Still from Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker.
I recently fell asleep in a movie theater. I think the movie is a masterpiece. An hour in, the three main characters, on an expedition into mysterious territory called simply the Zone, have just emerged from a slog through an aqueduct, shouting over the sound of crashing water. They each lie down, exhausted, on the brown-green moss that blankets the water’s edge. The characters speak with each other about where they are going, and for what. It is a late-night road-motel talk—fatigued, but searching. A character called Writer begins a monologue about fame, the future, technology, and soon it doesn’t matter, because he is talking to himself, in the shorthand that exists only in each individual head, using big, meaningless, opaquely personal words like “Life” and “Art.” What matters is the tone of his voice—soft and drifting and stretched seemingly over one long yawn. He is talking himself to sleep. A guitar drone intensifies. And as he went on, I found myself becoming heavily tired, too, and I slumped over. I had a dream that I cannot remember, except that it feels like a kernel lodged under my tongue, and involved a river. I woke up only when a tall man sitting next to me gently tousled my hair and told me in a stage whisper that I had spilled popcorn all over my lap. The characters are sitting up, awake now, listening to a voice telling them about his dream. In my memory of the film, there is a blank.
The movie was Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker, recently remastered and finishing its months-long run at the IFC Center. Geoff Dyer wrote about the film and his relationship with it for our Fall 2011 issue, in “Into the Zone,” an excerpt from his full-length book Zona. “Into the Zone” is, as much as an essay can be like a movie, an imitation of Stalker. The essay proceeds by summarizing each scene of the movie chronologically. Each scene summary takes on the pace and tone of the scene being described. When the pace picks up, so does Dyer’s prose, and his thoughts come quick and abbreviated. When the movie slows to a pan, or arrests on a static shot, so does Dyer, and he takes the placid moments to tell us things he knows, stories, about Tarkovsky: about Tarkovsky and his relationship with Michelangelo Antonioni, about the fights Tarkovsky had with Mosfilm over the meditative pace of Stalker, about Flaubert and style, inventories of films shown in other films, about time as it exists and is manipulated by movies, about his desire for a drink when he sees characters drinking, and finally, during the scene Dyer calls “one of the great sequences in the history of cinema”—the long, seemingly unbroken shot of the trolley ride into the Zone itself—about himself and things he wants and can’t have. “Into the Zone” is Dyer’s thought, in all its allusiveness and wit and sneaky brilliance, welded inextricably to the rhythms of Stalker. This is the only narrow path to Stalker—a film that is both direct and maddeningly slippery. Read More