“Here we are at the threshold. This is the most important moment of your lives. You have to know that here your most cherished wish will come true. The most sincere one. The one reached through suffering.”
An essay on the movie STALKER by Tarkovski (I met him in Italy!!!!) I like the most (written by pearse)
In the entire history of cinema there has never been a director, who has made such a dramatic stand for the human spirit as did Andrei Tarkovsky. Today, when cinema seems to have drowned in a sea of glamorized triviality, when human relationships on screen have been reduced to sexual intrigue or sloppy sentimentality, and baseness rules the day – this man appears as a lone warrior standing in the midst of this cinematic catastrophe, holding up the banner for human spirituality.
What puts this director in a class all his own and catapults his films onto a height inaccessible to other filmmakers? It is, first and foremost, his uncompromising stance that man is a SPIRITUAL being. This may appear to be self-evident to some, and yet it is just on this very point that 99% of cinema fails. Man’s spirituality is quickly and conveniently pushed aside in favor of other more “exciting” topics: man’s sexuality, man’s psychology, sociology and so on. In today’s cinema, if spirituality is dealt with at all, it is never treated as the foundation of our existence, but is there as an appendage, something the characters concern themselves with in their spare time. In other words, while in other films spirituality may be PART of the plot, in Tarkovsky’s films it IS the plot; it permeates the very fabric of his films. It can be said that his films vibrate with his own spirituality. As he himself states, in all of his films the main characters undergo a SPIRITUAL crisis.
This is particularly evident in his film Stalker, where ALL of the characters are involved in an intense spiritual struggle. And while the nature of this struggle is uniquely personal for each of them, the basic objective is the same: to keep the flame of the human spirit within them alive. The character of the Stalker, in particular, is the most fascinating example of the human being struggling to find the right path by using his intuition (that is, by listening to his “inner voice”). And since most people are used to following only their worldly desires in carving out their path in life (paying little or no attention to this “inner voice”), Stalker’s behavior produces a reaction of bewilderment – not only in his companions in the film, but also in the majority of the viewers. Instead of rushing through the “Zone” (representing life), grabbing and tasting and plundering everything in his path, he proceeds with caution, as though listening WITHIN himself, watching for signs to indicate the next move to him, careful not to disturb anything around him. What is it that he is listening to, waiting for, hoping to comprehend? It is the language of the “Zone”, which is the language of life itself – the language, in which the Creator speaks to us through life. This is, perhaps, the most unique quality of Tarkovsky’s cinema (which also accounts for his unique cinematic style of incredibly long takes and slowly-pulsating rhythm): he is observing the very language of life, as though hoping in this way to “hear” the language of God.
And there are other unique qualities, which make Tarkovsky stand out not only as a director, but as a human being: his insistence that conscience is “the most important thing” and his attempt to make other filmmakers aware of “the fact that the most convincing of the arts demands a special responsibilty on the part of those who work in it: the methods by which cinema affects audiences can be used far more easily and rapidly for their moral decomposition, for the destruction of their spiritual defenses, than the means of the old, more traditional art forms.” (from “Sculpting in Time”.) Unfortunately, his words fell upon deaf ears. But he continued to emphasize the need to take personal responsibility for our destiny and not blame others or society for it. He wrote:
“It is so much easier to slip down than it is to rise one iota above your own narrow, opportunist motives. A true spiritual birth is extraordinarily hard to achieve.”
“. . . nobody wants, or can bring himself, to look soberly into himself and accept that he is accountable for his own life and his own soul.”
“The connection between man’s behaviour and his destiny has been destroyed; and this tragic breach is the cause of his sense of instability in the modern world. . . . [man] has arrived at the false and deadly assumption that he has no part to play in shaping his own fate.”
“I am convinced that any attempt to restore harmony in the world can only rest on the renewal of personal responsibility.”
There seems to be little reason to attempt an analysis of Tarkovsky’s films, since no one can do it better than he himself has already done in his book “Sculpting in Time”. And, anyhow, since his films strive to reach out to the spirit within us and convey to us a spiritual experience, each one of us will take away from them something uniquely personal. But in each case, it will be something which will move us on a deep spiritual level – much deeper than emotion! This level of experiencing is akin to a state of NOSTALGHIA. Here the word “nostalghia”, which one of Tarkovsky’s films bears as its title, is to be understood not in the English sense of “nostalgia”, but in the sense it has in the Russian language: a state of unquenchable longing for one’s homeland. And since the homeland of the spirit lies far above this earth, “nostalghia” of the spirit for the Light is that inexplicable longing we feel when nothing on earth seems to satisfy us, nothing seems to come up to that ideal of harmony and beauty, which we carry deep inside us as a vague memory from our distant homeland. Far from being an imaginary place dreamt up by poets, it is a place as real as the earth – and it is precisely the reality of that memory, which the poets in all branches of the arts throughout all the ages have tried to convey to us. Tarkovsky himself stated that he was not satisfied with the screenplay for his film Nostalghia until he succeeded in expanding the more narrow concept of Russian “nostalghia” (the longing to return to Russia) into a more profound “global yearning for the wholeness of existence,” so that the film “came together at last into a kind of metaphysical whole.”
A great illustration of this state of nostalghia of the spirit for things not of this earth is the poem by Tarkovsky’s father (Arseniy Tarkovsky), which he put into his film Stalker:
Now summer has passed,
As if it had never been.
It is warm in the sun.
But this isn’t enough.
All that might have been,
Like a five-cornered leaf
Fell right into my hands,
But this isn’t enough.
