A couple of years ago, a panel of experts convinced me that “Stalker,” Andrei Tarkovsky’s beautiful and magically melancholy 1979 film of environmental paranoia, is secretly a stoner comedy. It started with Geoff Dyer’s book “Zona,” in which he brought his insanely digressive approach to the “miracle of miracles, the zone” as the mystical, closed-off area central to the film is known.
But then Lawrence Weschler organized an event called Tarkovsky Interruptus at NYU, where Dyer, Francine Prose, Phillip Lopate, the great film and audio editor Walter Murch, and others stopped the film every 15 minutes or so to discuss it. Somehow, we all realized together there in that hall, how funny Tarkovsky could be.
So the story is that a meteor or something hit an area in Russia. It’s closed off and you can’t go there. Except there is a mythology surrounding it. If you can get to a room at the center of the Zone, it will make your greatest wish come true. People called stalkers take you there. In the film, the Dostoevskian—i.e. wise simpleton mystic who is also deeply fucked up and dealing with tragedy—stalker (Aleksandr Kaydanovskiy) takes a scientist (Nikolai Grinko) and writer (Anatoly Solonitsyn), who reminds me of Michel Houellebecq, into the mysterious Zone. But the big joke of the film is that the Zone doesn’t look any different than anywhere else—except maybe a little more derelict—and yet it is somehow more menacing and enchanting.
Which is to say that it looks a lot like Baltimore and it could be about this dream of art as an engine of gentrification here. The stalker is the hipster/dealer/cool kid who helps bring the artists and writers and scientists through the wild, fucked-up landscape of urban decay so that they find that warehouse space where their greatest desire comes true.
But the thing is, you should really be scared of your greatest desire and such stories are always filled, as Tarkovsky’s films are, with a deep horror of their own laughter. You may start out an artist and end up a developer because you don’t know what you’re own heart really desires.
So, next time you go looking for a cheaper place to live or work, get high and do a “Stalker” remake: tie white cloth around nuts. Throw them into the distance, watching intently where they land. Look both ways, as if you might be shot, and then run for it. Maybe you will find the house.