The Quest | The Free Press of Reed College

Stalk up on some Tarkovsky

by Lyle Daniel, Max Carpenter and Sammie Massey

Three films of Andrei Tarkovsky’s sparse but numinous repertoire will be shown by the Russian House over the coming week in celebration of the monumental director’s 80th birthday. One of these showings, The Mirror, already passed, on Tarkovsky’s true birthday April 4, but there are two other phenomenal movies to look out for: Nostalghia on Sunday, April 8; The Sacrifice on Tuesday, April 10.

Andrei Tarkovsky is almost unanimously considered by fimmakers and laypersons alike as one of the greatest filmmakers to have graced this kosmos. Tarkovsky—famously lauded by his elder, Ingmar Bergman—created seven cerebral feature-length films over his lifetime. Moreover, he has intensely influenced such incredible modern filmmakers such as Lars von Trier (whose Antichrist would be nothing without Tarkovsky’s Mirror, et al.) Having most recently screened his two most renowned works, Solaris and Stalker, the Russian House is filling in three more gaps for this birthday celebration. The Mirror is a bricolage of childhood memories, human psychology, and the spiritual aspects of nature used to tell the fractured story of a fallen soldier’s family. Nostalghia (Italian for homesickness) traces the journey of a Russian poet who goes to Italy to learn of an older Russian composer. Lastly, The Sacrifice explores an aging Swedish intellectual’s conception of reality when his isolated aristocratic is forced to react to the outbreak of WWIII.

Tarkovsky’s style varies, but his films often include an acute awareness of the fluidity of human memory and our imagination’s architectural spaces. In The Mirror, the camera pans around a room to beat a character to her destination. It meanders over a ground cluttered with milk puddles and glass shards, and then settles on a windowsill on which two eggs are perched. Why are those eggs there, we wonder? Has someone actually spilt milk, are the eggs just retroactive flourishes inserted by a character’s memory? When the scene then cuts to a new temporal space, black and white footage of WWII, the droning sound that had followed the camera’s movement continues on. Aside from the blending sounds, how are those eggs connected to these Russian troops marching at Leningrad? In a poetic tapestry, the film rejoices in simultaneously echoing and distancing itself from it’s character’s experience.

When asked during an interview of the meaning of art, Tarkovsky answered that such an understanding (of art or any concept) presupposes an understanding of the meaning of life on earth. A rough translation rendered from Tarkovsky’s rich Russian suggests that humans might be here on earth to develop spiritually, and that art can help them do so. “Knowledge”, Tarkovsky has said, “distracts us from our main purpose in life. The more we know the less we know…” Reed students should take a break from their futile attempt to know and instead spend some time developing with Tarkovsky, in the Russian House.

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