At the beginning of Tarkovsky's Stalker, we see, next the family's bed, what seems an ordinary event. The assumption is that, in this scene, a glass is shaken across the tray by a passing train. Then at the end of the film we again hear the train and see several objects travel a long way across a table as the daughter of The Stalker watches. After this, the girl's head resting on the table feels the ferocious power of the train as it reaches her, shaking her environment, and we briefly hear also Beethoven's "Ode to Joy". Some think of this as an "open" ending, and that it is a matter of perception as to whether the girl, a "mutant" daughter of The Stalker, is exhibiting telekinetic powers, or if the glassware, as at the film's beginning, has simply been powered across the table again by the shaking train. Tarkovsky's intention that this be telekinetic is, however, known. So why does he complicate and add ambiguity by means of the train? After the area we have traversed in the film, and what we have learned about The Stalker, I would propose that the ending demands we take another look at the beginning and realize the unlikelihood of the passing train causing only the glass to move across the tray while every other object--apple, metal box, pills, crumpled paper, cotton--remains fixed. We need to reevaluate and consider the pan from the jittering tray over the bed in which we see the wife, the sleeping daughter, and The Stalker. The Stalker is not sleeping but seems to stare over at the tray as the glass moves across it, and as we pan back we see the wife is also now awake and vaguely watching. The action at the end should make us return and question this beginning.
What we do know is that "real life" is sepia in this film, and that the film is in color only in The Zone, a forbidden territory ruled by a mysterious Other (or after-effects of this Other) and through which The Stalker, much as a psychopomp, guides a few--only the despairing and not all surviving its dangers--in their quest to reach The Room where their deepest desires will be fulfilled and they will presumably be made happy, though not immediately, as the consequence of these desires being met is not instantaneous. The Stalker has only known, it seems, the fate of a single individual whose deepest desires came true, after which the individual killed himself. That man was a former zone guide, one who trained The Stalker. It seems that unwritten rules mandate no zone guide is to enter The Room, so the viewer is even uncertain how his trespass and violation has effected his experience.
It is known that Stalkers have mutant children, and if one considers the implications of this it means that the guides, without entering The Room, are themselves affected by The Zone and pass this along to their offspring. Or it may even be that they are guides because they are already of a peculiar nature, one of "god's fools" as The Stalker's wife says.
The movie is intended to awaken the viewer to the knowledge that the terrain beyond their conscious mind is largely closed to them, and that it is there where their deepest desire smolders. Because this terrain is closed to them, an individual can never be confident that they know what that desire might be, which is a reason given for why The Zone is forbidden, due the fear that one whose deepest desire is only evil may successfully attain The Room. All this is pertinent to the end, for the somber daughter reads a poem on desire before she concentrates on the moving glassware, then, her head on the table, feels the train passing as Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" plays.
If we return to the beginning scene of the glass moving across the bedside table, what do we hear within the heavy, grinding sound of the train? Almost indiscernibly, there too we hear Beethoven's 9th Symphony.
Solaris was, in some few respects, a response to Kubrick's 2001. And I wonder about Tarkovsky's use of "Ode to Joy" in a movie about desire. Had he seen Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange? For Kubrick used "Ode to Joy" in A Clockwork Orange, Alex's passion for Beethoven's music serving as a revelation that what inspired in Alex a joyful spirit was different from what is normally conceived. For him, violence is joy. As Alex sleeps, the severe countenance of Beethoven, printed on his window shade, looks over him, and breathes with the breeze, alive and reminding of the biblical statement that the Holy Spirit blows as it pleases, that one may hear it but not know from where it comes and where it is going. There is no inherent, moral character to the music that inspires him, he conceiving the music as being like "Bog" that inspires others.
In Tarkovsky's The Mirror, toward the beginning we see the dramatic movement of an inexplicable wind. This unlikely wind is periodically repeated in the film, and then at one point, as the wind blows and knocks items off a table, a voice-over speaks of the mysterious nature of soul, that is nude without the body, neither good nor bad, incapable of action. As the wind dies down we hear a train whistle. That wind, too, is the power of spirit, which one may hazard The Stalker's daughter possesses the ability to direct.
