Film: S.T.A.L.K.E.R.

"A film about three men walking through the wooded territory, two of which are mostly calm, and the third is constantly afraid of something."
— A popular recap of unknown origin

Stalker, or СТАЛКЕР in the original Russian, is a 1979 Andrei Tarkovsky Science Fiction film shot in Estonia. It is an adaptation (albeit a very loose one) by the Strugatsky Brothers of their earlier science-fiction story Roadside Picnic.

The film takes place in and around a devastated partially-industrialised landscape called The Zone. At the centre of The Zone we are told, lies a location called The Room, which is said to grant the deepest desires of those strong enough to make it there, avoiding the numerous hazards for which The Zone enjoys a fearsome and lethal reputation.

Our three main characters meet in a bar outside The Zone. They are only named by their professions; Stalker, Writer, and Professor. Stalker is both the protagonist and also the name of a class of semi-professional guides, skilled at infiltrating the security cordon surrounding The Zone, and avoiding the many hazards within it. He regards The Zone with something close to religious awe, and treats it as a temperamental Deity to be appeased and wondered at. Writer is an urbane, fashionable, cynical author with a drinking problem. He complains that he has lost his inspiration, and wishes to regain it via the power of The Room. Professor is a taciturn physicist, who appears to have no particular reason to visit The Zone, and a small backpack that he is very attached to.

The video game of the same name could be said to be loosely inspired by this film. Very loosely. It is more correct to say that they share some features in common because they draw on the same original inspiration.

This film provides examples of:

