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A. Tarkovsky’s Stalker: A Study on the Process of Scenario Transforming the Strugatsky Brothers' Fantasy Novel to the Dostoevsky's Works1

I. Introduction 

The reputation of film master Andrei Tarkovsky (Андрей Тарковский: 1932-1986) in his homeland has changed along with the ideology of the regime. While working in his native Soviet Union, Tarkovsky often felt limited by censorship from state bureaucrats; as a result, he only produced a few films in his homeland: Ivan´s Childhood (Иваново детство) (1962), Andrei Rublev (Андрей Рублёв) (1966), Solaris (Солярис) (1972), Mirror (Зеркало) (1975), and Stalker (Сталкер) (1979). Wanting to explore his art free of the influence of the Soviet regime, which had a radically different ideology than his own, he eventually left his homeland in 1982. Tarkovsky’s films after Stalker—his last produced under the Soviet regime—were banned and he became a forgotten figure in the Soviet Union.

Even when he produced his next film, Nostalghia (Ностальгия) (1983), abroad, Soviet bureaucrats continued criticizing him. These bureaucrats charged that Western critics had evaluated Stalker as a metaphor for the political situation of the Soviet regime because Tarkovsky—who they claimed had turned his back on his homeland—had given them reason to do so. In fact, the protagonist's costume reminiscent of prison suit, his hair shaved off like a prisoner, and the use of terminology such as ‘Zone (Зона)’ and ‘Meat grinder (Мясорубка)’ made audiences think of 'prison' or 'concentration camp.' Further, following the 1986 Chernobyl crisis in the Soviet Union, the real world situation in which the relevant area around the disaster was set as a ‘zone’ also overlapped with 'the Zone' set in Stalker (Dyer 2009). As a result, Soviet bureaucrats even went so far as to claim that Tarkovsky helped expose the Soviet Union's disgrace by serving as a harbinger of the Chernobyl crisis. 

However, one can easily see that these accusations are unfounded, considering that the film Stalker was based on the novel Roadside Picnic (Пикник на обочине) (1972) by the brothers Arkady Strugatsky (Аркадий Стругацкий) and Boris Strugatsky (Борис Стругацкий), who were Russia's most famous fantasy authors in the 1970s. It is a fantasy novel about strange events happening in areas that aliens had visited, and it was unrelated to the political situation at the time. Nevertheless, one might still wonder why Tarkovsky, who seemingly cherished the human soul and spirit, chose an original science fiction novel for one of his films. 

However, Stalker was not Tarkovsky’s first film based on a science fiction novel involving space. The film Solaris, which was produced in 1972, is based on the novel Solaris, which brought worldwide fame to Polish science fantasy novelist Stanislaw Lem (Араб-Оглы 1987: 10-13). After making his official debut as a film director, Tarkovsky produced two science fiction novels into films; considering that he produced seven feature films in his lifetime, this suggests that he was deeply interested in science fiction. However, there are no known records or data indicating why he became interested in science fiction. He did not provide any detailed explanation for his enthusiasm for these novels other than mentioning in his diary that he found them interesting.

His silence from Tarkovsky can be explained from various angles. Perhaps most notable is the fact that the Soviet regime at the time preferred 'visualization[s] of science fiction novels,' especially those with themes suggesting that Earthlings can communicate with extraterrestrials and then conquer the universe. One of the most useful tools for promoting the Soviet Union during the Cold War was glamorizing the great scientific and technological developments of the nation, such as the achievements of Soviet space policy, on screen. Given that the Soviet National Film Commission 'Goskino' preferred science fantasy film production (Сальвестрони 2007: 102), it may also have been a way for Tarkovsky to survive by complying with the policy.

