative movie as more of one that you experience than follow. 

Released in 1979, to say that this is influential is beyond understatement. From Alex Garland’s heavily-inspired love letter, 2018’s Annihilation, to The Prodigy’s Breathe music video and the computer game S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl, the story of a guide taking travellers to a forbidden zone has an ongoing fascination. Couple that with its formaldehyde-like legacy of toxic rivers contributing to the death of its director and crew and you have a film that justifiably moves beyond the term “cult”.

At 2 hours and 42 minutes, Stalker is not an easy watch. Yet now available on Bluray with a beautifully restored print and a remixed soundtrack, it’s certainly one film that every dedicated movie buff should take in. As Alexander Kaidanovsky‘s bruised stalker himself puts it: “The Zone wants to be respected. Otherwise, it will punish.”