  • Abandoned Area: The Zone, which had to be abandoned after the mysterious alien visitation, and after the army's attempts to re-enter the Zone were destroyed, as shown by the burnt-out tanks. What once was an industrial area (the film was shot at an abandoned chemical plant in Estonia) is empty and overgrown by plant life and all-around creepy.
  • The Alcoholic: Writer is the first to the bar, is refused spirits and so buys beer as if that doesn't count. Stalker later tips away Writer's booze stash (hidden under Writer's decidedly Not-So-Badass Longcoat.)
  • All There in the Manual: Given how very little the film actually explains, familiarity with the source story helps. Have you been wondering how the bolts with a length of cloth tied to them is supposed to help find a safe route? Roadside Picnic describes the area containing anomalous spots of extremely high gravity. Throwing something solid with a fluttering tail behind it would be an excellent way of spotting those due to the flying arc suddenly dipping.
  • Applied Phlebotinum: The disruption of reality in The Zone.
  • Art Shift: From sepia in the town to color in The Zone—although interestingly, the Stalker's cripped and telekinetic daughter "Monkey" is always shot in color for her scenes, which are in the town.
  • Author Avatar: The Writer.
  • Bald of Awesome: Stalker has a convict's buzz cut.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: The Room (allegedly) takes this one step further: You do not ask for your wish out loud or even consciously. Instead, it looks into your mind and fulfills your greatest desire. Do you even know what you want? Do you dare find out?
  • Boring Return Journey: Neither the Writer nor the Professor have the guts to enter the Room. They sit there at the entrance for a while, then the film cuts to everyone back at the bar, having left the Zone.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Towards the end of the movie the Stalker's wife addresses the camera and the audience directly, giving a little speech in which she explains that she knew all about the problems she'd have with the Stalker, including his emotional instability and the risk that their children would be born with defects, but she married him anyway, and it was worth it, as she got the highs along with the lows instead of a "dull, gray life".
  • Burning the Ships: After entering the Zone on a motorized railroad hand cart, the Stalker starts it up again and sends it off back from where they came. He explains to his clients that you can't leave the Zone in the same way in which you entered.
  • The Cake Is a Lie: Does the Room grant you your deepest desire? Only Porcupine would know, but even though he became rich, he killed himself because he sent his brother to his death. Nobody else is known to have gone into the Room and had their wishes granted.
  • Clap Your Hands If You Believe: The Stalker is sickened by the inability of the Writer and Professor to believe in the Room.
  • Cool Car: The three charge the gates in a Series II 88" Land Rover.
  • Contemplate Our Navels: All the characters, particularly Writer, are fond of long philosophical monologues.
  • Cursed with Awesome: Monkey is a cripple, but may have psychic powers.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: Like other Tarkovsky films. The monochromatic / sepia town scenes contrast with the colorful Zone.
  • Door of Doom: The visitors sit outside the door of the Room for a long time, but never do work up the nerve to go in.
  • Driven to Suicide: Porcupine, who killed himself out of guilt when the Room granted him his true inner wish—money—instead of what he believed was his wish, to resurrect his brother.
  • Drives Like Crazy: Stalker cannot drive in a straight line, even on railroad tracks.
  • Dungeon Masters Girlfriend: Stalker's wife.
  • Dysfunction Junction: Stalker has just returned from prison, presumably having been sent there for illegally going into The Zone. His daughter, Monkey, is crippled. Writer has come to The Zone because he no longer feels inspired in his writings. Professor wants to get a Nobel Prize and be respected by other academicians. Stalker's wife, despite arguing with Stalker, is the closest in the film to a happy person because she is the only person whose wishes have been granted.
  • Eldritch Location: The Zone in all its incarnations (book, film, and game) is a sterling example of this trope. A very, very ominous place that will apparently kill you if you do something wrong.
  • Elite Mooks: Averted by The Zone security forces. They are generally more interested in television, and hosing civilian vehicles with machine gun fire.
  • Everyone Calls Him Barkeep: Stalker, Writer, and Professor.
  • Failed a Spot Check: One of the soldiers trying to prevent people from approaching The Zone sees Stalker's car, but does not think that Stalker is hiding under the car.
  • Final Boss: The Meat Grinder.
  • Follow the Leader: The critical reception of 2001: A Space Odyssey may have factored into the creation of Solaris and this film.
  • Forbidden Zone: The Zone has been closed to visitors, and is patrolled by the military, but the Stalker and his clients still make their way in.
  • Freudian Trio: Writer (Id), Stalker (Superego), and Professor (Ego).
  • Genius Loci: The Zone.
    The Zone wants to be respected. Otherwise it will punish.
  • Geo Effects: The shortest route between two points within The Zone is never in a straight line. Oh, and never attempt to retrace your steps.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: The film's usage of "stalking" to mean "to steal past something," as it happens, is etymologically more accurate.
  • Hollywood Homely: invoked Stalker and his wife.
  • I Don't Like the Sound of That Place: A scary tunnel called the "meat mincer".
  • Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy: The soldiers patrolling The Zone cannot hit Stalker's slow-moving Land Rover, but they do manage to wreck their own electrical equipment.
  • Ironic Nickname: The "dry tunnel" has a large waterfall and is flooded.
  • Leave the Camera Running: Director's trademark. For example, he leaves the camera on to capture a rainstorm forming, pouring rain, and then dissipating.
  • Legacy Character: Stalker. All Stalkers lead people into The Zone, and when one leaves the job, their apprentice becomes Stalker.
  • MacGuffin: The Professor's backpack. At first his attachment to it makes him look like a cosseted old man, but in fact he needs it because it contains the bomb he stole from the other scientists.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: It's generally left pretty ambiguous as to whether The Zone really does have all the fantastical qualities that Stalker claims (primarily since all the characters opt not to enter The Room when they finally reach it.)
    • The last scene offers a perfect encapsulation of this: A glass slowly slides across a table; it could be the Stalker's daughter using telekinesis, or just vibrations from passing traffic.
  • Mind Screw: What is in the Zone? What's the deal with the Room? Does Monkey have superpowers?
  • Mysterious Waif: Stalker's daughter Monkey, apparently able to move glasses by force of will as an effect of The Zone.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: One of the rooms in The Zone is called the "meat mincer."
  • Negative Space Wedgie: The Zone has mysterious properties, including the ability to kill people and wreck technology. The most dramatic example is when the trio enter The Zone and see the wreckage of dozens of army tanks.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: The insane tension as the Writer crawls through the "meat mincer", as well as the specter of the Room itself.
  • Nuke 'em: The Professor wants to destroy the Room using his nuclear bomb to prevent it from being used For the Evulz. However, he gives up the plan and disassembles the bomb after the Writer has a revelation about the Room.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname / Only One Name: Stalker implies it is safer for everyone in case they are arrested that no-one knows anyone else's name, although the trend encompasses almost the entire cast: Stalker, Writer, Professor, Luger, Monkey, and Teacher (or Porcupine.)
  • Oh Crap!: Writer decides to go off on his own until a disembodied voice actually it's The Zone shouts at him to "Stop right where you are!"
  • Post-Apocalyptic Dog: The Stalker takes possession of a dog he finds amidst the ruins.
  • Protagonist Title
  • Psychological Horror: Nothing overtly scary happens in the movie.
  • Public Domain Soundtrack: Ode to Joy and Maurice Ravel's "Bolero."
  • The Quest
  • Quest for a Wish: Supposedly, the Room grants wishes, which is why the Stalker's clients have come.
  • Real Is Brown: Used as a metaphor, where the world outside The Zone is (mostly) filmed in washed-out sepia tones.
  • Ruins of the Modern Age: This effect is achieved with the ruined factory.
  • Rule of Symbolism: This film runs on religious imagery.
  • Scenery Gorn: Anywhere outside The Zone. Overlaps with Crapsack World.
  • Scenery Porn: Almost anywhere inside The Zone, the exploded tanks, artillery, and incinerated corpses of the armies sent to surround The Zone notwithstanding.
  • Science Is Wrong: Writer's snarkalicious speech to Professor about finding truth in science and art.
  • Shout-Out: Stalker is called "Chingachook" and "Leatherstocking" in reference to characters from The Last of the Mohicans.
  • Single Woman Seeks Good Man: Stalker's wife explaining the development of their relationship.
  • Sliding Scale of Shiny Versus Gritty: Doesn't get much gritter than this, as three run-down unshaven middle-aged men creep through a filthy, wrecked, abandoned chemical plant. The town the Stalker lives in is also grim and depressing.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: The film closes with Beethoven's "Ode to Joy", which is pretty weird, given the dour and depressing tone of the film and the grim surroundings.
  • Speech-Centric Work: The film essentially consists of long, rambling monologues about life, the universe and everything, coupled with lengthy shots of nature and not much else.
  • State Sec: The stormtroopers assigned to patrol The Zone.
  • The Stoic: Professor is not upset by the challenge to modern science that The Zone presents. He even lands a few rhetorical punches on Writer following his little speech about truth.
  • Took a Level in Kindness: Stalker is much more kind and noble than Redrick, his counterpart in the Roadside Picnic.
  • Unknown Phenomenon: The Zone, not unlike Solaris.
  • Unkempt Beauty: Alexei's mother and Stalker's wife, both based to varying degrees on Tarkovsky's mother. And Stalker himself may count as a male version.
  • Wonder Child: Monkey appears to have telekinetic powers.
  • You All Meet in an Inn: Stalker, Writer, and Professor start off in a bar.