However, to date there has been no study attempting to determine the director's intention by comparing and contrasting Tarkovsky’s Stalker with the original novel. This is because it is not known more than the fact that the scenario has been repeatedly adapted, resulting in the disappearance of commonalities between the novel and the film as Roadside Picnic was adapted into the film Stalker. Therefore, starting with an understanding of the relationship between 'Goskino' and Tarkovsky, we would like to proceed with a closer analysis of the transformation process of this novel into this film, along with the process by which he chose Roadside Picnic. Among them, in particular, this paper will examine in detail the process and meaning of Tarkovsky's adaptation of the novel into a movie scenario, highlighting the characters and ideas of Russian author Dostoevsky's work in his film.

II. Andrei Tarkovsky's Resistance Against the Film Policy of 'Goskino'

The strategy by which Andrei Tarkovsky was trying to respond to Soviet literary policy in a subtle way is evident in the productions of both Solaris and Stalker. The application he submitted to 'Mosfilm' when conceiving the film Solaris describes his plan to shoot a great science fiction film he was writing at an expo in Japan where cutting-edge scientific technologies were being exhibited. However, Tarkovsky's filming team was unable to participate in the Okasa Expo; the party central committee would have had to rush to issue visas for the film crew, and they did not do so (Тарковский 2008: 25).

The main space of Solaris is therefore not filled with cutting-edge scientific technology, as it has instead been transformed into a rough space that makes the viewer wonder if it is a space station. This is because the director deliberately aimed not to have the film show the splendid achievements of scientific technology. He later recalled that his message would have been much clearer if he had avoided technical attributes such as spacecraft and space stations altogether.

Tarkovsky's view that detailed descriptions of scientific technology could dilute existential reflections eventually transformed Solaris into a completely different work from the original novel. Although the film Andrei Rublev was barely produced with the help of Georgi Kunitsin—the censor at that time (Гордон 2007: 145-147)—it could not be released in the Soviet Union for five years, despite being completed in 1966, because it was stated to be anti-historical and anti-ethnic against the Soviet regime. It is likely that the Soviet authorities did not like that Tarkovsky emphasized the religious image of Andrei Rublev as a monk and an ascetic beyond his image as a talented painter. The state also exerted pressure on him to refuse an award at the Cannes Film Festival for Andrei Rublev (dated January 8, 1971, in Tarkovsky's diary).1 As he was becoming tired of his treatment under the socialist regime which regarded people as cogs in a machine, he recalled:

The supreme idea of socialism is machinery. It turns a person into a mechanical person. There are rules for everything. And so man is taken from himself. His living soul is removed (Тарковский 2008: 37).

Soviet bureaucrats—who constantly exerted pressure on Tarkovsky—demanded he use his films to raise the status of the Soviet Union. Therefore, they suggested revisions in Solaris that demonstrated the achievements of Soviet scientific technology (Тарковский 2008: 45-46). Tarkovsky responded with a sense of hopelessness, stating that the revisions sent by the cultural division of the party central committee and the board of directors of 'Mosfilm' would completely ruin the film (dated January 12, 1972, in Tarkovsky's diary). In his diary passim, he also lamented that films had been degraded to a very poor condition from all of the state’s tyranny and atrocities; he notes both production costs (dated February 16, 1972, in Tarkovsky's diary) as well as the reality of the Soviet Union, which he stated fears true art that guarantees humanism (dated February 23, 1972, in Tarkovsky’s diary).

He was unable to fundamentally interact with the Soviet regime based on materialism, as he placed high value on spirituality. He can be said to have chosen an alternative route to avoid confronting the regime when he prepared Stalker, as he had severe conflicts with 'Goskino' when he produced Mirror. This is the origin of the view that Tarkovsky chose a science fiction novel to suit the needs of the regimes. However, 'Goskino' did not stop complaining about his turning Stalker from science fiction into a film aimed at elite audiences. The 'Goskino' leadership even threatened him in exile, claiming that something bad would happen if he did not return to Russia. They stopped him from receiving an award at the Cannes Film Festival for Nostalghia; they were eager to get bury Tarkovsky's art, deriding him as a 'noble artist'.

