STALKING THE ELUSIVE TARKOVSKY
Geoff Dyer has somehow carved out a career that permits him to write about anything he damn well wants. His latest, Zona (Canongate), is “a book about a film about a journey to a Room.” The film is Stalker (1979), from the Russia director Andrei Tarkovsky; the Room is the destination of the journey depicted in Stalker: a mysterious chamber “rumored to fulfill one’s most deeply held desires,” located at the heart of the forbidden, Chernobyl-like Zone (hence the title, Zona). To navigate through the Zone, and reach the Room, you need a guide: a Stalker. Watching Tarkovsky’s Stalker for the first time is a cinematic rite of passage, which can leave viewers with more unanswered questions than they started with. Is it a religious allegory? A parable about the Soviet Gulag? What does the Stalker figure represent? And the mysterious Room? Stalker demands repeated viewings; at 160 minutes, this is no small feat. Still, its fans are legion. Zona is Dyer’s attempt to understand and explain his fascination with Stalker. The book, written as a “take by take” guided journey though Tarkovsky’s film, is interwoven with Dyer’s commentary and conjectures. Digressive footnotes ebb and flow from the bottom of the page like tides. Zona is a literary version of Mystery Science Theater 3000, the cult TV series in which three figures (shown in silhouette at the bottom of the screen) kibitzed while watching science-fiction B films. At one point Dyer asks, rhetorically, “Do you think I would be spending my time summarizing the action of a film almost devoid of action… if I was capable of writing anything else?” His obsession is contagious, and those who want to take a crack at Stalker now have a sumptuous Blu-ray edition from Criterion: a new 2K digital restoration of the film, with an assortment of bonus materials (including an interview with Dyer himself).