For my work in progress over the past two weeks I have continued to explore the themes expressed in Tarkovsky’s films Solaris (Tarkovsky 1972) and Stalker (Tarkovsky 1979). These are that one is leaving the normal, everyday world behind and entering a ‘zone’ of alterity and strangeness, in my case in the world of the city after dark. The zone is strange because a full understanding of it is hidden from us. We have no understanding of the agency at work in the zone, or even whether there is one.
In Solaris, the scientists aboard a space station are unable to tell whether the apparently intelligent ocean on the planet of Solaris is trying to help them, hinder them, punish them or simply express itself. The ocean remains a mystery and the indeterminacy of their situation is slowly driving the scientists mad. In Stalker, a similar situation applies but with a further development. Those who reach a special room in the centre of a mysterious Zone whose origins are unclear are given whatever their heart desires. The frightening reality is that we may well be unaware of what we truly but unconsciously desire, and if our deepest desire is given to us that knowledge now made conscious may destroy us. In the film, a stalker called Porcupine reaches the room and is granted money. Soon afterwards, he commits suicide.
Much of Stalker is shot in a half light through frames, doorways and windows or along tunnels. These are all portals and are ideas I need to explore in my practice, but the film asks us to question whether these are portals to another world or in fact to our own unconscious. The film therefore questions not only agency but the whole idea of what we think of as the individual, personality and free will. Once we are parted from our normal, everyday world, we may well discover that these ideas are much more fluid and indeterminate than we suppose. We are all two selves, Tarkovsky suggests: the ego, and something else, something we will never fully understand.
I am currently thinking about how these powerful ideas might affect my research project. They are surely going to affect story and narrative (which are not the same thing). The apparent story of my research project is of the city of Oxford, but the real story is much more likely to be the complicated uncertainty of what it means to be human. There are no certainties, just the eerie mysteries that Tarkovsky so eloquently explored. One question that now arises is that if I do not fully understand myself, how can I ever be more than the classic unreliable narrator of my own story?
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TARKOVSKY, Andrei. 1972 Solaris. [Film].
TARKOVSKY, Andrei. 1979. Stalker. [Film].
Figures 1-10. Mark CREAN. 2020. From: Silent City. Collection of the author.