When it first appeared, Tarkovsky’s Stalker: A Film by Andrei Tarkovsky was seen as a parable of totalitarian ruin. Since the curtain came down, it has a more universal reach. David Thomson ( “Have You Seen . . . ?”: A Personal Introduction to 1,000 Films , 822) sees in it “a universal malaise,” with its “appearance of decay, of chaos, of seepage . . . . [Tarkovsky’s] world is one of desolation, ruin, and breakdown. Nearly all structures are destroyed, abandoned, and repossessed. Thus, ‘home’ has become a very unreliable concept.”

The sense of foreboding is deepened by the “rising moisture” of the film, which “could even be the prospect of some flood,” which Thomson thinks might be “set off by global warming.” There is the constant drip from the walls, the sloshing through puddles and runoffs, the long shot where the camera records the debris lying at the bottom of a shallow stream. All gives “the feeling of all things moving slowly toward liquid [that] is as powerful as it is creepy.”

Stalker leaves the viewer dreading (or hoping for) a cleansing flood of biblical proportions.

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Articles by Peter J. Leithart

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