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Later in the decade, Tarkovsky returned to his dream of a philosophical sci-fi epic that transcended genre entirely. His final domestic feature before exile to western Europe was Stalker. Stalker was freely adapted from the novel Roadside Picnic by the brothers Arkady and Boris Strugatsky , a dark satire which had been heavily censored by the Soviet authorities. The book takes place in a fictionalised western country around one of six special Zones left behind after extraterrestrials briefly visited Earth en route to another galaxy.

Inside the Zones, potentially deadly disruptions in the normal cosmic rules occur, confronting brave visitors with their true selves and granting their deepest wishes. There is a great disturbance in the Force. Working with the Strugatskys, Tarkovsky penned his first screenplay for Stalker in Stripping away many of the sci-fi elements, he replaced the alien back story with a more opaque astronomical explanation for the paranormal Zones.

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The plot revolves around a single journey led by a professional Zone infiltrator — the stalker of the title — and his two soul-weary companions, Writer and Professor. Tarkovksy cast the angular, intense Alexander Kaidanovsky as Stalker, and Solaris veterans Anatoly Solonitsyn and Nikolai Grinko as his fellow travellers. Initial locations were scouted in Tajikistan, but a powerful earthquake made that shoot impossible. Tarkovsky eventually found new locations in the Baltic state of Estonia: a dilapidated ship repair yard, a crumbling hydroelectric station, an abandoned oil processing plant and other post-industrial ruins around the capital, Tallinn.

Shooting exteriors in Estonia during the spring and summer of , Tarkovsky and his cinematographer Georgy Rerberg used a new Kodak stock supplied by producer Sergio Gambarov.


But on return to Moscow, they found the processed footage was an unwatchable shade of dark green. Months of work had been ruined by technical error or, as the director suspected, sabotage.

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Tarkovsky considered it a result of scheming by his enemies. But I think it was just the usual Russian sloppiness. This disaster was the final straw for Rerberg, who walked off the film, never to return. With his state-funded budget in jeopardy, a devastated Tarkovsky was initially reluctant to continue.

A minor heart attack in April reinforced his fears that the project was cursed. But he eventually came up with a solution, persuading the film board to finance a new, longer, two-part version of the script. Stalker evolved from dystopian road movie to sombre spiritual quest. Filming resumed in Tallinn in June , with Alexander Knyazhinsky behind the camera. But there was further on-set friction when a freak summer snowfall delayed the shoot.

According to Sharun, cast and crew filled the long, empty days in their run-down suburban hotel with epic binge-drinking sessions. Some even got wasted on cheap cologne mixed with sugar. The blighted landscape outside the Zone is mostly filmed in gorgeous sepia-tinted monochrome, while inside bursts with lush greens and warm brown earthtones. Nobody makes dank, rusty, post-industrial ruins look quite as pornographically seductive. Stalker is layered with echoes that spoke directly to Cold War audiences, and still resonate today.

Anybody living behind the Iron Curtain would have felt that biting subtext. After a thriller-like first half, the film moves into more ruminative philosophical gear in its final hour.

Deep inside the Zone, Stalker and his bickering fellow travellers suddenly get cold feet as they approach the mystical Room where our deepest wishes allegedly come true. While Writer agonises about his mediocre and shameful occupation, Professor contemplates destroying the miraculous Room with a nuclear bomb to prevent it falling into the wrong hands.

This feels like Tarkovsky speaking — the artist as messianic seeker of truth, berating the so-called experts for their spiritual shortcomings. These religious undertones surface again during the closing scene, in which Stalker returns to his long-suffering family. His wife Alisa Freindlich gives a resigned monologue direct to camera about how she has devoted herself to her single-minded husband, despite the pain and disappointment she knew it would bring. Incidentally, it all harmoniously combined with his faith in God. He knew the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Luke practically by heart and could quote whole paragraphs.

Goskino advised Tarkovsky to make the film faster and more dynamic.

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Tarkovsky shot his final two features as an exile in the West. He left the Soviet Union behind, and never returned to science fiction. In December , Tarkovsky died of lung cancer in Paris. He was just The same illness had already killed his favourite leading man, Solaris and Stalker co-star Anatoli Solonitsyn , and would later also claim his wife and directing assistant Larisa Tarkovskaya.

Sound designer Vladimir Sharun believes all three were victims of the deadly Stalker shoot, downstream from a toxic chemical plant in Tallinn. However negative he felt about science fiction, Tarkovsky enriched and elevated the genre, inspiring others to follow suit. Steven Soderbergh directed a slick but dramatically inert remake of Solaris in , with George Clooney as Kelvin. The ravishing ruins photography of Stalker left its own deep cultural legacy. Some commentators later hailed the film as a prophecy of the Chernobyl meltdown and the collapse of the Soviet Union generally. Launched in , the Ukrainian post-apocalyptic computer game S.

The enduring cult of Stalker seems to renew itself for each generation.