01/03/2018

Stalker - Transcendent Function: Art As Becomingness

Thoughts On: Stalker (Сталкер, 1979)

A scientist and writer, lead by a guide, venture into "The Zone" to have their utmost desires fulfilled.


There is something enchanting about Tarkovsky's films. I've seen many multiple times, and though I don't feel I have a good grip on any of them (apart from Ivan's Childhood maybe), I have been infatuated from the instant I first saw Stalker. The key element of Tarkovsky's cinema that catalysed this fascination was the quality in his images that draws you into the screen. And Tarkovsky's cinema is one of those rare cinemas that does not just bring you into a cinematic narrative as a typhlodrama (a fantasy, action or adventure film), but uses tuphlodrama (strange, almost unclassifiable, drama) to immerse you in the transcendent function of cinema. That is to say that all art has a way of reaching into the abstract and evoking the impossible beyond within us, and that cinema has its own unique manner of doing this that Tarkovsky manages masterfully.

Stalker, in one respect, is a film that simultaneously projects and comments on the transcendent function. In such, Stalker is a film about faith and desire with its central conflict resting on three men who venture into "The Zone" in the hope that they will be given, by a furtive room, fulfilment. A scientist wants the power to discover. A writer wants inspiration. And their guide, a stalker, wants nothing apart from to, possibly, support his family and satisfy an unyielding impulse to venture into The Zone - he does not want to go in the room. It turns out, however, that after journeying to the fulfilling room, the scientist and writer can't bring themselves to go in.

One undertone of this story has much to do with humans confronting aspiration and the future simultaneously. Not only do the characters of Stalker then have to question what it is that they want, but why, and what would be the consequences of them attempting to take, or be granted, their utmost desire. In confronting the projections of their illusive inner drives, these men must also kneel before the Logos.

Logos is a complex term. For the Ancient Greeks, it is thought to have meant the logic behind an argument. For Christians, Logos is the Word of God. For Jung, the Logos is a core principal of the animus - the essence of masculinity - and it, too, was bound to reason. Abstractly, we can lump the various meanings of Logos together and suggest that they are all concerned, not just with logic and reason, but justification that is true to a degree that you cannot comprehend. It is then most interesting that Logos originated as an element of debate, but transformed, literally, into the Word of God. This evolution of the meaning of Logos itself suggests that true reason and meaning is not a human creation. Theologically, true meaning comes from God. Phenomenologically, true meaning may be implied through the collective unconscious of the human species. Wherever true meaning resides, however, it clearly isn't within the reaches of normal human function. True meaning exists outside of our conscious grip - we cannot fully understand, break it down, package and sell it like we do food - and thus it resides within the confines of the transcendent. This does not mean God, heaven or any other theological implication, it simply means "the place we don't know of". I may even add a caveat to that and suggest that the transcendent is "the place we don't know of, but certainly strive to be".

In understanding the transcendent space as being unreachable, but simultaneously alluring, we can understand that Logos represents the idea that thought, knowledge and reason are like gusts of air swept out of the place beyond the firmament and into our lungs. We do not make reason, we engage it as it passes by. We do not manifest fulfilment, we try to wrangle and nurture it when it appears before us. That is not to suggest that humans have no free will, or at least, have no part to play in the finding of meaning and the pursuit of the Logos. Whilst we must work mentally and physically to ascertain the Logos, our struggle is not creative in the true sense of the world. Rubbing two sticks together creates fire, it does not write the laws of nature that make fire possible.

It is the fear one can imagine manifesting when confronting the Logos as the metaphoric 'laws of nature' that is the inner conflict of Stalker. These three men are afraid of the fire they may spark. Will they be able to control it? Will it quickly wane and dwindle away? Will it consume them? Will it light the way towards what they want? Will it lead them astray?

To ask these profoundly impactful questions, Tarkovsky not only sets his characters on such a journey, but also puts the audience on a similar journey. This is a journey of 'becomingness'.

Maya Deren, master experimental filmmaker, uses this term, 'becomingness', to distinguish the male perception of time from the female perspective of time. To her, the male is a creature of the present whilst the female has a much broader perspective of time as she must constantly look into the past as to prepare for the future in the present moment. She references pregnancy as a key example and biological incentive for this.

Whilst I feel that Deren and her theory of becomingness is pertinent, I feel it (maybe ironically) lacks scope. In watching her films as a man, not a woman, I am affected and, quite possibly, because of her ability to encapsulate this idea of becomingness so eloquently. This says to me that becomingness, whilst it may be a distinctly female trait, is in men also.

The idea of becomingness seems to relate quite well with the anima/animus concept of Jung. And that is to say that becomingness may be an element of the anima not too dissimilar from Eros. Eros, a counterpart to Logos, is about a wholeness and psychic relations. For a female to have a greater scope of time, for her to be a body that tries to manage all at once all that is and was and will be, she is an agent of wholeness and unity. For a man to be stuck in the present, he, on the other hand, seems to move with time and reality with his eyes gazing upwards, towards the transcendent and its Logos. As said, however, though the characteristics can be designated to male and female, men and women bear within them anima and animus and so Logos and Eros and so pursuit and wholeness. Humans need both becomingness and wholeness within them so that they can function in the world of humanity as well as drive it forward.

Art is becomingness-centric. In such, it is focused on transformation through mimesis; evolution through imitation. To make art is to look at the world and try to make sense of it, to look at art itself, and try to further organise and make whole human understanding. Art is becomingness, it is constant consolidation in a changing world, it is about psychological relation and communication, it is about Eros. Art is also motivated, however, by Logos. Whilst art wants to make sense of the world, it also wants to pursue the transcendent. And this is what I believe Tarkovsky, with Stalker for example, does so brilliantly.

Just like his characters struggle to confront the Logos - most probably because they have not made sense of their life, and so have not built a relationship with Eros (this is actually what they are asking for) - so does Tarkovsky as he tells us his story in such an ambiguous and... Tarkovsky-esque manner. However, unlike his characters, Tarkovsky is not searching for the Word of God as an answer; he provides no solutions to his characters' conflicts. Instead, he is creating his own work as an act of becomingness; he is building a relationship with Eros by wanting to have us feel as he/his characters do. I believe he does this, with far less focus on Logos, in The Mirror, too. And for an audience to engage in his art, is to be enticed by the Eros of his work - by the phenomena of psychological relatedness and communication. To investigate the transcendent function of his narrative, its confrontation of the Logos, is what elevates the spirit once it has already been captured.

In the end, it seems that Eros (not staying true to Jungian definition, that is) may be an abstract explanation of Tarkovsky's poetic magnetism. His art is becoming, it is an evocation of the transcendent, it shows us what it knows and it puts us in the state of becomingness. These are just my thoughts though. What do you think of all we've covered today?







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