Aug 2, 2013

Marian Rădulescu comments Elena Dulgheru's book "Tarkovsky. Film as a Prayer"

From the blog The One-Line Review Presents
Posted on May 11, 2009
The substantial book by Elena Dulgheru (Andrei Tarkovski - Filmul ca rugăciune) has a whole chapter dedicated to the way the Russian film director approaches the recurrent theme of hominess. The chapter is called „The Taboric space of the home”. The main theme in Stalker is the epiphany of experiencing the Sacredness. Yet, this is no easy task – even more so in our multicultural age - to speak about the Sacredness, about its topography and about „the place where man meets God” (Which God? Which meeting?).

In the Christian tradition, according to the Gospel, The Mount Tabor represents, doesn’t it, the place where Christ has revealed himself to his Apostles (Peter, James and John) as well as to the Just of the „Old Covenant” (Moses and Elijah) – the presence of the latter ones signifying the continuity between the two "paradigms". The above mentioned episode is also called Transfiguration – the place where man feels like shouting (as in Goethe’s Faust: "Verweille doch! Du bist so schön!" / "I say to the moment: Stay now! You are so beautiful!". At that very moment, frightened and speechless, Peter will have said to Jesus: „Let us build three huts; one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah” while Jesus, according to the Gospel, „was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his garments became white as light”

As Elena Dulgheru points to it, The Stalker himself says something similar on the threshold of the Room (where none of them enters), planning – as he possibly would every time when he got to that point – to move there with his wife and his cripple daughter: “How good it feels to be here! It is so quiet! Nobody can harm us here!” Why particularly there? Because there is one’s true home, where people’s badness is harmless and no one can harm you. Where is people’s badness harmless? Wherever God’s blessing has been laid down, and humility (word that comes from humus = clay, in Latin) has conquered vain glory. But suddenly, the Stalker adds: “No one lives and cannot possibly live in the Zone”. Therefore, the Zone (being understood as a Taboric space) is the very place which man’s impoverished heart has always longed for. It is the place where everything comes true and even wonders happen if you “concentrate and recollect your life”, because “when someone secretly recalls what he has lived through, he becomes a better person.” “Our moods, our thoughts, our emotions, our feelings can bring about change here.” – says the Stalker. All one has to do is wait – as in Waiting for Godot, for example – and obey the complicated system of traps in the Zone, which “demands respect, otherwise it will punish you”. Here is where the circle closes in order to form another one, full of forever new variables and mysteries. For what exactly one should ask for? What exactly one should wait for? Yet, do we still feel like wanting something, anything for that matter? Are we still ready to sacrifice our vain whims? The Writer (as well as The Professor) does not wait for anybody or anything, he does not want anything at all – nobody does – and does not hope for anything. "Nobody has faith anymore, not just these two" – says the Stalker to his wife, once he returns home, exhausted and almost sick. Yet, his bitterness does not prevent him from going back to the same mysterious place, again and again: the Zone, the Tabor, the Grail.

Another paradox: no one has faith any more, nothing has been left but trivial “curiosities” and selfish expectations – The Writer hopes to find his lost inspiration, while The Professor tries to blow up the Room where wishes come true for what will happen “when everyone believes in this famous room? When they all scramble for it? It’s just a question of time! If not today, then tomorrow, and not dozens of them, but thousands! All those uncrowned emperors, grand inquisitors, führers and such benefactors to humanity! Not for money, or for inspiration, but to remodel the world!...”. Still, the Stalker cannot help bringing new “clients” to the Zone, people who’ve got no other hope left. A certain change has happened though – the episode in the bar scene (at the end of their existential odyssey) speaks well in this respect: the Writer is smoking absent-mindedly (as if he was in deep thinking), while the Professor looks confused (as if he, too, was trying to figure out the mystery of this capricious and incomprehensible place, the mystery of this “holy fool” who seems determined to have faith when there is hardly anything left to believe in, when everything seems – like in an absurdist drama – an enormous prison.
Can there be a movie sequence or even a whole movie that will leave – more than others – deep traces in the memory of cinema-goers? Is there such a movie that will stay for ever green? There must be quite a few of them, that’s for sure. One is definitely the SF movie (with or without inverted commas) Stalker by Andrei Tarkovski. Both Tarkovski’s fans (some of them even adore him) and those ones still unfamiliar with (or put off by) his vision can testify to this. To be honest, it is not that easy to like Tarkovski when your mindset has been invaded by clichés and schemes which form the recipe of any blockbuster: action, fun, violence, hope, nudity, sex, happy ending.