However, Tarkovsky could not agree with the production of films for the people under their principle of socialist realism; i.e., he could not agree to the production of functionalist films intended to advance the interests of the regime. Tarkovsky, who longed for the world of spirit and soul beyond matter and body, expressed his feelings as follows:

Despite the fact that God lives in every soul, that every soul has the capacity to accumulate what is eternal and good, as a mass people can do nothing but destroy. For they have come together not in the name of an ideal, but simply for the sake of a material notion. Mankind has hurried to protect the body and has given no thought to protecting the soul. 〔…〕 How insignificant, pitiful and vulnerable people are when they think about 'bread' and only about 'bread' (Тарковский 2008: 23).

As he was interested in how art could purify human souls, it was natural for him to prefer European literature—which longed for a free spiritual world—over Soviet literature, which valued functional aspects. He particularly loved the novels of Hoffmann, Camus, and Thomas Mann. He even had serious discussions with a German producer about making films based on Thomas Mann's Mountain Magic and Doctor Faustus. He was said to have been particularly delighted to recite from The Glass Bead Game and Narcissus and Goldmund among Herman Hesse's novels, which Tarkovsky became more attached to as he grew older. Alexander Gordon, the film director and Tarkovsky's brother-in-law, once mentioned about Tarkovsky’s taste for literature that he might have seen part of himself in Hesse, who also cherished the spiritual value of life and the growth of the soul (Гордон 2007: 261-264).

Among Russian authors, Tarkovsky particularly loved Dostoevsky. We can get a glimpse of his ideas about Dostoevsky's personality and perspective on God and the devil from his diary passim. Tarkovsky wanted to produce a film about Dostoevsky's novel The Idiot or even a film about Dostoevsky's life. When Tarkovsky began to produce Stalker, his attempts to visualize Dostoevsky appeared in his diary at the same time. He expressed his interest in visualizing Roadside Picnic, while developing a plan to visualize Dostoevsky's novel The Idiot and Tolstoy's novel The Death of Ivan Ilyich. On January 6, 1975, he wrote in his diary:

I wrote a letter to Yermash asking me him to quickly decide on issues related to my future works. And I asked him for a decision on either The Idiot or the work on Dostoevsky. Presumably that he will flatly reject my request. If that happens, I will send him another letter along with drafts of two works, The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Roadside Picnic (Тарковский 2008: 87).

It can be inferred from the content of this letter that Tarkovsky was speculating on the situation and anticipating that the Soviet authorities would reject his request to produce Dostoevsky's novel into a film. Soviet authorities were not so fond of visualizing Dostoevsky's novel because the authorities' slogan that so-called 'healthy' people would take the lead in building the Soviet Empire conflicted with the excessively religious Christian protagonists or pathological protagonists in Dostoevsky’s work. Tarkovsky, as he himself had predicted, received official notice that he would not be able to produce The Idiot (dated September 21, 1975, in Tarkovsky's diary). Nikolay Sizov, the deputy chairman of the Moscow City Council and the representative of 'Mosfilm', responded positively to the prospect of the production of the Strugatsky brothers' novel Roadside Picnic (dated December 10, 1975, in Tarkovsky's diary), stating that Tarkovsky could produce it into a film.

Although he finally overcame his ideological difficulties and began to produce a film, he also came to face physical difficulties. For Tarkovsky, the production process of Stalker was itself a form of penance. Filming began in 1977 after many twists and turns; however, it was not screened for a long time, and it was not allowed to participate in overseas film festivals even after filming had been finished. The authorities took these actions because Stalker had contents that made them uncomfortable. For a more detailed analysis of this, it is necessary to look more deeply at how the original novel was produced into a film and how the director's intention was projected.

