A man leads a party of three into a forbidden zone in Russia, twenty years after a meteorite struck. A strange, sentient presence has appeared, destroying all the military could throw at it a safety perimeter was set up and entry restricted. Rumours abound of a mysterious room at the centre of the Zone where all of a man’s desires can be fulfilled.
Writer (a writer) and Professor (a professor, keep up) hire Stalker to escort them to the fabled room. A Stalker (name and occupation) is one blessed with a certain sensitivity to the entity, able to read it’s paths of thought and understand it’s traps, giving him the possibility of navigating the Zone safely.
They set off from a nameless, dour, city in darkness, evading capture at the perimeter they travel deeper into the countryside, it’s a measure of the dangers that the military don’t follow them in. Stalker begins to feel the entity, smelling the ground and feeling the plants. The dangers are invisible and only he can find a way through the ever changing landscape. Professor believes him and obeys, Writer however is doubtful and begins to test the entity by straying off the path Stalker has set out for them. They are accompanied at intervals by a black dog who may, or may not be an avatar of the entity.
Viewed through the prism of time Stalker, made seven years before Chenobyl, is eerily prescient of nuclear disaster, everything is post apocalyptic, machines have rusted and nature has begun to reassert it’s control. The film starts in a brassy monochrome for the city and gradually colour floods the screen as the journey heads into rural areas. The pace is as stately as any Tarkovsky film, lots of long one shots and slow pans. 142 shots in 163 minutes is far from the fast paced, montage cutting we are used to today.
There is a magnificence and confidence about Tartovsky’s work that draws you in and holds the attention through sheer bloody-mindedness. There are no special effects, no obvious threats and no real conclusions. Everything is suggested through a philosophical script written by Boris and Arkady Strugatsky (loosely based on a novel they had written. The locations and sets, whilst relentlessly bleak, have a beauty to them and are shot with a learned eye.
The films ending unapologetically answers no questions and leaves you with a head full of ideas about desires and mans inability to fulfill them.