1990 Silicon Dreams Games and Movie Reviews: Stalker 1979 - Andrey Tarkovsky and the Eastern Cinema Movement

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Stalker 1979 - Andrey Tarkovsky and the Eastern Cinema Movement

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I was watching Lars Von Trier's Melancholia. Before that I was re-watching Antichrist and something caught my attention. A dedication. At the end of the movie, Trier made a dedication that infuriated a lot of film critics. Even before that I was playing S.T.A.L.K.E.R. for a while. I'm not a dedicated gamer when it comes to games past some imaginary point in time in the early 2000s. I remember, though, a night in let's call it the imaginary city of Erithrea, capital of an imaginary Eastern-European country. Before that I was born, but sometime in between, a few years after I started playing games I was in one of those flashy PC clubs in a newly established mall. The walls covered in posters, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare was new back then. Back then, vodka was a new experience for me having just graduated from drinking beer at night at the parks and playgrounds around my school. 

In Erithrea time passes slower, we were out that night, on a whim like always. With my best friend, we went to a bus station to buy some beer and vodka, and then we headed off through the small back-streets of the city towards the mall, passing the vodka from hand to hand. We were supposed to meet a friend at the local mall, top floor, the games room. By the time we were at the parking lot with the tall blue and silver facade of the building, Nebesnii Gorod, written in large glowing letters across, the alcohol had set in nicely, we were careless. From the parking lot, take the service entrance to the right, where all the trucks come in to load and unload, walk past the metal wire fence that separates the mall grounds from a warehouse, take a moment to take in the backdrop of post-Soviet panel flat blocks, twelve to fifteen stories tall, grey and black in the night with only a few windows gleaming with light. It must have been ten or eleven. As you enter take the elevator to the right. Top floor. Gaming room. As we reach our floor our friend is waiting there to tell us a story about how he hit the punching bag so bad he broke his arm. He's younger than us, but that doesn't matter, since he's got enough stories in his lifetime for two or three of us together, so we drink with him regularly. Such is the value of time in Erithrea.

Image courtsey of Wikimedia Commons. 
When we sit down to play the games were both already drunk. Our friend wanders around the rows of computers to set up some sort of make-shift LAN for everyone, the game is Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. My nickname is something meant to piss off the kind of losers who rage every time they get killed by a mortar shell, and I can barely walk to and from my PC chair, to get some popcorn from the front desk, but I can play CoD pretty damn decent, nonetheless. On the chat someones raging hard at me, I don't care, I'm too drunk, from across the room and the rows of hundreds of computers, someones raging about someone elses mortar, probably mine. I don't care.

A few hours later nearly everyone has left, but it costs something like 3-4 euro to play through the whole night so me and my friend and our other friend we stay behind. We've moved to sit next to each other and we're playing S.T.A.L.K.E.R. : Shadow of Chernobyl. The game has a particular appeal to us, one could say, you have to drink vodka to avoid radiation poisoning and that sort of rings a bell with us. We laugh but it's not really that funny. When we look at the game's environment, the architecture, abandoned warehouses, old train stations, junkyards, fields littered with dieing patches of grass and pieces of glass and steel and concrete shards, we're looking at Erithrea. We might as well have not been playing a game, we might as well have taken a five minute walk from the mall to one of the old abandoned train stations on the edge of town, and we would have felt the same, seen the same things, except for the anomalies, obviously, but with the stray dogs walking around and the alcohol in us, it wouldn't have been difficult to imagine the missing parts.

I remember a different time, when me and my friend, both armed with a 2 liter bottle of beer are sitting on a broken piece of concrete the size of a small car, feet crossed under us, facing the setting sun, on top of a hill at the old park in the north side of town. He's playing something on his Sony Erickson phone that could have been Pink Floyd or Led Zeppelin. It doesn't matter. And in between the songs it's quiet, like it's quiet in the Zone. It's beautiful, like the Stalker could see the beauty in the poisoned flora around him, slowly but surely working to re-take the last patches of asphalt and train tracks.

Some years after that I left Erithrea and that imaginary Eastern-European country for Sweden. That was five months ago and five hours ago I watched Stalker by Andrei Tarkovsky, prompted by the same friend's suggestion over Skype and that dedication in the end of Trier's Antrichrist. The dedication read "Dedicated to Andrei Tarkovsky" and it's easy to see why. When you watch Trier and you watch Tarkovsky it's easy to fill in the missing parts with the power of your own imagination. The broken up hydro-electric plant of Stalker. Trier's old Swedish castle from Melancholia. A different kind of old, but the same heaviness of time weighing on the pillars and stones, every dusty window, every tinted glass. And in Eastern Europe time doesn't mean much, except for the faintest memories, dulled down by alcohol vapors.

Stalker is a movie about a Professor and a Writer who travel to the Zone, with the help of a guide to reach a mythical room, where people's deepest wishes come true. But it's not a movie about fame and fortune, it's a movie about broken concrete and steel, and the rusted and long abandoned parts of the human soul. It's a movie about the way to the room, the one that grants wishes, as much as it is a movie about the nature of wishes, the nature of time, space, the most sublime nature of human beings. 

The film is loosely based on the novel Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky.

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