Up early again, though thankfully not as early as last week. Yesterday, after getting to a boss (well two bosses at once) in Code Vein that I didn't easily beat, I decided to watch a movie, and, as it was still early in the afternoon, picked Andrei Tarkovsky's Stalker. Been wanting to watch it for awhile, but it's over 2.5 hours long, so I needed a good long block of time where I wasn't going to be distracted (cause I knew it was going to be slow).
At the start the movie's filmed in black and white toned in a sepia color, it's like the whole world is trapped is amber. Whatever method Tarkovsky used to film, it really brings out all the textures of everything. The walls in the protagonist's home are rough and dirty and probably plaster and you can see all of that in the film. The french doors to his bedroom look like they are hundreds of years old encrusted with time. The floor in the bar he goes to is stained and you can see all the lines of the wood. It's really amazing and looks really different to me than almost anything else I've watched.
The movie is slow: lots of long takes, few cuts, slow camera movement (a number of very slow forward tracking shots), dead time before and after characters enter/leave a shot. That slowness is aided a lot by the beauty of the compositions. You can look at the frame for awhile even if nothing is moving in it. Almost everything in the setting is old or decayed or rundown. It's almost post-apocalyptic in the human elements, but on the other hand there is a lot of lush greenery in different scenes.
Based on a science fiction novel, one of the Criterion extras taught me that in the process of adapting and making the movie, Tarkovsky moved away from the book in many ways. This is one of those quiet science fiction movies that doesn't have spaceships or aliens or time travel, but it does have... something. The three protagonists go into this place called "The Zone" where something happened and all the people left and the government walled it off. Inside The Zone is "The Room" which supposedly will give you whatever is your deepest desire.
There is no explanation for these elements, and one can almost watch the movie and believe that it is all a story made-up by the protagonist "Stalker". It's that kind of narrative. But the way it's filmed and the way the actors/characters react to everything, even though for almost all the film you see no indication of anything weird or unusual, somehow you believe that "The Zone" is weird and dangerous. I was almost expecting some kind of 2001 psychadelic thing at the end, but Tarkovsky is a lot more restrained than that and nothing really weird happens at all. The protagonists don't enter The Room. They return home.
And then right at the very end, there is this scene of Stalker's daughter sitting at a table silently. After a while you looks at a glass on the table and... the glass shudders a bit then slowly slides across the table. Then she looks at another glass and slowly it slides across the table and falls off it. End of movie. I'm not totally sure what to make of that ending, other than as a way to refute the idea that all the weirdness was just in the three protagonists heads as they were in The Zone. You can't read the daughter's telekinetic skills as the result of anyone else's imagination or fear. It just happens.
At times I did start getting a little tired of the movie, mostly in some of the scenes with the characters talking. Though on a second viewing I might better be able to relate their conversations to the rest of the filmic content. But something would always happen to draw me back in.
One really stunning (and I'm sure famous) scene, happens early on. There is a really long tracking shot in the sepia tone as the characters ride a rail car into The Zone. The foreground movies between their three faces in closeup with out of focus background moving by in the background. It lasts a long time and then there is a cut and the film is in color, a green landscape of trees and sky. It's a shocking change (up to that point I just assumed the whole film would be sepia), and also creates this wonderful sense of The Zone as other, as more vibrant and special then the rest of the world.
Geoff Dyer wrote a whole book about Stalker which I am now very tempted to read.