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.
Recollection is a horrible thing; Mirror is enough to convince me of that. Such is the effect of loosely autobiographical works. When delving into that ever-so tortured mind of director Andrei Tarkovsky, abstract concepts and themes are very much the bread and butter of his display. He whips through several moments of life, all relaying the thoughts and topics he now feels about his childhood, upbringing and experiences. It is not often a creative can offer their reminiscent horrors and worried futures in such a creative and exciting way, most of the time the niggling doubts and worried tensions are presented as themes with resolutions, but Mirror offers no salvation.
What does it mean to sacrifice something? Not a physical object, but a feeling or memory. Andrei Tarkovsky always composed massive, grand projects that looked to depict life in all its fleeting, suffering glory, but it is The Sacrifice that feels most poignant of all. Solaris was an exceptional, biting response to the apparent commercialist attitude of Stanley Kubrick and his work on 2001: A Space Odyssey, whilst Ivan’s Childhood was of the beautifully brutal post-war filmmaking variety. Tarkovsky was an exceptional artist, a rare artist that could weave thick thematics into his visual flair. He was unconvinced by the happiness around him, unphased by the mechanisms of positivity, and nowhere is that clearer than here, in his final feature film.
Daunting, crushing, beautifully shot and a technical marvel, you couldn’t ask for any more than that from Andrei Tarkovsky. His meditation and contemplation throughout Nostalgia, his penultimate feature project, is just as poetic as the rest of his greatest hits. Falling into relative obscurity, but still well-known enough to not feel like finding a unique, beautiful experience hidden among the dreck of other filmmakers, Tarkovsky’s Nostalgia doesn’t feel like it receives nearly the same amount of fanfare as his other works. But that’s the real beauty of it, because although it’s nowhere close to the popularity levels of Solaris or Andrei Rublev, this 80s Tarkovsky film has just as much depth and even more depravity on display.
Responsible for some of the greats, Andrei Tarkovsky can do no wrong with his beautifully crafted films. Solaris and Stalker were incredible endeavours into psychological stability and science fiction. They were explorations of the deep unconscious, incredible musings on morality and mortality. Mirror was much the same, albeit in a more caricature, segmented approach with a looser connection and an easy-flowing narrative. I could drone on and on about the various levels of love I have for all of these films, but I was eagerly awaiting a viewing of Andrei Rublev, a film to be considered as a more grounded work, as he looks to put the life of this titular painter to film.
As I cautiously enter my second Andrei Tarkovsky movie, it’s nice to think that I’ve still got so many of his classic pieces of cinema left to tackle. Tarkovsky was no stranger to elusive messages and broadly varied reasonings throughout his films. He places in his films something to strive for, information to grapple with as the story unfolds. Well, he didn’t do that in Ivan’s Childhood, but that was a sorely engaging and gripping film that relied on the harrowing nature of war. Solaris relies on similar trends of grief, loss and inexperienced terror, all in the form of an inability to believe what is right there in front of our very eyes.