Darren Carver-Balsiger’s review published on Letterboxd:
Among the most perfect movies ever made, Stalker is my favourite Tarkovsky film and one of the greatest science-fiction works ever made in any medium. It’s a work of grand humanity, investing in characters and their thoughts, feelings and actions. It touches upon their faith, happiness, love and pride, which by extension, is applicable to the rest of humanity. Every aspect of Stalker is about the human consciousness, drawing on memory, dreams, fears and desires. The characters’ own paradoxical natures are continually present between all the philosophical discussions and limited action. These paradoxes define us and they define Stalker. This is a film about faith depicting the faithless, a film about death without any death, a film about a journey where the destination is never entered.
The intangible sum of every aspect of the human soul is cultivated in Stalker through ideas about what true happiness is. If there’s one thematic thread that Stalker clings to, it’s the exploration of the happiness of the faithless. The defining question of our internal self-questioning: would you ever want to know what your soul truly desired? The stalker, whose happiness is defined by his own ability to help others, is idealised, but the other, more bourgeois lead characters aren’t lacking morals. They may over-philosophise and make distinct moral judgments, but it is the poor stalker who makes the more straightforward yet emotionally charged arguments. In fact, Stalker has a class dynamic not usually present in Tarkovsky’s work, but it’s not judgmental nor moral, just observational.
Stalker is barely a science-fiction movie, because even though famed Soviet science fiction authors Boris and Arkady Strugatsky wrote the script loosely based on their soft sci-fi novel Roadside Picnic (and improved upon it, incidentally), the film is much more concerned with its arthouse intentions than its scientific story. In fact, there’s so much ambiguity, you could even label it a fantasy or horror work rather than science fiction in particular. In a way that so few films ever do, Stalker transcends genre to become entirely its own project. It could be anything, a philosophical drama, an existentialist thriller, a pure arthouse masterpiece. Whatever it is, by the time the glass on the table finally falls at the end, it’s already attained its status as an undeniable classic beyond genre limitations.
A profoundly bleak plunge into the heart of darkness, Stalker is an unparalleled vision of humanity’s inner workings. People like to contrast Tarkovsky’s Solaris with Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, highlighting Tarkovsky’s desire to make an emotional, intimately human sci-fi movie to contrast with Kubrick’s emotionless, externally-driven movie. That comparison is hogwash though because, for all intents and purposes, Stalker is Tarkovsky’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (which is a compliment to both movies). Stalker is the Tarkovsky movie which tackles some of the most profound themes of all: our mind, our faith, our emotions. Just like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Stalker is vague, philosophical and astonishing, with so much to unpack. It’s a work of pure, unfiltered genius that is as unique as it is clever; a film I’ll never not recommend, Stalker is a work for the ages. Easily in my all-time top 10.
Also, does any movie have a better final two shots than those in Stalker?