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Tarkovsky's "stalker" as a Political Allegory

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Tarkovsky's "Stalker" as a political allegory

By Eugene Izraylit

Of all great poets of cinema, few are regarded higher than Andrei Tarkovsky. His poetic interpretation of reality is as far away from social realist filmmaking as anyone ever dared to go in the former Soviet Union. His payment for this freedom was the fact that very few of his ideas were allowed to be produced, and even when produced many of them were not shown for many years. Stalker's story is even more peculiar. An accident at the lab ruined all of the footage and the entire film had to be re-shot for less than a third of the original budget. The film's very existence is a miracle - in my opinion in more ways than one.

The Stalker has been the subject of countless articles that equate it to a metaphor - a modern day Jesus in a post-apocalyptic society. One cannot ignore the fact that the story by the Strugatsky brothers was inspired by the accident at a nuclear plant near Chelyabinsk. I, however, believe that the film is a lot more pointed than that. More than fifteen years after the fall of the Soviet Union it may be both irrelevant and irreverent, but upon watching the film I cannot help but seeing it as an allegory for the Soviet Union itself. Maybe that explains why it was the last time Tarkovsky was allowed to make a film in his home country. Maybe I am allowing myself this leap of faith for the simple reason that history repeats itself and that the question of art imitating life or vice-versa has not yet been fully settled. Either way, the story, its characters and their thoughts are too difficult to ignore.

The plot is simple. Three men - The Stalker, The Professor, and The Writer go into the mysterious "Zone" where there is a chamber that can grant their most precious wish. The Stalker is the leader and a believer. His followers are reluctant cynics, whose faith in what is ahead of them wavers at the slightest hint of "another way." The rules of the game are harsh and clear - they are the rules of the "Zone" and breaking them means death. The goal may be just one step away, but one has to go in circles in order to get there safely. And only the Stalker, the leader knows the way. And there is no going back. And only the chosen will survive.

While the last phrase undoubtedly brings thoughts of Darwinism, to me, it strikes a different note - Stalinism, and the Great Terror. The history of the Soviet Union is soaked in blood, and while the cult of Stalin was significantly shattered after his death, one still could not openly talk about the tyrant as such. He was still the great leader who emancipated Russia from capitalism, defeated Hitler, and led the country to a place where all dreams come true. Only they don't and he didn't. Stalin, a silky politician with great understanding of the human psyche lead the Soviet Union by being the "Father" of the land, or, as it is presented in The Stalker, the "Zone." He alone knew and chose which way to go. He also chose who deserves to go and who doesn't. He claims that he suffers for people who need to believe, but who never do in the end.



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