Stalker ★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

I've reviewed some very confusing movies before. There's a huge disparity between the scores I've given confusing movies. Some of them are phenomenal films that truly make you think and make you want to revisit them countless times to understand them. The best example of this would be 2001: A Space Odyssey, which is among my favorite films of all time. It is brilliant in its confounding nature, and its layered explorations of humanity. But there are other great examples, such as Swiss Army Man or Being John Malkovich. Weird genre films that have brilliant layers to them that aren't immediately apparent on first view and deserve rewatches. But then there's the other end of the spectrum. Films that try to be layered and intelligent but end up just being confusing and pretentious. Perhaps the best recent example of this would be I'm Thinking of Ending Things, but there are some others that are equally terrible such as Tenet or Magnolia. But then there are a lot of films like this that just fall somewhere in the middle.

Stalker is a film that disappointingly falls in the middle. There's certainly a lot to admire about this film, and I can certainly understand why this film is so adored. There are moments of dialogue that are so brilliant, so rich in their thematic significance that it managed to respark my interest in the film for a while. Especially many of the dialogues in the Zone itself. Much of it is so brilliant in its writing. All of it is also brilliant in its delivery. Alexander Kaidanovsky as the titular Stalker is brilliant in his nervous reverence for the Zone, his inability to grasp the larger questions the Writer and the Professor pose. Anatoly Solonitsyn and Nikolai Grinko as the Writer and Professor respectively are both also brilliant, delivering the brilliant dialogues in natural and human ways. The actors were able to keep my interest for good portions of the film. The film's greatest strength though might just be its cinematography which is absolutely gorgeous. I am personally such a huge fan of cinematography that just rests on its scenes and characters, allowing frequent long takes so that we can relax into each image and every beautifully framed shot lingers in our minds even long after they've stopped lingering on screen. This film has that beautiful cinematography that I adore and even when the writing and the performances fail to capture my attention, the cinematography was often enough to hold the interest. But unfortunately, there is a reason why I said this film falls in the middle. As beautiful as the visuals are, as beautiful as the writing is, as beautiful as the performances are, there's just too much. The film feels overstuffed, and so it drags out. There are too many of these long takes that don't feel necessary, where they seem to just slow down the story, to bog down the visuals with random shots of water or stones or what have you, that don't seem to serve a function. Perhaps it requires a rewatch to understand those shots but this film is too long to conveniently set time aside for a watch, let alone a rewatch. The dialogue is brilliant but there are so many little dialogues that it's hard to keep track of all of them. Perhaps they require a rewatch. But there's not enough to the film to make me want to rewatch it.

Overall, the film is certainly worth a watch and perhaps it deserves a rewatch or several. Perhaps if I rewatched it many times, I would one day understand it to the point of declaring it a masterpiece. But I don't feel compelled to rewatch it anytime soon because of how exhausting this film is.

Favorite Line: “Once the future was only a continuation of the present. All its changes loomed somewhere else beyond the horizon but now the future is part of the present.” - The Writer (Anatoly Solonitsyn)

Favorite Scene: Last Three Monologues. This entire sequence when the Stalker is at home. He gives his speech to his wife about why he can never go back to the Zone. And this is the film's best speech, as a man who has devoted his entire life to a single ideal is forced to reckon with the inherent filth of that ideal as it forces him to confront the ugliness of the human subconscious. Then the Wife's speech about why she married the Stalker. And this is one of the best speeches as well. A brilliant dissection of sorrow and happiness and how the two are intrinsically connected. And finally, Martyshka's poem that she reads. A beautiful love poem. I don't understand this one's function in the story but perhaps it's related to the Wife's monologue seconds prior. Perhaps it's something deeper. I don't know. But it's a beautiful poem and it only cements this brilliant ending.