Mysticism in Tarkovsky’s movies

Course #4 / The World of Tarkovsky

Andrei Tarkovsky at the filming of the Stalker

The element of mysticism is an integral part of Tarkovsky’s movies. Even to a neutral viewer, it is obvious that the Soviet director always tried to show his perspective on the world and its structure through his own lens, adding some enigmatic scenes. Coincidence is a debatable topic, however, Tarkovsky’s movies feature various elements that might initially look randomly chosen, but eventually, they perfectly fit his own lifeline. There is a scene in Stalker, where the camera shows a close-up of various object quietly laying in the water. One of these objects is a piece of calendar that shows 28th of December – the date when Tarkovsky died.

Stalker itself is surrounded by a clearly mystic and a bit of a horror atmosphere. Throughout the film is a constant feeling that something horrific might happen in the next second, but in reality, there is only tension and constant fear. Heroes wander through The Zone to finally reach The Room that is believed to make the deepest wishes to come true. However, it is not an easy task to actually enter that room. Questions and doubts appear in the minds of the main heroes. Tarkovsky successfully created a movie that presents a great opportunity for a viewer to have his own interpretations about all the events that happen in it. Stalker is a deeply philosophic and in some way – a prophetic film. In 1986, the Soviet Union faced the Chernobyl catastrophe that later created a real-life dangerous Zone. In Stalker, The Room is located at the bunker No. 4, in Chernobyl – explosion happened at the nuclear reactor No. 4…

Another interesting fact about Stalker is that its production changed the concept of the movie several times. The first problem was the location. Initially, Tarkovsky wanted to shoot it in Tajikistan, but after an earthquake in 1977, the location was switched to Estonia. Next thing that went wrong was the Kodak film. A big part of the movie was already done, but when it was time to develop it, most parts of it was unusable. This did not stop the Tarkovsky; however, all the shooting process of Stalker’s was a bit chaotic and tense. He kept everyone under the pressure. Since he was a perfectionist, the scenario was rewritten more than ten times and with every new version, the movie became more deeply philosophic, moving away from the action/adventure genre. Nevertheless, all the odds helped to shape out this cinematic diamond into something timeless. If everything would go smoothly, Stalker might be a completely different movie.

Mystic touch can be seen in his earlier work – Andrei Rublev. Another movie that saw different obstacles on its way to the screen. There is a scene where Rublev’s mentor Theophanes the Greek visits him after the city of Vladimir is raided by the Tatars. Theophanes is dead, but he appears to Rublev in the ruined church and they have a dialogue about various aspects of faith – the good, the evil. Eventually, Rublev expresses his disappointment in being an artist and confesses about the fact that he killed a man.

The paganism tradition that carries a lot of mysticism in it is also a part of the movie about Rublev. On his way to Vladimir, the famous painter witnesses the Kupala Night celebration and is caught by the local peasants. He sees a lot of naked and joyful people around, and one of them even tries to seduce him, while Rublev is tied to the crossbeam. These scenes show the duality of the people in that era. Christian and pagan traditions lived alongside, despite the persecutions. People were strongly faithful and superstitious at the same time.

In Solaris, there was a resurrection of the wife of the main protagonist caused by the influence of the ocean. In the 1974 movie, The Mirror there is a scene, where a woman levitates over her bed in her sleep. Tarkovsky’s first foreign-made film Nostalgia featured a deep scene where the writer played by Oleg Yankovsky several times carries a burning candle through the empty pool, as it is some kind of a mystic ritual with a clear purpose. Tarkovsky himself explained this scene with the pool to Erland Josephson, who played Domenico: «This is what created the World – even if it may look meaningless».

Tarkovsky’s movies are one long spiritual journey that shows his attitude against the materialistic world. He looked beyond all the obvious questions people ask about happiness and the meaning of life. There are no simple answers or paths to that. Tarkovsky himself believed that faith is the only thing that can save a human being. However, his movie characters had to go through a lot of sufferings and doubtful moments to explore what true faith and the meaning of life is. Every movie is saturated with some meaningful philosophical debates, metaphors, hidden religious motifs and an opportunity for a viewer to think. This might be the most obvious and the strongest mystical moment – his movies are not made for entertainment. Those are hours long visual messages, inviting people to have a debate with themselves. Not to tell exactly how to live, but simply – to think.

Sources | Андрей Тарковский. Мартиролог. Дневники (2008) | Майя Туровская. 7 1/2 или фильмы Андрея Тарковского (1991) | Ярослав Ярополов. Андрей Тарковский. Сталкер мирового кино (2016)

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