III. A Scenario of Adapting the Novel Roadside Picnic to the Film Stalker


It was in February 1976 that Andrei Tarkovsky officially received permission from Filip Yermash, the representative of 'Goskino', to produce Stalker. However, the work was in progress before that, and Tarkovsky had already visited the Strugatsky brothers to express his intention to visualize the novel Roadside Picnic. This move can be interpreted as him asking for the cooperation of the original authors in advance to avoid a repeat of the prior situation in which Stanislaw Lem's avid readers had protested that the director had arbitrarily adapted Lem’s novel.

During the production of Solaris, there were differences between the novel and the film that caused problems, such as when Tarkovsky met Stanislaw Lem, the original author. According to an official from 'Mosfilm', although Stanislaw Lem was visiting Moscow at the time, Tarkovsky did not want to see him that much. Then, when they actually met, Lem treated Tarkovsky coldly as if he had never heard of him before.

While Tarkovsky may have wanted to respond that he was a director who had his own goals in visualizing the original novel, he of course could not cause such a scene. He considered that certain things that were difficult to deal with in 'literature' could be better dealt with in 'films,' and he generally believed in the power of film (Tarkovsky 1987:126-127). He recognized that the film adaptation had the potential to explore questions beyond those explored in the original novel (Tarkovsky 1987: 22). Having argued that there is a clear difference between film and literature, he did not back down from his viewpoint that if a scenario is expressed with beauty through literature, it would be better to leave it as prose, but since it was decided to be produced into a film, it is crucial to transform such scenarios into scenes suitable for a film. When Tarkovsky visited the Strugatsky brothers to ask for their cooperation, they agreed to write the scenarios with equal influence among themselves and the director (Тарковский 2008: 89); he still stipulated that they must ultimately agree with the director's film initiative and be prepared to take his instructions.

The original authors directly participated in the scenario work; the adaptation work was a series of hardships. After Tarkovsky's death, Arkady Strugatsky recalled the process in which they had to write 18 versions of the scenario according to the director's request (Гордон 2007: 264-265). The work continued such that the writers were completely exhausted until the completion of the final scenario of Stalker. As a result, the final version of Stalker was reborn as a Tarkovsky-style film that had little in common with the first scenario based on the original novel.

The Strugatsky brothers' novel Roadside Picnic is set against the backdrop of the imaginary city of Harmont. In this novel, after a foreigner accidentally visits the area about 13 years before the narrative mainly takes place, the area has been transformed into a space governed by secret law. This so-called secret 'Zone', which has been created after having been visited by aliens, hides strange phenomena that are dangerous to humans. From the outside, this space appears to be fixed; however, once people step in, the position of that strange part constantly changes. It is therefore declared uninhabitable and placed under strict surveillance by patrols along with the removal of residents. However, even the security patrols are portrayed as being afraid of this 'Zone', which could cost them their lives (Стругацкие 2012: 59).

This 'Zone' contains objects called ‘artifacts,’ which are presumed to have been left behind by aliens who had visited the Earth, and which are the official subject of study by the academic community. Some of the artifacts are evaluated simply as toys, or as dangerous weapons; some can be used as remedies to cure diseases. This is why ‘Stalkers,’ who do the forbidden work of secretly bringing and selling artifacts, appear in the novel's narrative. The novel begins when the protagonist, Stalker Radrick Shuhart, is 23, and it ends when he is 31 (Филимонов 2011: 301).

Radrick Shuhart, who sells artifacts he has secretly brought from the Zone to make his living, once worked as a laboratory assistant at the Extraterrestrial Culture Laboratory (Стругацкие 2012: 10); later, he illegally guides people through the ‘Zone’ to maintain his living. Stalkers, including Radrick Shuhart, have sensitively developed extrasensory properties, intuitions, and reflexes: they have to rely solely on their own instincts and intuitions to live. It is widely accepted that Stalkers will have children with physical and biological mutations, and Shuhart's only daughter, Mariya—who appears in the novel—is also set to have a disability. Radrick loves his wife and daughter, and he loses contact with his family as a result of his frequent imprisonment for robbery. He is unable to live normally in prison, and he only feels inner freedom after entering the Zone. This is why he cannot refuse to infiltrate the Zone that destroys his life. This is ostensibly manifested as a desire to make money; however, he cannot resist the magnet-like attraction towards the Zone, which only a true Stalker can feel. 

