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:

  • 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.
  • Author Avatar: The Writer.
  • Bald of Awesome: Stalker has a convict's buzz cut.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Driven to Suicide: Porcupine.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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!"
  • Protagonist Title
  • Public Domain Soundtrack: Ode to Joy and Maurice Ravel's "Bolero."
  • The Quest
  • Real Is Brown: Used as a metaphor, where the world outside The Zone is (mostly) filmed in washed-out sepia tones.
  • 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.
  • Single Woman Seeks Good Man: Stalker's wife explaining the development of their relationship.
  • 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.