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Film / Stalker

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

Stalker (Сталкер in Russian) is a 1979 Science Fiction film directed by Andrei Tarkovsky. Shot in Estonia, it is an adaptation (albeit a very loose one) of the Strugatsky Brothers' sci-fi story Roadside Picnic, who also wrote the film's script.

The film takes place in and around a devastated partially industrialised landscape called The Zone. At the centre of The Zone 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 has 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 the protagonist and bears the name of a class of semi-professional guides who are skilled at infiltrating the security cordon surrounding The Zone and avoiding the many hazards within it. Stalker 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 has lost his inspiration, and believes he might regain it via the power of the Zone. 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.
  • Adaptational Nice Guy: Stalker is much more kind and noble than Redrick, his counterpart in the Roadside Picnic.
  • 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.)
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  • 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.
  • All There in the Script: An early draft of the script pegs the Writer's name as "Anton" and the Stalker's as "Victor", with the Professor being "Phillip". This is never mentioned in the film as Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep" in the film.
  • Art Shift: From sepia in the town to color in The Zone—although interestingly, the Stalker's crippled and telekinetic daughter "Monkey" is always shot in color for her scenes, which are in the town.
  • 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?
  • Bookends: The film begins with the shot of a glass moving on a table due to the vibration from an off-screen passing train. The film ends with Monkey watching glasses move across a table, but only before the train begins to pass.
  • 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: Toward 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. It gets absolutely riddled with machine gun bullets, but sees them through safely.
  • 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. Monkey (Stalker's daughter) is also in color despite the town being greyscale.
  • 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.
  • 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).
  • Gainax Ending: The significance of the final shot, with Monkey using her psychokinetic abilities to push some glasses off a table as a train roars by the apartment and shakes it, has long been one of the major points of debate regarding this film.note 
  • Genius Loci: The Zone. It even speaks directly to the Writer at one point with a human voice.
    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.
  • Hell Is That Noise: Professor and Writer are disturbed by strange sounds in the distance that sound like wolves howling, not long after their arrival to the Zone. Stalker, however, dismisses this, saying that there's nobody out here, except themselves.
  • Hollywood Homely: invoked Stalker and his wife.
  • I Don't Like the Sound of That Place: A scary tunnel called the "meat mincer".
  • In-Universe Camera: A Leaning on the Fourth Wall example. A scene has the cameraman visibly treading down some long grass, and the Professor and Writer casting prolonged nervous looks directly into the camera. But the film clearly plays it as though the moving grass is a result of the Zone's weird phenomena and that the Writer and Professor's nervousness and stolen looks are due to feeling as though they are being watched, which, well, they are. The Stalker, meanwhile, who is familiar with the Zone, notably doesn't share their trepidation and keeps his back to the camera all the time.
  • 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.
  • Industrial Ghetto: The town Stalker lives in.
  • Ironic Nickname: The "dry tunnel" has a large waterfall and is flooded. Previous Stalkers gave it that name as a joke.
  • 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.
  • 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.) Monkey's telekinesis is real, though.
  • 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, Stalker's Wife, Writer's Girlfriend, and Teacher (or Porcupine).
  • Oh, Crap!: Writer decides to go off on his own until a disembodied voice — almost certainly The Zone itself — shouts at him to "Stop right where you are!"
  • The Oner: Andrei Tarkovsky is in love with them.
  • Post-Apocalyptic Dog: The Stalker takes possession of a dog he finds amidst the ruins.
  • Prefers Rocks to Pillows: The Stalker clearly feels amiss and awkward in his domestic civilian life, and spends the first part of the film downcast and mostly silent compared to Writer and Professor. Upon reaching the Zone, his markedly raised mood, excitement, and increased talkativity quickly makes it clear that he feels much more at home there, as strange, unpredictable, and dangerous as the Zone might be.
  • Protagonist Title: The title of the movie refers to the Stalker, the man who guides the Professor and the Writer through the Zone.
  • Psychological Horror: Nothing overtly scary happens in the movie.
  • Public Domain Soundtrack: Ode to Joy and Maurice Ravel's "Bolero."
  • The Quest: The Stalker's clients are all on one to get to the Room and have their wish granted. In the end, neither of them can go through with what they came to the Zone to do and the quest goes unfinished.
  • 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.
  • Running Gag: Writer asks several questions during the trip, but most of them are either just answered vaguely, if not outright by both Stalker and Professor.
  • 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.
  • True Art Is Angsty: In-Universe. The Writer is easily the most miserable and cynical of the main characters. The Stalker explains early on that the Zone spares those who are unhappy, and after the Writer passes through the meat grinder unscathed, the Stalker remarks with wonder that he could live in the Zone for 100 years.
  • 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.
  • What You Are in the Dark: The Room grants your deepest desire, regardless of whether you're conscious of it or not. The reason Porcupine killed himself is because, when he went to the Room to wish for his brother to be resurrected, the Room granted him immense wealth instead, and he couldn't live with the realization that he wanted to be wealthy more than he wanted his brother back.
  • Wonder Child: Monkey appears to have telekinetic powers.
  • You All Meet in an Inn: Stalker, Writer, and Professor start off in a bar.