What would people say to the idea that reaching a sufficient interpretation of the film is dependent upon a few pivotal factors: namely, our readings of The Zone/The Room, the Stalker and the daughter (notably at the end)? There are so many conflicting ideas buzzing around in my head regarding each, and I can't help but feel that it's their contradictory elements that negate the ideal of a perfect analysis to complement the film in its entirety.
What exactly does The Room represent? It's stated that it grants our deepest subconscious wish – however, we're also told that this can be as devastating as it is enlightening via the story of Porcupine. It seems to act as an almighty force that exposes our true human nature, possessing an ominous Judgement Day-like aura about it. It’s the embodiment of our innermost desires. Assuming this to work as fact, this would suggest that a pervasive theme of the film is that of self-confrontation. Dare we take the plunge, like Porcupine did? Are we courageous enough to face our true selves? Following this reading, the fact that none of the characters ARE willing to face their true self speaks volumes.
It's at this point that I think we should note that Tarkovsky actually takes his audience beyond an important threshold. Whilst the characters dare not make the metaphorical leap, Tarkovsky's camera glides backwards into what we presume to be The Room at a crucial moment. Is he then inviting his audience to partake the risk that his characters aren't capable of doing? It's an interesting question to consider, IMO.
Essentially, the mystery of The Room is omnipresent and continues to exist because our protagonists fail to enter its confines. Why is that? There seems to be a more rational explanation alluded to here. Could it be that The Room has no powers at all? The theory of The Zone acting as a nuclear accident site seems perfectly plausible (particularly in what is meant to be a "sci-fi" film). Now if we assume this to be the case then the implications on how we view the rest of the text are profound. Not only would this provide a logical explanation regarding the daughter, but it also introduces a political subtext to the film. Furthermore, there's a bitter and brutal irony in the indication that our protagonists (or, at least, the Stalker) are seeking hope by entering the very midst of a disaster.
This latter point is an intriguing one to consider, particularly with regards to the Stalker’s motivation within all this. Tarkovsky’s camera finds immense visual beauty in the destruction that forms the backdrop to the film – but it is destruction nonetheless. The central trio live in a ghastly industrial wasteland, and the ideal of The Zone (where dreams come true?) is no better. It’s littered with syringes, broken glass and weapons (a clear metaphor, but for what? Humanity? The mind?) In such a bleak world then, can we possibly blame the Stalker for attempting to find a glimmer of hope?
As the title character, are we meant to empathise with the Stalker? He remains enigmatic for much of the film, but when he finally suffers from a cathartic “breakdown” moment, it’s difficult not to feel for him. Moreover, in the despondent visual world that Tarkovsky creates for us, the Stalker serves to act as a guide for the viewer as well as the other characters – he’s all we have. The Stalker tries to act as a “prophet” for the intellectuals, but although his failure initially sides us with the character, one has to wonder – is Tarkovsky really trying to portray him as such a saint-like figure?
The Stalker is the only one of the lead characters in touch with his inner, spiritual self. This isn’t, however, necessarily a good thing. He listens to heart over mind, and subsequently seems something of a paranoid wreck. His incessant zigzagging across The Zone’s terrain creates difficulties which need not exist – as highlighted most significantly with the Professor’s “knapsack” incident. He creates unnecessary barriers for himself and others. Why? Could it be that he’s afraid of The Room himself, in spite of making several prior journeys? He seems to be disillusioned by The Zone. Tantalisingly, we’re told that his entire belief in The Zone/Room rests entirely upon the word of his mentor, Porcupine (a figure who probably needs more exploration). The parallels with the major organised religions of the world are obvious. As a result of these teachings, the Stalker desperately attempts to deify something that might not exist. Again, the real-world inferences are all-too evident.
Both before and after the expedition, the effects of the Stalker’s decision on his family are shown to the audience. This seems to further cement the notion that the Stalker is most definitely not intended as a sympathetic character. Especially notable is the journey’s aftermath where, upon his failure to transfer his religiosity onto others, he chooses to wallow in his own miserable self-pity instead of appreciating a wife who genuinely loves him.
Whilst trawling through the Net, I found this quote from the filmmaker himself:
“My function is to make whoever sees my films aware of his need to love and to give his love, and aware that beauty is summoning him.”
Can we assume that by damning the Stalker, Tarkovsky is trying to make us aware of what we shouldn’t be doing? Alternatively, one could view the Stalker as attempting to “give” love by the way he tries to transpose his faith (“hope”) onto others? I’m sure there are other explanations.
Anyway, the comments regarding his family finally bring me to his daughter and the film’s ambiguous conclusion. Earlier in the film we’re made aware that the daughter is deformed, probably as a result of her father’s exposure to The Zone, but it is in the final scene that we’re made aware of something else: her telekinesis. She’s been empowered, as if to make up for her loss. Is this as a result of the nuclear accident? Or is it as a result of the supernatural? Of course, who’s to say it’s got anything to do with The Zone? Perhaps her ability exists as a result of her own strength of belief, implying a stronger will than her father.
Conveniently, there are three glasses on the table during this final scene. Do these glasses represent the three central characters of the film, and their ideologies? If so, then does the glass that the daughter pushes off represent her father and his loss of faith? Accordingly, does this imply that his loss of faith is caused by the will of his daughter? The complexities of this single scene are numerous. At the end of the day though, I feel the daughter represents two things. One is new hope – she appears to represents the future, and something more positive, hence the fact that she is always filmed in colour (except at the beginning, when we only glimpse her in long-shot). Second, and perhaps most definitively, she is a conundrum – a fundamental mystery of life. We try to rationalise and understand her, but why should we? She deserves the right to exist as an individual being. I find this idea the most fitting, for in a film that overtly deals with spirituality and that which is mystical, it serves as a candid reminder that, ultimately, we’re only human – and there are some concepts and ideas that are beyond mere human comprehension.