Slavoj Žižek Explains the Artistry of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Films: Solaris, Stalker & More

Though a film­mak­er of strong per­son­al con­vic­tions, artis­tic and oth­er­wise, Andrei Tarkovsky made films that endure in part because they open them­selves to a mul­ti­plic­i­ty of inter­pre­ta­tions. Noth­ing in the Tarkovsky canon opens itself up to quite such a mul­ti­plic­i­ty of inter­pre­ta­tions as Stalk­er, which con­tin­ues to pro­duce fas­ci­nat­ing new works derived from their cre­ators’ expe­ri­ence of the film, such as Geoff Dyer’s Zona: A Book About a Film About a Jour­ney to a Room, the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series of video games, and even a seg­ment of the Slavoj Žižek-star­ring doc­u­men­tary The Per­vert’s Guide to Cin­e­ma, which you can watch above.

“We need the excuse of a fic­tion to stage what they tru­ly are,” declares the philo­soph­i­cal, cul­tur­al, and polit­i­cal provo­ca­teur over footage of what many con­sid­er Tarkovsky’s mas­ter­piece. He describes it as “a film about a ‘Zone,’ a pro­hib­it­ed space where there are debris, remain­ders of aliens vis­it­ing us.” The tit­u­lar pro­fes­sion­als he describes as “peo­ple who spe­cial­ize in smug­gling for­eign­ers who want to vis­it into this space where you get many mag­i­cal objects.” The ulti­mate goal of all who make the har­row­ing jour­ney to the Zone? “The room in the mid­dle of this space, where it is claimed your desires will be real­ized.”

Not a bad sum­ming-up of the premise of a movie even whose biggest fans strug­gle to explain. But Žižek, of course, takes his analy­sis fur­ther, bring­ing in Solaris, Tarkovsky’s 1972 adap­ta­tion of Stanis­law Lem’s sci­ence fic­tion nov­el about a plan­et that can read the minds of the humans in orbit around it, “an id machine as an object which real­izes your night­mares, desires, fears, even before you ask for it.” With Stalk­er, Tarkovsky envi­sions the oppo­site, “a zone where your desires, your deep­est wish­es, get real­ized on con­di­tion that you are able to for­mu­late them. Which, of course, you are nev­er able.”

If you sub­scribe to Žižek’s read­ing of the films, it actu­al­ly makes per­fect sense that they could con­tin­ue to find new, enthralled audi­ences: the human rela­tion­ship to desire remains as fraught as ever — and per­haps has only gained fraugh­t­ness as we find ways to sat­is­fy our desires — and both Solaris and Stalk­er find artis­ti­cal­ly strik­ing new ways to dra­ma­tize it. And accord­ing to Žižek, the respect­ed film­mak­er also pro­vides a solu­tion: “reli­gious obscu­ran­tism,” a “ges­ture of self-sac­ri­fice” of the kind we see made in his final films, Nos­tal­ghia and The Sac­ri­fice. Tarkovsky also sac­ri­ficed him­self, but for cin­e­ma, and so cre­at­ed some of the most for­mal­ly remark­able motion pic­tures ever made, ones in which, in Žižek’s words, “we are made to feel this iner­tia, drab­ness of time,” and even “the den­si­ty of time itself.” If you won­der what he means by that, as ever, you’ve just got to expe­ri­ence Tarkovsky for your­self. A num­ber of his major films you can watch free online.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Free Online: Watch the Films of Andrei Tarkovsky, Arguably the Most Respect­ed Film­mak­er of All Time

Watch Stalk­er, Andrei Tarkovsky’s Mind-Bend­ing Mas­ter­piece Free Online

Andrei Tarkovsky’s Mas­ter­piece Stalk­er Gets Adapt­ed into a Video Game

Andrei Tarkovsky’s Advice to Young Film­mak­ers: Sac­ri­fice Your­self for Cin­e­ma

Slavoj Žižek Names His Favorite Films from The Cri­te­ri­on Col­lec­tion

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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