At the end of the novel, Radrick decides to seek a mythical structure in the form of ‘Golden Sphere (Золотой шар)’ in the wake of the legend that 'fulfills human intimate wish' (Стругацкие 2012: 114). However, the process of finding this place is dangerous enough to be life-threatening. This is because the road to the 'Golden Sphere' itself can be deadly, as are the 'traps' hidden along the path. Radrick traps his colleague Arthur Barbridge in 'a trap with magical power' (Стругацкие 2012: 187) and he barely succeeds in crawling to the Golden Sphere. However, the novel ends by presenting Radrick as full of despair (Стругацкие 2012: 189-190).

Much of the contents of the Strugatsky brothers' novel were largely reproduced as they were in the first scenario, The Machine of Desire (Машина желаний). The motifs of nuclear explosion, disaster of time, and 'Golden Sphere' were maintained, as were the characteristics of the science fiction narrative. However, unlike the novel in which Radrick Shuhart is the protagonist, the protagonists in the scenario are characters only called Professor, Writer, and Stalker. In addition, the Stalker that appears in The Machine of Desire is a worse robber than Radrick Shuhart is in the novel. He also went to the 'Golden Sphere,' which makes wishes come true, to ask for something; when he came back home, his daughter's illness—which one may have assumed was what he had prayed for—remained the same, and the scenario instead ends with money pouring out of his large sack (Википедия. "Пикник на обочине." 2020).

Tarkovsky, who evaluated the content of the first scenario as being too 'flamboyant,' asked the Strugatsky brothers to revise it. However, the Strugatsky brothers considered there to be a huge gap between their fantasy novel and the scenario demanded by the director. In response, Arkady Strugatsky asked the director why he had to stick to fantasy film. Regarding Tarkovsky’s reaction, Arkady Strugatsky wrote:


"Listen, Andrei, why do you need a fantasy film? How about getting rid of all those fantasy characteristics?"

He smiled lightly.

"This is exactly what you suggested! It is not what I suggested! I have wanted to do that for a long time. I was afraid to suggest that to you" (Стругацкий 1987).

After this, Tarkovsky completely removed the fantasy attributes from the scenario with the consent of the exhausted authors. What he actively transformed in the scenario, which now held new possibilities, were the characteristics of the protagonist, Stalker. "Arkady and Boris are trying to rewrite it at the moment, because of the new Stalker, who, instead of being some kind of drug dealer or poacher, has to be a slave, a believer, a pagan of the Zone (Тарковский 2008: 117)," Tarkovsky wrote in his diary on August 26, 1977. He also decided upon the title of Stalker, thus focusing on the center of gravity of the character.

A. Tarkovsky’s Stalker: A Study on the Process of Scenario Transforming the Strugatsky Brothers' Fantasy Novel to the Dostoevsky's Works
Park, Young Eun (Hanyang University, Korea), Literature Film Quarterly
Figure 1. The scene where the stalker, the professor, and the scientist meet at the tavern.

In the final scenario, the director simply calls the characters Writer Professor, and Stalker, without giving them specific names. He focuses on securing the universality of human types by using common nouns as proper nouns. Here, Professor adheres to scientific materialism, whereas Writer adheres to the artist's worldview, which has degenerated into cynicism. Writer who says that the world without mysterious laws is boring, is disillusioned with the bored world and his vulgar artistic activities, and he therefore seeks the Zone to gain new inspiration. Professor only looks at the world negatively, and he even shows symptoms of pessimistic delusion, as he carries a bomb for the purpose of destroying The Room, which is located in the Zone, stating the need to prepare for disasters that could arise if The Room were to grant the desires of evil humans. 

