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Monday, May 27, 2019

Terminus Ad Quem


Episode One Hundred Twenty Eight: Terminus Ad Quem.
In Which Innermost Desires.



1 comment:

  1. Andrei Tarkovsky, 'Stalker' (1979). I had only seen his Solaris (1972) before, and was taken with his impressionistic investigation of the human condition - how our dreams form our realities. Solaris was certainly a softer touch to storytelling than would be acceptable in a more Hollywood style, and also employed a grandeur that I (naively, perhaps) associate with a traditional Russian mindset in the arts. I’m intrigued to compare Solaris to its 2002 Soderbergh remake, a typically American literal-minded sci fi vehicle that is centered more on plot than on character. (And yet is still great, imo.)

    I had heard about Stalker for years, and this week finally managed to watch it. Like Solaris, it is more about who we are as living beings than it is a about maintaining a coherent story line, although I had the impression that Stalker was a more rooted tale than its predecessor. So much of Stalker is told through simply letting the atmosphere breathe, through images veiled in deep shadow, through mysteriously morphing textures, and through unfathomable cyclic respirational sounds. In this way, it is strongly reminiscent of early Lynch.

    This accent on atmosphere is coupled with the musings of the characters who, even as they nobly(?) risk death to seek their deepest desire, nevertheless reflect on the possible shallowness and disingenuity behind their own motives.

    The forbidding locations - overgrown fields, abandoned factories, succumbed infrastructure - lending themselves to this sense of alienation from the familiar. As the image quietly sits we realize that we can't tell where we are. Is this a banal experience, or is it sublime? (Is this not our daily experience?) Are we in a neglected, decaying space, or are we in a space inhabited by an occupying, transforming being? Perhaps it is both?

    This works as a straight-ahead narrative as well as metaphor, and the underlying theme - the potentially empty and/or false promise of salvation through divinity, and how that promise is cynically pitched by Religion – is often at the forefront.

    Always present is the ongoing question of the selfishness involved in seeking salvation. Do we accept obliteration in the transformation such salvation would bring, or do we accept our lot among the mortals and offer gratitude for our relatively limited struggle? This certainly echoes for any artist, grandiose filmmakers among them, who sacrifice personal lives in an attempt to create something beautiful. It is no small tragedy, then, to realize that the multiple shoots required of Stalker, and the awful, toxic conditions to which the crew were subjected, likely cost the lives of Tarkovsky himself, his wife & directing assistant, Larisa Tarkovskaya, and their leading man, Anatoli Solonitsyn, from lung cancer.

    As for the characters in the film, they seem to choose to accept their lot and be grateful, and the story line (subdued against the breadth of the imagery and soundscape, as well as against the sweep of the inner dialoging) hints that the catalyst here actually is something external: an unfathomable force effecting an elemental transformation. Solaris touched upon the same event- an evolutionary leap that is inevitable, terrifying, and indifferent. The understated way with which it rides on the periphery of the wash of oily bracken and mysterious, treacherous obstacles indicates that we have already missed it - the change has already occurred.

    We have met the 70’s universal transformation, and it is us.

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