THREE MEN PICK THEIR way across a damp field. They move slowly, gingerly. Terrible things may happen to the Writer and the Professor if they stray from the path the Stalker has laid out for them. The Stalker is their guide in a place called the Zone, a forbidden place where an alien entity, having made contact with Earth, has left some trace of itself behind — in a mysterious building called the Room. Entry into the Room can grant a visitor’s deepest wish. And it can be lethal…
I was in London the last time I saw Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker; I went with my wife to a matinee at the British Film Institute. When we got out nearly three hours later it was night, and the streets of London seemed eerily deserted: storefronts were shuttered and garbage blew around on the wet sidewalks. On our way home we saw only one person, a disheveled man with a beard. He stood under a streetlamp picking at a vivid gash on his forearm, oblivious to the world around him. All of this should have felt strange, but it didn’t. The post-apocalyptic scene was entirely of a piece with what we had just witnessed on screen, as if Tarkovsky’s film had simply spilled out into the world, taking us with it, sending us meandering towards the Zone.
The next day we learned that we had gone to see Stalker on the night of the London riots. When we entered the theater the riots were just beginning, and by the time we left they were mostly over and the city had gone into lock-down.
Wittgenstein said that when the eye sees something beautiful, the hand wants to draw it. Thus we find a long debate about the meaning of Stalker in Kenzaburo Oe’s novel, A Quiet Life. And in Roberto Bolaño’s “Days of 1978,” set among a group of Chilean émigrés in France, one character, B (who seems to be Bolaño himself), gives another man, U, a detailed account of the great bell-casting sequence from the end of Andrei Rublev. The other man is deeply moved. Afterwards, he hangs himself from a tree.
Geoff Dyer saw Stalker thirty years ago and hasn’t stopped returning to it. In his new book, Zona, he describes the film from start to finish, scene by scene, take by take. Dyer intersperses his narration with digressions on topics as far-ranging as Rilke, hallucinogens, contemporary photography, and discount ice cream. The result is something between a commentary, a tribute, and an autobiography. This mix is typical of Dyer: Zona is less self-involved than Out of Sheer Rage, his book on D.H. Lawrence (which is really about everything but Lawrence), yet more personal than either The Ongoing Moment, his book on photography, or But Beautiful, on jazz, which remains his masterpiece.
Throughout Zona, Dyer worries whether the book will be a success, and complains that he wouldn’t be “summarizing the action of a film almost devoid of action&rdquo...read more