You know what they say about wishes. This film goes even further. These wishes can kill you. Stalker is a Russian film directed by Andrei Tarkowsky in 1979. In some remote place there is an area, called the Zone, where weird things happened a few years ago. That area now is kept by military forces, and only a few people dare to enter there. They must be lead by a stalker, a kind of hunter that knows how to avoid getting killed in the path to the wish granting device that lies in the centre of the Zone. In this film, a writer and a scientist use the services of a stalker for trying to get what they most wish.
The film is based on a novel called Roadside picnic. I haven’t read this novel, I just watched the film some time ago. In the novel, they describe how some alien waste was left in specific spots on earth, like the waste people can leave in a picnic area. Those wastes are strange devices with some very unique properties. Some of them are lethal while others seem innocuous. Only specialised stalkers are able to go there and find these artefacts. The most important one is the wish machine, that grants wishes to whoever comes close. That comes with a twist. Two persons need to reach the device. The first one gets eaten by a thing called “Meat Grinder” and meanwhile the second one gets a bit of time to reach the “Golden sphere” where wishes are granted. As you can see, its not easy. Other devices improve your health, or transform everything into a mucus, or just make a loud noise, without any apparent danger. The book goes into details with all these things and their effects. Stalkers at the same time, are exposed to all sort of contamination and side effects. They use bolts or metallic parts attached to their clothes to detect how the gravity in certain areas behave, because it is know that gravity and light act weird in dangerous places. It is also known that their children are born with horrible deformations.
The film takes only some of these themes and in 160 minutes tells the story of these three characters trying to find their way to the Zone. During their trip, they talk about the place, what they expect of it, what are their plans after their wishes are granted. The romantic vision of the writer versus the pragmatism of the scientist brings some interesting dialogues. When they get closer to the place, things change a bit and a few interesting plot twists happen. Some important questions arise, like, what’s exactly a wish? And how a machine or device knows what we wish? What if a hidden, possibly malicious wish, is chosen instead? Is that device a judge that could punish instead of reward us, possibly with death?
It is a very slow film. I already said that about the same director’s film version of Solaris. It is his trademark, it seems. Stalker has some shots of almost 4 minutes where nothing happens, or not even a word is said. I remember that I watched this film in parts, along a few days, and a friend of mine asked me if I had paused the video, because nothing appeared to change in the screen. It wasn’t paused, characters were talking, and I was just amazed by the photography. Almost hypnotized. There are shots in sepia colours. Other shots in gorgeous colour when they are in the Zone. Great light in interiors. Carefully chosen compositions for those almost static shots… It’s visually unforgettable.
I need to read the original novel, at some point. Meanwhile, here you have a link where you can watch the entire film. I’d rather grab a DVD version to really appreciate its photography. Also, you will need coffee, tea, whatever wakes you up, and 160 minutes of your life without distractions.
There is also a game loosely based in some of this ideas. It happens in Chernobyl, a proper Russian Zone, and things like weird artefacts and the wish machine make an appearance, I’ve heard. I haven’t played this one though.