(Due to copyright issues, please view the clips on YouTube)
By Larry Cherkasov
Stalker (1979) slips in and out of science fiction film typology, and in this scene, it becomes slasher. Not one of the Stalker-Writer-Professor trio is sliced into gore and bits or screams, but the buildup to the point at which the cameraman grows tired and rests in the abandoned vehicle suggests an ineffable sinister force—the Zone—stalking its prey.
The camera closes in on the broken-down car, replete with tangling weeds and scrap metal garbage, biding its time once inside. No soundtrack plays, but the slight crunching underfoot signals the presence of a set of feet, two or perhaps five, slowly creeping in on whatever resides inside that little frame that the car’s left center window forms. The Stalker rears his head to volunteer himself as victim, followed by the Professor, who suddenly lurches backwards, staring right into the center of the camera, eyes wide and confronted with his mortality. The two men are joined by the Writer, who whispers out “Lord!” thus either greeting his God, or invoking Him.
The film at large is not a slasher, but its techniques create an effect that shares the genre’s self-awareness and playfulness in its use of camera as character. The camera in Stalker not only plays the creep in this scene, slowly but confidently moving around with impunity, but also at the film’s beginning, inching, or rather millimetering, into the box-shaped room, panning across the faces, of the wife, then the child, then the Stalker, tracing their features out in relief. If in the former scene, the camerawork assumes at least an earthly predator, who needs feet to stalk, the opening scene reminds the viewer that the Zone evades categorization, hovering in impossible shots and peering in on intimate moments at angles of its choosing. When mysteries reserved for the physical location of the Zone pervade the Stalker’s own home in the final scene, Tarkovsky reminds us one final time of the Zone’s chilling abstraction.