The opening sequence of the film based on the basic narrative of the novel consists of an interview with Wallace—a Nobel laureate—about how 'the Zone' was set up. According to him, a meteorite fell and turned the area of impact into a ruin 20 years ago, and an unnatural phenomenon eventually began to occur wherein people disappeared. In the novel, 'The Zone' was created after an alien visited the earth; in the film it was changed to something that was created by a meteorite impact. The film also transformed the 'Golden Sphere' into The Room, which grants people's most desired wishes. In the film, the authorities initially believed that curious people would gather, and after a while, to prevent anyone from approaching with dangerous desires, it was declared as the Zone and was declared as an area of high alert.

The setting for the 'Traps' of the Zone that appear in the film is a continuation of the motif of the novel. Similar to the novel, infiltrating the Zone is very complicated, and people cannot return the way they entered. Further, people have to trust their own intuition when passing through this road, as everything changes at every moment; for example, they may suddenly encounter a place of high gravity and consequently lose their lives. In Strugatskys' novel, Stalker tricked his customers into believing that 'the Zone' was not dangerous; by contrast, Stalker in Tarkovsky's film emphasizes the need to be careful every minute: the traps are intricately intertwined in the Zone (Шитова 2012: 199). If the Strugatsky brothers' Stalker was a kind of looter selling enigmatic items of the Zone, Tarkovsky's Stalker acts as a priest guiding lost and unhappy souls to the sanctuary to realize their wishes. The elements of science fiction from the novel have completely disappeared in the film, and Stalker has been transformed from 'a robber' into 'an apostle' through a long transformation process.

A. Tarkovsky’s Stalker: A Study on the Process of Scenario Transforming the Strugatsky Brothers' Fantasy Novel to the Dostoevsky's Works
Park, Young Eun (Hanyang University, Korea), Literature Film Quarterly
Figure 2. Image of stalker, professor, scientist in a ‘zone.’

Notably, Tarkovsky transformed 'the Zone' into a sacred space in the final scenario. Therefore, the process of going to the room where the infiltrator leads people to fulfill their wishes is reminiscent of a ritual. The director concludes that the Zone is not a symbol of any kind; however, considering that it is emphasized that women, alcohol, and weapons must not be brought into the Zone, and that being an infiltrator is recognized as a kind of calling given by god, it is not unlike a religious ritual (Филимонов 2011: 315). Here, the characters’ 'path' heading toward 'the Zone' can be equated with 'the search for themselves' and 'the process of finding the calling of life'; the film thus becomes a philosophical meditation.

IV. The Motif of Dostoevsky's Works Reflected in the Film Stalker

Andrei Tarkovsky's record of the production of Stalker includes no mention of what transformation he actually attempted in the film. However, after completing the final scenario, he only said, "This scenario has nothing in common with the novel. I have just transformed two words and two concepts from the novel to the scenario: ‘Zone (Зона)’ and ‘Stalker (Сталкер)’. However, through this article’s process of comparing and analyzing the original novel, the draft scenario, and the film, we can see clues that Tarkovsky actively projected from Dostoevsky’s novel motif in his final scenario.

As mentioned earlier, Tarkovsky had long dreamed of producing a film related to Dostoevsky; he even mentioned Dostoevsky as a whole point of what he wanted to achieve in a film. However, his intention to produce a film about Dostoevsky's life was not accepted by 'Goskino,' and the production of The Idiot was officially canceled. At this moment of personal despair, Tarkovsky gradually realized his long-cherished dream with the scenario transformation process from the novel Roadside Picnic to the draft scenario The Machine of Desire.