Is Stalker a genuine SF movie? It is, but only with due respect to Dostoievsky’s words: „Fiction and reality are one and the same thing. Without reality there is no fiction.” The kind of fiction we find in Stalker is of the same nature with the fiction Nicolae Steinhardt ( uses in his The Happiness Diary: one that „does not delude, does not lead to obscure lands of illusion, and is not a mere change of décor – the fiction of faith. That does not deny reality, but transcends it; that does not have to get out of the yellow room in order to leave it; that is not fiction after all, because it does not entertain the mind with a bunch (a human comedy) of other virtual– yet unessential – worlds, but rather makes it concentrate upon reality; which does not exclude science, but transfigures the world and the individual. ”

So, why be this particular film then? Mainly because nowhere else but in Tarkovski’s works (and arguably in Bergamn’s Nattvardsgästerna / Winter Light, Såsom i en spegel / Through a Glass Darkly, Tystnaden / The Silence or in Bunuel’s Nazarin and Viridiana, in some of Antonioni’s films) – and particularly in Stalker – does modern man’s inability to believe (transfiguring the world) and confess (transfiguring himself) hurt is such proportions. But confession is closely related to faith, and (post)modern man living in the glorious age of general deconstruction has increased his scepticism and believes, like the Writer, that "Conscience, remorse, are merely products of the brain...Who told you there is something going on here? Have you ever seen anybody leaving this place happy?” The whole odyssey towards Tarkovsky's Zone in order to pursue happiness is but a (failed) preparation for the most important moment in a man's life. The moment when he has to say nothing, he has to do nothing but concentrate and remember his own life, for "when one remembers his life, one becomes a better person". Perhaps this is the "clue" to Tarkovsky's charade: once we have reached (together with the Writer and the Professor) the threshold of the Room where, as they say, "the most powerful, tormenting and sincere desire becomes true", the Stalker makes us face the unavoidable question: Who am I? How would I react if a "stalker" (a guide) whom I incessantly suspect of hypocrisy (and whom I had imagined as looking completely different - „leather stockings, an impressive black leather suit, the looks of a dragon”) told me: „You only need to have faith!”? Would I be ready or would I resign, like the Writer does, and whose pride makes him say: “I’ll hardly be a better person if I start remembering my life….And don’t you see how shameful that is? To abase oneself, to grovel, to pray?” Or would I call for extreme measures (like the Professor does, who has prepared – not his soul, but rather a 20 kilotons bombs – in order to blow up “this famous place” for he cannot sleep easy in his bed as long as “this ulcer is open to any scumbag”. The place which “does not bring happiness to anyone” will not be blown up because of the Stalker, the “hypocritical worm” (called by the Writer “simply defective”), who – among bitter tears – tells the Writer and the Professor (but only them?): “Nobody has anything left in this world any more. This is the only place you can come to, if you’ve nothing else to hope for…That’s why you came! So, why are you destroying…faith?”

What exactly is, after all, the Zone (or “the yellow room”, as Steinhardt put it)? Tarkovski provides the answer, in his book, Le temps scellé: „The Zone does not mean anything, at least it does not mean anything more than what one can find in my films. The Zone is the Zone. The Zone is life, and the man who lives it either crushes or saves himself. It’s all up to the way one feels his own dignity and ability in discerning what is essential from what isn’t.” If Tarkovski is right, we do need – more than ever – such a Stalker (a guide) to help us transform into a dream the dirt we have filled our souls with, a guide to help us discern – in this very age of excessive zapping and claiming of all freedoms – what is really essential from what isn’t.