Stalker is unlike any film I’ve ever seen. It’s what I think of as pure cinema. It’s a difficult film, but one worth watching.
The premise is that something fell to Earth and the area of impact became off limits to civilians. This area is known as the Zone. Only Stalkers can navigate the Zone. Inside of the Zone is a place called the Room, which grants a person their true desire. There is, naturally, a downside to this, but I’ll leave that to you to discover.
Bordering on sci-fi and surrealism, Stalker is a nearly 3-hour art film. It is referred to as a classic, but don’t think of it as a classic sci-fi film like Star Wars or 2001. Stalker is in a league of its own. It doesn’t deal with space, robots, or aliens. It deals with abstractions and humans, two things we are much more familiar with than what most sci-fi covers.
I went in without knowing much other than it being a highly regarded work of cinema. When I read “sci-fi classic” I was mentally prepared for something along the lines of a Russian Blade Runner, which is funny looking back on it.
The first third of the film had me utterly gripped. There’s so much mystery about what the Zone is, why it’s dangerous, and what the three main characters are after. The next two acts didn’t deliver in the way I was expecting, but that’s totally okay.
The film instead explores greed, happiness, and human nature. Some of that exploration is too on the nose, with characters spouting philosophical soup at each other. On the other hand, some of that exploration is more nuanced. The latter approach is much more digestible and has a lasting impact.
Stalker leaves much to interpretation, for the better. It’s not interested in answering the questions it poses or the mysteries of the Zone. I love that the movie doesn’t feel the need to cater to traditional sci-fi and instead takes a much more abstract approach. It’s a real beautiful thing.
The absolute strongest aspect of Stalker is the visuals. Every single shot is gorgeous. The locations are unreal. And the director doesn’t mind sitting on a shot far longer than modern cinema trains us to be used to.
The look of this film is what makes it for me. The story doesn’t strike a chord with me and the philosophical approach isn’t well adapted for cinema, but the aesthetic of this film is so strong that it eclipses the issues I have with it.
The questions swirling around in my head about what happened is one of my favorite aspects about movies. They can present concepts that can be interpreted without defining them in words. The use of color and sepia, the final scene, the dog, the phone, the list goes on. I’m looking forward to rewatching Stalker and continuing to think about it.
The Bottom Line: Stalker requires an immense amount of patience but is ultimately worth it.