The Dehumanization of Stalker
Tarkovsky dehumanizes his characters in such a way that he did not even give them names. Tarkovsky refrains from giving his characters individual identity because they are intended to represent all of humanity; their struggles are the viewer’s struggles. These characters are known as mere symbols; allegorically relating to us, the viewer, as we all have lost hope in something and desire to reach a perfect world. As the film goes on, the trio of characters are so similar in attitudes and despair, and dehumanized to such a degree that they are essentially interchangeable with each other.
The film starts out in a setting of urban decay that Tarkovsky films through a brown, lifeless filter. When the characters reach the Zone, it is colorful, green, full of life; it is the perfect utopia, where no problems exist and none are evoked – an allegorical metaphor for heaven itself. Each character arrives at the Zone hoping to fulfill a lost part of them; Writer struggles with his faith and inspiration, Professor overdue for a breakthrough scientific discovery, and Stalker seems to be dependent on helping others, and as shown in the end, gets infuriated when he does not accomplish this.
Before Writer enters the zone, we witness his struggles with faith. He said his conscious earns for vegetarianism, but his temptation wants a piece meat, illustrating that his desires at that time had precedence over his conscious. Upon entering the Zone, Writer does not get the answers he had hoped like he expected; but the answers, however, were there all along. The religious themes in the Zone were prevalent; even by first entering the Zone, the telephone poles were formed like crosses, then we see a slow shot moving up a stream of water, in which we find a Christ-like figure. The trio finds a block of gold, which is one of the gifts the Wise Men brought to Jesus. And Lastly, Writer picks up and wears something that closely resembles a crown of thorns, and at the same time, he doubts his faith. The answers, however, were right in front of him, and as the crown of thorns showed, the answers were even literally coming to his very head, but he could not see it. This, in a sense, illustrates that the answers in life aren’t going to be easily given to us, but rather, society has to look for them, as the Zone demonstrated.
The theme of anti-government is illustrated here. The Zone, or heaven, is restricted by the government. This is a possible metaphor that the government puts boundaries on society, keeping them slaves, and restricting them from experiencing true freedom or utopia. Also, it is hard not to note the environmental symbolism here; as the trio walk through the Zone, they discover imperfect architecture, an overgrown bundle of unkempt vines, and puddles of muddy water decorating every landscape, which in urban territory would be viewed as an eyesore. But here, in the Zone, it is beautiful and harmonious; therefore intriguing in us the idea that what humanity in a capitalistic society now views as beautiful has been created by men, and humanity doesn’t really see the world for what it is as displayed the Zone; humanity doesn’t see the true beauty of the world.
With the Zone being the perfect world, one would think Stalker and his mates would rush to whimsically explore every inch of the land; but rather, the characters pace themselves, fearful of making a wrong move. When Stalker senses something isn’t right, he stops himself from moving forward, and calls out to the others (as shown with Writer) when he does not feel right about a particular situation. Stalker seems like he has a gut instinct tells him something doesn’t seem right about a given situation, almost as if someone is feeding him subtle information. But as the characters stated during their first arrival at the Zone, the Zone was the quietest place they had ever been. This could be God speaking to Stalker about the limitations he has for people in the Zone, allegorical to the Genesis story, when God gave Adam and Eve the beautiful garden (The Zone) but also gave them limitations (such as eating from the tree). When Writer was about to move forward against Stalker’s commands, Writer is about to commit the devastating mistake of “eating from the tree” – before he eventually turns around.
Stalker is slow-paced because the struggles of humanity are dealt with at a slow pace. The film works as a physiological and philosophical character study, not just of the dehumanized characters in the film, but for the audience watching it. We begin to identify with the characters – not really one over the other, since all three characters are internally the same, and Tarkovsky likely included three characters so Stalker would have someone with whom to converse. By the film’s climax, when the characters are back in grainy urban decay they are again back to being worse off (including Monkey) symbolizing that no amount of unhappiness or lack of hope can be quickly replenished by any place, even by a perfect setting such as the Zone; but rather, changes must first be made internally, in the heart – then the Zone will come to you.