Perhaps it is too fanciful to imagine a young Jason “The Stath” Statham resting after a hard session with his weights, protein shake in hand, earnestly studying the atmospheric films of Russian master Andrei Tarkovsky. Yet I am not the first person to notice something of The Stath’s style in Aleksandr Kaydanovskiy's portrayal of the Stalker in Tarkovsky's 1979 film. For one thing they have similar shaped heads and close cropped hair. For another thing, Kaydanovskiy has the habit of bending his neck slightly as though in apology for his brawn, a habit The Stath uses to good effect in the Transporter series – humble in his strength, sure in the knowledge that if a gang of chain-wielding thugs were to jump him, he’d quickly see them off with his astonishing fighting skills.
WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS
And the similarities don’t end there. Tarkovsky’s Stalker character performs some nifty driving at the start of the film as he evades the military guards of the Zone. And just like the Frank Martin character in Transporter, he lives his life according to a strict set of rules. No women are allowed in the Zone, for example. The shortest route to your destination is not a straight line, for another.
There are differences, of course. When the Stalker tries a bit of fighting, to wrestle a portable nuclear weapon from the Professor, he turns out to be rubbish at it. If The Stath was playing the role, he’d use the Stalker’s iconic leather jacket as a makeshift kung fu weapon, throw a few of the cloth-covered nuts around, and find a pool of oil to do some topless wrestling.
Still, after seeing George Clooney mug his way through an insipid remake of Tarkovsky’s Solaris, perhaps it’s best if The Stath sticks to his tried and tested franchise films for a while longer.
Review continues below...
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There is an interesting Free Thinking BBC podcast on the subject of Stalker that’s well worth a listen if it’s available where you live.
The wonderful thing about Stalker is its refusal to accept conventional wisdom. In the Zone, only the broken and the wretched are allowed to live and to enter the special room where a person’s innermost wishes are fulfilled. Openly dealing with archetypes, the main characters are known simply as Stalker, Professor and Writer. And there is a robust rejection of the science and art of the Professor and the Writer, with the Stalker despairing of the characters’ self-serving efforts when he leaves the Zone. There is also a sense that it was science and technology that got the ‘small country’ into the mess it’s in. The Zone has plains full of decaying tanks and big guns, and a polluting power station stands close to its outskirts at the end.
There are some ironies here, however. The pin-sharp focusing and flashy depth of field and lighting effects are only possible thanks to a mastery of scientific lenses and cameras. This film that denounces the pursuit of art as self-serving egoism is full of poetry and philosophy. And the apparent “Fuck you, Science” telekinesis displayed by the Stalker’s child at the end was no doubt made to happen through some pedestrian special effect.
But if there’s one film that isn’t afraid of contradictions, it’s Stalker.
The music is amazing, the visuals are amazing, the ideas are amazing.
This is as good as film gets. Top marks.
Personal Score: 10/10
This is part of a series of film reviews where I give my comments on IMDB Top 250 films as a writer. The idea is that over time these posts will build into a wide-ranging writing resource.
For more details about the approach I've taken, including some important points about its strengths and weaknesses (I make no claims about my abilities as a film critic or even the accuracy of my comments... but I do stand by the value of a writer's notes on interesting films), see my introductory post here.