September 15, 2016
Moments of Uncertainty
Near the very beginning of Stalker, Andrei Tarkovsky's 1979 fantasy dreamscape of humanity and inhumanity, the title character's wife addresses the camera directly. She's staring right at us and asking us why we took her watch. We know, instinctively, that she can't be talking to us, that she must be arguing with someone unseen, but Tarkovsky holds the camera so long on her, and she looks so directly into the lens, that we slowly become unsettled, as if somehow she is meant to be talking to the viewer. It's a long take and the longer it goes on the more certain we are that she is talking to us; it's impossible to have someone look into your eyes for this long and not have that sense.
It's a strange moment in a movie filled with strange moments.
What I particularly like about this shot is how it sets up its echo near the end of the film -- very near the end of the film, perhaps exactly as far from the end as this early scene is from the beginning. We again see this woman, and she again talks directly to the camera. This time, she is speaking explicitly to the viewer. However, because we've been in this position before with this woman, we're guarding against Tarkovsky's tricks and we doubt that she's meant to be talking to us. We are unsettled in a different direction when after a bit of time it becomes abundantly clear that she is talking to the camera, to the audience. And this moment only works and unsettles us because of our bizarre encounter two and a half hours previously.
In a way, he's stripping us of a basic humanity, to engage with a person, to reciprocate the gaze she gives us. We too are changed by this visit to the Zone.
I love, love this film. This is just one moment that I love. It's such a masterful effect that I had to remark on it.
Posted by Brett Douville at September 15, 2016 05:26 AM