Neither evil nor good
Had vanished in vain,
It all burnt with white light,
But this isn’t enough.
Life took me under its wing,
Preserved and protected,
Indeed I have been lucky.
But this isn’t enough.
Not a leaf had been scorched,
Not a branch broken off. . .
The day wiped clean as clear glass,
But this isn’t enough.
It is a sad and irrefutable fact that the overwhelming majority of the population has decided to bury this precious gift of longing for the Light deep within them. Tarkovsky clearly perceived this – “. . . it’s only possible to communicate with the audience if one ignores that eighty percent of people who for some reason have got it into their heads that we are supposed to entertain them” – yet with every film he continued to try to reawaken this sense of longing within his audiences. He felt it was his duty and his calling to give expression to that which is “innermost” in the souls of his viewers, even if they themslves are not aware of it.
Those of us, whose spirits have been touched by his films will recall from them our own special moments:
*** it may be the apple cart with the two children in Ivan’s Childhood (aka My Name is Ivan), which reawakens within us the longing for the lost purity of childhood;
*** it may be that sequence in Mirror, when Tarkovsky depicts his parents as a young couple lying on the grass, already anticipating his birth, and the man asks the woman: “Who do you want more: a boy or a girl?” The woman says nothing, but her eyes move around searchingly until she suddenly turns away from the camera as if looking into the mystery of Creation. Tarkovsky then cuts to the trees as the wind rustles through their leaves with the opening strains of J.S. Bach’s “St. John’s Passion” coming closer and closer towards us until the jubilant outcry of the chorus: “Lord! Lord! Master! Unto Thee be praise and glory evermore!” Where else has the entrance of a human being into this world been depicted wih such awe and such sublime spirituality?!
*** or it may be those brief moments of zero gravity in Solaris, when the main character and his beloved levitate (Tarkovsky felt that levitation was the most accurate cinematic depiction of the state of love).
*** or, perhaps, it is the moment of Stalker’s breakdown on the very threshold of the Room “where all wishes are granted.”
*** or that moment in Andrei Rublev, when we learn that an impoverished young man who put up a front that he knew a special secret of bellmaking, didn’t know anything after all – and yet, through his intuition and a desperate prayer, still made the greatest bell ever.
*** or the final sequence of Nostalghia with its three attempts by the main character to carry a lit candle from one side of an old, empty pool to the other in his conviction that he is carrying the flame of the human spirit across. And when he finally makes it to the other side, the opening of Verdi’s Requiem comes in. Is it not the requiem for all those masses, who have so cruelly neglected their own spirits that they are now about to fall into the eternal sleep of spiritual death?
All of these sequences are cinematic depictions of a spiritual nostalghia for the Light. It can even be said of Tarkovsky that he lived his whole life in a state of such nostalghia, regardless of whether he was in Russia or abroad. All his life he kept trying to uncover deeper and deeper levels of meaning to our existence. Upon arriving in the West, he took immediate advantage of his new freedom by reading through the voluminous works of Gurdjieff – only to be ultimately disappointed, but the important thing is that he explored every new opportunity.
He also took some wrong turns. Reflecting on what he had to go through in his life to bring his films into being, he wrote: “And so it’s always the audience who win, who gain something, while the artist loses, and has to pay out.” It’s become almost a tradition that a great artist should also be a martyr. The martyrdom complex seems to have a strange appeal to many artists and even the best of them, like Tarkovsky, Bresson and Paradjanov, find themselves unable to resist its magnetic pull. In reality, it is just the opposite of what Tarkovsky had stated: it is always the artist, who gains most of all, because it is his spirit that advances through this artistic exertion (when it is applied in an upward direction, of course, like in Tarkovsky’s case), while the audience can gain from it only as much as they are capable of recognizing and thus re-experiencing in their own way. But the artist possesses all of that experience; it is totally his own spiritual gain. The Perfect Justice of God does not allow the one, who exerted himself the most (namely, the artist) to “lose and have to pay out,” while the ones, who exerted themselves the least (namely, the audience) “to win”. The same Justice does not permit the sacrifice of an innocent life of ANY being in exchange for the sins of others. One cannot drive a bargain with God as Alexander attempts to do in The Sacrifice. The demands that are now being made upon humanity by the Light are much more exacting than that. One spastic act will not suffice; a whole NEW and SUSTAINED way of living is required. A complete transformation of man into a totally spiritualized being at last! To make this transformation possible for those, who wish to follow this Call from out of the Light, the New Knowledge is given in the book “In the Light of Truth: the Grail Message” by Abd-ru-shin.
One of the last things Tarkovsky said on his deathbed (as reported by his wife) was: “It is time for a new direction.” This is reminiscent of Lev Tolstoy’s last words: “To seek, always to seek . . .” With this kind of attitude one advances rapidly both here and in the beyond. What drives the seeking spirit onward in its quest for Truth is an unquenchable longing described so well in the following quote by Pavel Florensky (1882-1943), a Russian philosopher, who died in a Stalinist labor camp:
“I do not know whether there is Truth or not. But I instinctively feel that I cannot be without It. And I know that if It is, then It is everything for me: reason, and good, and strength, and life, and happiness. Perhaps It is not; but I love It – love is more than everything that exists. I already count It as existing, and I love It – though perhaps non-existent – with all my soul and all my thinking and dreaming. I renounce everything for It – even my questions and my doubts.”
When all is said and done, we are left with – perhaps, not even an image – but a sound from Stalker of a train whistle far off in the distance, calling us to leave our old, familiar life behind and to seek out a new way to bring the spirit within us to true life.