For a year at university, I had a stalker. Not as interesting as Stalker from Andrei Tarkovsky, but food for thought nonetheless. I doubt the science-fiction classic would pose much threat to my wellbeing, although the setting it takes its three characters to and through is cause for concern. They are there for one reason only, to have their deepest and darkest desires granted to them. Heading through a place known merely as “the Zone”, they are shown through this physics-defying arena by the titular guide. Tarkovsky is not known for his budding optimism and flowery discussion, and it is rather reassuring to see that Stalker is, potentially, his darkest and grimmest film to date.
His other pieces of work often had glimmers or the slightest flecks of salvation. The possibility of freedom if these characters had the faith to free themselves is reassuring, but Stalker showcases how actions have defined, irreversible consequences. Stalker questions all the usual Tarkovsky stylings, but burrows deeper into the sense that life is hopeless and frivolous. Why enjoy and experience when you can suffer for the same reward? With this trio of characters, they are risking their lives for the opportunity to be happy. They head through a gruelling series of awkward and horrible events for the chance at being overwhelmed with joy, rather than content with happiness. But that is who Tarkovsky was, he was not content with the benchmark, he wished to go above and beyond. It is a sentiment I have taken to heart, for it truly, truly scares me.
Why is it that so many people settle for the content humdrum of life? Fear of rejection? A placation of disinterest in the goings-on of reality? Who knows, really? For me, it is a fear of failure, and to be content is to give up. I get the feeling that the Writer (Anatoly Solonitsyn) feels the same. Tarkovsky uses Solonitsyn more than a handful of times to express his own desires and worries as a creative. He is the man that is sceptical of the danger within but comes full circle and realises they should not only not use the Room to their advantage, but also that they should never have journeyed toward it in the first place. Had they not attempted this adventure though, we would not have seen the beauty of the Zone, the tact of Tarkovsky or the many themes he wishes to explore with authority and an authorial voice that bounces through these lawless anomalies.
We do not know our real desires. My desire right now is to have my coffee and power through the rest of my day. That is an achievable goal, though, not necessarily a deeply held desire. What my hidden desire is, I do not know, it is hidden. Stalker presents the idea that nobody could possibly know what they wish to do with their lives, and it is shown exceptionally well within. We may carry out tasks and events for just, surface-level reasons, but is there an act of self-interest underlining it? Or is it a genuine act of charity? To risk your life for that of another, or are our desires much more twisted and self-inflicted than that? We like to think the former, but, undoubtedly, the latter will often prevail.