A Chemist, an Author, and a Stalker walk into a bar. It sounds like a joke, but the three do meet there early in the film to begin their journey.
We first see the Stalker (Aleksandr Kaydanovskiy) at home in bed with his wife and young daughter, as he tries to sneak out without waking them. The wife wakes up and chides him for going out again and leaving them behind.
We see the Author (Anatoliy Solonitsyn) chatting with people in the street about the predicament. A while ago, outside of town, a meteor crashed and irradiated the countryside creating an area known as The Zone. Or maybe something other than a meteor. The military has built a fence around it and lined it with armed guards to prevent anyone from getting in.
A Stalker is someone who has learned to sneak people into The Zone for a look-see, and that's why the Author and the Chemist (Nikolay Grinko) meet him at the bar to begin their journey in.
The movie begins in what most describe as a sepia tone but to me it looked very yellow. Once they have evaded the soldiers and gotten through the fence into The Zone everything turns to full color. It's a bit like The Wizard of Oz
that way. Inside The Zone is mostly a grassy countryside with some streams and such. Later the men find some sewers, tunnels, and warehouse type structures.
And thus begins this 2-hour 40-minute journey into the heart of The Zone to find The Room. The Room is a place that supposedly can grant any wish your heart desires. The Stalker knows this because he has taken many people there.
Now, I did not get the movie I thought I was going to get. This movie is philosophical I suppose, and thoughtful. Action-packed it is not. This is Art with a capital "A". It is beautifully photographed and composed. But it is a series of landscape shots with a lot of talking. Almost constant chatter during the entire movie as the three men jabberjaw about life and meaning and such. I expected they would at least talk about what they plan to wish for if they make it to The Room but they are pretty cagey about that.
This was my frustation with the film. The Stalker constantly warns the other two about the dangers of the journey. Only the Stalker knows the way in. If, for example, you're walking across a grassy field, you can only step in certain spots or something bad will happen to you. The Stalker never really tells us what will happen, only that it will be bad. He has nuts (as in nuts and bolts) tied to strings that he throws on the path in front of them to make sure their steps are safe, like a minefield. He says every time you come into The Zone the path changes and only he can see where the new path is. I kept hoping one of the guys would go off-path so we could see the results but it doesn't happen.
Actually one of the men does get separated from the other two at one point, and then he's reunited. I thought maybe it was a trick, like The Zone had conjured up a replacement who would turn on them or something but no ... that's for a lesser movie with plot. Here he just rejoins the trio and they keep going.
To an extent the tension ramps up as the locations start to look more sinister, inside underground tunnels and rooms, and the Stalker keeps saying that they are getting closer and it's getting more dangerous. But again, they all make it.
And in the end, the trio reach The Room. I think. I mean they are in one room with an opening on the side that apparently leads to The Room but we never get to see inside.
So the twist comes after this long trek. The Chemist apparently didn't come here to make a wish, but rather to blow up The Room with a bomb in his knapsack. He doesn't think it's fit for this world, or maybe the world isn't fit for it. But he decides not to. The Author only wanted to make a wish so that he could write a book about the experience, but I guess he decides that his career is over and even if he wrote a book, no one would read it. So he decides not to make a wish either. So they all go home.
Back home we return to the sepia world. The Stalker is tired, and collapses on the floor of his house. His wife decides maybe she should be the one leading folks to The Zone from now on.
I may be sounding like I didn't enjoy the movie, but it's more that I didn't understand it. Sometimes I can extract some value from things that are over my head but I had kind of a tough time here. The length was also a factor. It's a long way to go just to decide you shouldn't have gone in the first place.
That kind of thoughtful idea might work for me in the right context. Perhaps also the fact that this is a Russian language film I watched with subtitles made it harder. If the only thing going for it is the talking, then the language barrier will be one more obstacle to overcome.
I watched this movie because I enjoyed director Andrei Tarkovsky's Solaris
and this was said to be the only other science fiction film he had made, and his best. I feel that appreciating this film would first require me to acquire a taste for this type of thing which I don't really have. But I did like the visuals.
was loosely based upon the novel "Roadside Picnic" (1972) by brothers Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, who also wrote the screenplay for the movie. In the novel I believe the existence of aliens is more clear. The title refers to the idea that if humans drive out to the countryside for a picnic and lose a few items along the way, after they are gone, the insects and animals will be perplexed by those human items. In the novel the Stalkers go into The Zone which was the site of an alien visit to pick up artifacts left behind.
You can watch Stalker