The girl is called Monkey in the book, Roadside Picnic, upon which the movie is based, because she has fur on her body, and as time passes she becomes more animalistic and less conversant. Tarkovsky instead has the child's mutancy rendering her unable to walk, and rather than animalistic we have what seems a largely passive character, her interior thoughts unexpressed. The third of the four sections of which the book is composed speaks to the "animal" and alien, the flawed assumption that an alien race would be what we comprehend as psychologically human. When it is argued that to be "human" is to be intelligent, the return argument is the question of what is intelligence.
We usually proceed from a trivial definition: intelligence is the attribute of man that separates his activity from that of the animals. It's a kind of attempt to distinguish the master from his dog, who seems to understand everything but can't speak. However, this trivial definition does lead to wittier ones. They are based on depressing observations of the aforementioned human activity. For example, intelligence is the ability of a living creature to perform pointless or unnatural acts...here's another definition--a very lofty and noble one. Intelligence is the ability to harness the powers of the surrounding world without destroying the said world.
This has everything to do with Monkey, her transformation into an "animal" as she grows older, her increasing inability to communicate, and the conclusion of the novel, which is very different from the film.
There is no glass at the end of the book that Monkey moves. I've read that Tarkovsky, fascinated with telekinesis, conceived the idea of the moving glassware upon watching a film of Nina Kalugina that was purported to show her exercising psychokinesis. But there is perhaps a source for this glass in the book. In the novel, The Zone also causes those buried in proximity to it to rise and blindly return to their homes. The book is unclear on it, but these zombies appear to have no consciousness other than this homing instinct and are perfunctorily gathered up like dead wood and discarded. The Stalker's father has also rises from the grave and returned home, but The Stalker keeps him there and respectfully treats him as one alive and conscious. In an episode with a guest, he pours a drink for the zombie. The guest knows the father will not respond, is unable to respond, and doesn't expect him to respond. But The Stalker persists in acting as if he will respond eventually. Then Monkey comes into the room, rests against the zombie, and after a little while the dead father, like a puppet, picks up the glass and drinks. Whether or not this movement is caused by Monkey is not addressed in the book, but one has to wonder if there is the inference, and if such was Tarkovsky's interpretation. Monkey is the psychokinetic puppet-master in this case, rather than the dead father eventually drinking out of habit. This act is our final look at Monkey in the book. Monkey doesn't appear in the final section.
The devastating end of the novel does have The Stalker entering, in effect, The Room, only there is no room, instead a golden sphere is said to grant one's deepest desires. But how does one know if it really works?
I'm an animal, you can see that I'm an animal. I have no words, they haven't taught me the words; I don't know how to think, those bastards didn't let me learn how to think. But if you really are--all powerful, all knowing, all understanding--figure it out! Look into my soul, I know--everything you need is in there. It has to be. Because I've never sold my soul to anyone! It's mine, it's human! Figure out yourself what I want--because I know it can't be bad! The hell with it all, I just can't think of a thing other than those words of his--HAPPINESS, FREE, FOR EVERYONE, AND LET NO ONE BE FORGOTTEN!
There this brilliant novel ends on The Stalker's prayer to the golden sphere. Does the golden sphere grant wishes? If it does, what might The Stalker's wish mean for humanity and the world? How does it feel for the reader to have The Stalker's wish be this one after knowing what he has just done in order to reach the sphere?
