The Mirror (also referred to as Mirror; Зеркало in Russian, which romanizes to Zerkalo) is a 1975 art film directed and co-written by Andrei Tarkovsky. It is difficult to describe because of its plot, whose semi-autobiographical, nonlinear nature defies any kind of concrete narrative structure.
It is best to describe the film as the thoughts, dreams and recollections of Alexei (Ignat Daniltsev) and his son Ignat (Ignat Daniltsev) about his mother Maria and wife Natalia (both played by Margarita Terekhova). These memories stretch from the Great Patriotic War to the present day. In what has been described as a cinematic equivalent to a stream of consciousness, the film is conveyed through contemporary scenes, newsreel footage, and poems written and read by Tarkovsky's father Arseny, its cinematography switching between color, black-and-white, and sepia.
The film never officially premiered due to Gos Kino complaints, but was released on DVD and subsequently welcomed into the Tarkovsky oeuvre.
This film provides examples of:
- Autobiographical Role: Tarkovsky's mother plays Maria's mother. His father recites the poem.
- Badass Baritone: Alexei's voice.
- Civil War: The Spanish Civil War appears in stock footage in The Mirror and two characters there fled from Spain to the USSR then.
- Deliberately Monochrome: Typical Tarkovsky. Monochrome sequences appear throughout the movie.
- Doppelgänger: Margarita Terekhova plays both Alexei's mother and Alexei's wife Natalia, as well as a random ginger-haired girl, to illustrate that Alexei's lack of a father figure and subsequent reliance on his mother causes him to compare all the women he knows to his mother.
- Fanservice: Alexei's mother takes a shower in full view of the camera.
- Gainax Ending: Even allowing for the fact that Tarkovsky intended the film to depict Alexei's deathbed dreams and reminiscences (hence the stream-of-consciousness "narrative"), the ending is... odd. The final sequence is set in the countryside of Alexei's childhood as both old and young versions of Maria appear in the same scene, the former leading Alexei and his sister (as children) away and the latter several months pregnant, all while the opening chorus of Bach's St. John Passion blares on the soundtrack. Eventually, the music finishes, the camera tracks back into the surrounding forest... and we fade to black.
- Life Embellished: Tarkovsky drew on his own experiences of growing up with an often absent father and being evacuated from Moscow ahead of the Nazi attacks during World War II to write the sequences depicting Alexei's childhood and adolescence.
- Public Domain Soundtrack: "Herr, unser Herrscher" from the St. John Passion by Johann Sebastian Bach plays at the end.
- Random Events Plot: The film jumps back and forth through time as the dying Alexei remembers/dreams about his life. Some scenes show his childhood after his father walked out on his family, others show his adolescence when he was evacuated from Moscow to avoid the Nazi air raids and then conscripted into the Soviet military, and still others show his adulthood as his marriage disintegrates and he realises his son Ignat is becoming just as distant from him as he has become from his own father. All punctuated by readings by the director's father, Arseny Tarkovsky, of his own poetry.
- Scenery Porn: The scenes of the Russian countryside where Alexei spent his childhood are shot in loving detail, with many of Tarkovsky's signature long, slow tracking shots allowing us to take in every leaf, every blade of grass.
- Stock Footage: The Mirror has lots of stock footage, including scenes of:
- Soviet balloons.
- The Spanish Civil War.
- The Great Patriotic War.
- The Sino-Soviet Border War.