★ / ★★★★
Rumor went around that there was a place called the Zone which had the power to make anyone’s deepest desires to become reality. Stalker (Aleksandr Kaidanovsky) was a chosen man. It was his job to escort those interested in making a wish to the mysterious location. Despite his wife’s (Alisa Frejndlikh) disapproval, Stalker accepted to take Writer (Anatoli Solonitsyn) and Scientist (Nikolai Grinko) past the guards. If caught, they were to be shot because the Zone was a forbidden place for the unimportant. Based on the novel by Arkadiy Strugatskiy, I found “Stalker” pretentious because it dared to bring up big questions about life, like man’s connection to his occupation, our place in an increasingly complex and desperate world, and whether selflessness truly existed, but it shied away from attempting to answer its questions. We were subjected to watching the unexciting adventure of three men who supposedly symbolized mankind’s wish of finding the elusive truth. Of what? We never knew because the screenplay did not bother with specificity. I don’t mind abstraction but there comes a point where I have to feel like what I’m seeing is worth my time. There was no reason for the movie to run for about two hours and forty minutes. There were many interminable scenes, supposedly meditative, which took me out of the experience instead of welcoming me to dive in. For example, when the three men (barely) successfully escaped the guards and were about to enter the Zone by means of a dilapidated mini-tram, the camera lingered on the men’s faces. If Andrey Tarkovskiy, the director, expected us to sympathize with the characters or try to guess what they were thinking, it was a significant miscalculation. We knew nothing of the characters’ respective backgrounds that would warrant such a meaningful introspection. However, I enjoyed the way the filmmakers used colors to convey contradiction. The picture started off with a dark sepia-like shade. The depressing look reflected the unhappy people controlled by, from what it seemed like, an unjust government. When the trio reached the Zone, the color green was prevalent. The colors were sharper, more noticeable, and alive. But there was a catch. Other than the chirping birds, buzzing bugs, and fish splashing about, there was no human in sight. The contradiction worked because it showed instead of using words. Unfortunately, the philosophical pandering eventually took center stage. I felt like I was being lectured by intellectuals who wanted to show off how smart they were. I was so detached, I caught myself thinking what I wanted to add to my grocery list and what to do after the movie finished. I can sit through movies that last for four hours or longer. Length is not a problem if there’s meat in the screenplay. I liked that “Stalker” challenged me, but there’s a problem (and a slap of irony) when even the characters decided to take a nap. I was jealous. I didn’t take a nap through the entire ordeal.