The Stalker had been commissioned to go in and bring out the sphere by another stalker who is an abhorrent human being, who would use the sphere selfishly. This other stalker had long purported the existence of this object that would fulfill wishes, and no one has known if it was true or a tall tale, but he has a daughter of rare beauty and a wonderful and talented son, and The Stalker seems to attribute this to his possible experience of the sphere. The other stalker having been deprived of the use of his legs by an accident in The Zone, sends The Stalker in with the hope he can use the sphere to restore his heath, his insistence on the venture adding weight to the possibility of the sphere possessing such power. The Stalker takes along the man's son, who begs The Stalker to let him go with him because he also has a wish he wants to make. The very, very young man, in college, is the moral opposite of his father. He's the kind of good kid that makes your heart ache with his trust, and he has absolute faith in The Stalker, trusting him implicitly, knowing he is not like his father, even though The Stalker is bitter. Bitter over Monkey. Bitter over having been used by the world. He is not the Christ-like figure as in the book. The boy doesn't know how much he hates. He is angry. He brings along the boy to serve as a sacrifice, for in order for anyone to reach the golden sphere, The Stalker knows that guarding it is the Meatgrinder which must first be disabled. The only way to disable it is to send a person into it, after which another may pass through unharmed. The Stalker knows the youth will die. He imagines, anyway, that the wish the youth is so desperate to make must also be something selfish, as he is too embarrassed to say what it is. He helps the boy through, one after another, the physical horrors of The Zone, the boy's trust and gratitude ever increasing with The Stalker preserving his life. Finally, they reach where the golden sphere is, but there is as yet the Meatgrinder guardian to be subdued, of which the boy knows nothing. Dancing joyously and solemnly toward the sphere, ecstatic, in the moment before the Meatgrinder kills him, the youth shouts out, "Happiness for everyone! Free! As much happiness as you want! Everyone gather round! Plenty for everyone! No one will be forgotten! Free! Happiness! Free!" The Stalker had known this would happen and allowed the boy to serve as fodder. The road now open for him to reach the sphere, as he considers his own wish, organizing his thoughts for it, The Stalker begins to wonder what it really means to think.
No, this isn't quite the same stalker as presented in the film. Tarkovsky retained The Zone from the book, and he transformed the sphere into The Room, but in the film The Stalker doesn't enter The Room as zone guides aren't supposed to enter it. Tarkovsky removes the terrible and powerful element of The Stalker's sacrifice of the trusting boy who wishes only for happiness and lack of want for everyone.
In the novel, as it turns out, that sacrifice having been made, when The Stalker has his opportunity to make his plea with the golden sphere, he can finally think of nothing to ask for but what the boy had wished. The novel ends there, the reader having no idea if the golden sphere does indeed fulfill wishes and what the fulfilling of this wish might entail.
We should turn to two conversations earlier in Tarkovsy's film. A writer, about to enter The Zone, explains to a woman that boring iron laws control the world and forbid the paranormal. The rules can't be broken. Toward the film's end, exhausted by his most recent trip into The Zone, The Stalker grieves that writers and scientists don't believe, that no one believes, and so there is no one to lead to The Room. The world doesn't need it any longer.
The question isn't whether or not the girl moves the glassware telepathically. She does. But this is a metaphor for belief that surpasses the prison of the accepted iron laws of nature, which is also the mechanical world of the Clockwork Orange ruled by a god that on Judgment Day feasts on the juice of predestined fruit of mechanical law. This belief in spirit that slips through the iron bars of law is the world of The Zone and the reason for which the final scene with the girl is in color, as was the area of The Zone in color. The girl is unable to walk, reliant on crutches, yet toward the end of the film we have such a long shot of only her head and shoulders moving in a manner suggesting she is indeed walking, that one might begin to believe she is walking despite what we know about her legs. This too is in color. Then the camera zooms out and we see that she is instead riding on her father's shoulders, which we can look upon as signifying her "mutant" inheritance of the spirit resident in The Zone through her father's contact with it, and, as I've noted, the father even perhaps being himself partly responsible for the functioning of The Zone. By means of the mutant child, who seems aware of her inheritance, The Zone escapes its geographic bounds.
The two color scenes outside The Zone, the girl awake in both, reveal the scarf she wears over her head is a light golden brown, which is perhaps to suggest the golden sphere that Tarkovsky has transformed into The Room. It is right there, in the child.
