Saturday, September 11, 2010


Not the creepy kind, but the film by Tarkovsky. I think the title could equally be something like "Tracker" or even "Ranger," since it's about a stalker in the sense of a deer-stalker. But it's not deer he leads people to.

The movie is a religious allegory posing as a science-fiction story. It starts out looking very ugly, which is surprising for a Tarkovsky film, but you should watch at least up till "Part Two" before giving up on it. Tarkovsky uses light and colour in a way that is, I suppose, symbolic, but seems to me to have almost literal meaning. If gestures are "the natural language of all peoples" (Augustine as quoted in Philosophical Investigations) then perhaps other natural phenomena can be thought of as having meaning. Whether by nature or convention, light has come to have a more or less common meaning in works from Plato's Republic to Larkin's "High Windows," and it is in this sense that Tarkovsky uses it.

The film reminded me a little of Cormac McCarthy's The Road, which I liked but didn't love. McCarthy's message seems to be that no matter how bad things get, it is still possible to keep alive the flame of faith/hope/charity and that, as an act of this faith/hope/charity, it is passed on from one generation to the next. The same message is delivered in the movie (and perhaps the book) No Country for Old Men (most obviously at the end, in the story of the dream about a man's father and a fire). But it's not very satisfying to be told to keep hope alive, or to be shown someone who manages to do so more or less by luck. The Road wouldn't work as a story if the man and boy were eaten by strangers. There can't be any luck in religion. Imagine Wittgenstein talking about feeling safe no matter what, and then running through no man's land with bullets whistling past his ears. Not being shot proves nothing, unless God is just a big magic shield. You have to be safe despite getting shot, despite being killed.

Stalker might not quite give us this, but (like The Brothers Karamazov and Andrei Rublev) it tries to show what a faithful life might look like despite all kinds of problems, including various corrupt forms of religion, without such a life seeming stupid, evil, or only contingently successful.

Five stars.


  1. Not being shot proves nothing, unless God is just a big magic shield. You have to be safe despite getting shot, despite being killed. This helps me in clarifying why I thought the Hughes brothers' contribution to the post-apocalyptic genre, The Book of Eli, (featuring Denzel Washington) wasn't that great. God is basically a magic shield in that one. I appreciate your point about The Road. (Though I suppose if one thought of 'the fire' as something like Kant's good will, then the film might work, since luck doesn't figure into the good will...)

  2. Thanks--I haven't seen the film of The Road, but I will now. The story could perhaps be made to work even if they were killed, but I think it would take some work. Their journey seemed all about trying to survive. That's not to say that McCarthy thinks the point of religion is to secure survival after death, but the story as allegory would become pretty obscure to me if they were eaten by cannibals and the fire was not handed on to anyone else.