The "animal" nature of the child, as with the book, Tarkovsky represents with her withdrawn disposition, but he also shows she is intelligent with her reading poetry before she moves the glassware. If the child in the book becomes more and more animal, seeming unable to communicate, her having perhaps animated the zombie so he drinks from the glass is communication, as well as a fulfilment of her father's wishes. If it isn't a sensible communication to us, then we are in the same position as the scientists in Solaris attempting to communicate with the intelligence that is Solaris. An impasse doesn't mean that the girl doesn't possess intelligence.
One might wonder what of the role of the wife? She complains, at the film's beginning, that The Stalker has taken her watch, which is how she suspects he will be serving as guide into The Zone again that day, which isn't in the book. At the film's end she speaks directly to the camera, saying that she had been warned by her mother not to marry a stalker, and that she knew how they were and what kind of children they had, but he said, "Come with me," and she had. In The Stalker's beckoning, "Come with me" we may hear an echo of Matthew 4:19 in which Christ says, "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men." Throughout the film one has an increasing sense of The Stalker as a Christ-like figure, he at one point wearing a crown of thorns. Tarkovsky embodies the tribulations of a companion to such in the wife who says she has no regrets and has envied no one else. She knew that life with a stalker would have a great deal of suffering but in suffering there was hope and how can there be happiness without suffering. It would seem that the wife, as the one with the watch, represents the physical laws of the universe living in union with the renegade spirit. She voices her experience directly to the the camera, the viewer, following The Stalker having told her there is no one else to take to The Room. She had offered to go, saying she has things for which to ask, but The Stalker denied her, responding what if she also showed a lack of faith.
Or what if The Stalker instead fears what might be her innermost desires of which she may be unaware? At the movie's beginning, instead of saying she never has had regrets, the wife had instead damned the day she met The Stalker, and said God had cursed them both with the child they were given.
The wife's profession of commitment to The Stalker, and acceptance of pain that brings meaning to pleasure, is followed by the child reading Fyodor Tyutchev's "Dull Flame of Desire", poetry that we might not only consider intellectually advanced for her years, but is a peculiar choice due the nature of the passion expressed.
I love your eyes, my dear
Their splendid sparkling fire
When suddenly you raise them so
To cast a swift embracing glance
Like lightning flashing in the sky
But there's a charm that is greater still
When my love's eyes are lowered
When all is fired by passion's kiss
And through the downcast lashes
I see the dull flame of desire
The girl is young and we don't know how she comprehends the poem's expression of desire, which she has read as the train whistle sounded, as what seems to be dandelion fluff floats through the air. and visible vapors from an unknown source have wafted up through the glassware on the table. Her head is raised as she reflects upon the poem, then she lowers her head and gazes through downcast eyes on the glasses. As she moves each one the dog her father had brought home from The Zone whines uncomfortably, as if aware that powers of The Zone are stirring here. She glances at it and the dog silences. She looks back to the glasses and continues moving them, the only glass that she presses over the edge onto the floor being the tallest one that is empty. As soon as it strikes the floor, yet does not break, the rumbling of the train begins, shaking the table, the remaining glassware on it not moving at all, and "Ode to Joy" begins. We may return now to meditate on the opening, and as the camera moves through the doors into the bedroom at the film's beginning, we realize how golden are those doors with the sepia tone, and that we could interpret the sepia as infusing this world outside The Zone in gold, sometimes dark and sometimes light, like the wife's rationalization of the essential balance of despair and joy, and we see the glass that moves across the bedside table as if motivated by the train, but it wasn't the train after all, and we observe The Stalker watching as we faintly hear Beethoven's 9th, only briefly.
If Monkey, the next generation, is being expressed as the golden sphere and their potential to fulfill desire, the end doesn't show Tarkovsky's anticipation of what is to come. But I do wonder if we can look upon the youth sacrificed to the Meatgrinder in the novel, by a prior generation in which it so trusted, and see this in a gentler form in the so-called cursed Monkey, and all prior generations.