The aspect in which he actively projected the Dostoevsky motif into the film is clearly captured in the embodiment of the personality of the character, which he focused on, when he changed the title to Stalker. In the film, Stalker is implied to refer to Dostoevsky himself, who has actually been imprisoned in Omsk prison in Siberia, in his experience of the exile and his attitude toward life, or to remind one of a combination of the figures of Raskolnikov—the protagonist of Crime and Punishment—and Myshkin, the protagonist of The Idiot. First, the similarity between Raskolnikov in Dostoevsky's novel Crime and Punishment with Stalker in the film is revealed in his changed perspective when he is imprisoned for murder.

Raskolnikov killed an old woman who ran a pawnshop and whom he deemed useless to society to experiment with the possibility of becoming a superhuman like Napoleon, Newton, and Muhammad. The prostitute Sonya convinces him to turn himself in, prays for him, and accompanies him on the path of suffering to go to exile in Siberia. As if Dostoevsky's four-year imprisonment was a turning point in his spiritual growth, Raskolnikov—the author's alter ego—also experiences a rebirth of his conviction in prison. Raskolnikov, who was confined to his own ideas in prison, finally awakens to the true appearance of his prison mates and the vitality of nature; in the film, Tarkovsky matches the inner tranquility and freedom with Raskolnikov's experience that Stalker feels only after entering the Zone. First, we present what Dostoevsky described in the epilogue of Crime and Punishment:

He (Raskolnikov - author) looked at his fellow prisoners and was amazed to see how they all loved life and prized it. It seemed to him that they loved and valued life more in prison than in freedom. What terrible agonies and privations some of them, the tramps for instance, had endured! Could they care so much for a ray of sunshine, for the primeval forest, the cold spring hidden away in some unseen spot, which the tramp had marked three years before, and longed to see again, as he might to see his sweetheart, dreaming of the green grass round it and the bird singing in the bush? As he went on he saw still more inexplicable examples. (Достоевский 2006: 581-582)

As shown in the above narrative, Raskolnikov is imprisoned in a Siberian prison, which gives him the ability to listen to his inner self. This is a space of consciousness that is in stark contrast to that in Petersburg, the main backdrop of Crime and Punishment, which was filled with dark alleys, poverty-stricken single-story apartments, and underground taverns. Tarkovsky also gives a unique aura to 'the Zone,' the space of the film Stalker, that is similar to that in the scenery of exile in Siberia and which is distinct from Petersburg, which is intertwined with Raskolnikov's crimes. Stalker feels true freedom when he enters 'the Zone,' which is forbidden to the public. He expresses his utmost happiness, kissing the ground, kneeling on the grass, and lying on the ground for a long time. Here, Stalker gives the impression of accepting the vital energy erupting from 'the Zone' to accomplish his heavy calling.

A. Tarkovsky’s Stalker: A Study on the Process of Scenario Transforming the Strugatsky Brothers' Fantasy Novel to the Dostoevsky's Works
Park, Young Eun (Hanyang University, Korea), Literature Film Quarterly
Figure 3. Stalker who enters the ‘zone’ and feels true peace and freedom.

Tarkovsky also devotes himself to conveying the 'colors' and 'sounds' that separate 'the Zone' from ordinary space. In Stalker, monochrome dark brown dominates in terms of color from the first scene where Stalker's family appears to the pub where he meets Professor and Writer. However, the film suddenly turns into a vivid color tone as the three protagonists break through the military guard and infiltrate 'the Zone.' The difference between Soviet life and life outside of the Soviet Union is exposed through color, and a similar pattern is reproduced in the film’s sound as well.

In Soviet life, which appears in the first part of the film, there are many scenes where a train rumbling causes dull echoes and makes a cup on a table rattle. Further, the various sounds related to industrialization—train horns, creaking noises of doors, scratching noises of glasses, and whirring sounds of motor vehicles—surround the life of Homo Sovietcus, who adapt to the regime. However, 'the Zone,' where the three protagonists enter, is the first space in the film that conveys vivid colors and the calmness of nature. As the life of the novel Crime and Punishment is a space full of the dirtiness and turmoil of Petersburg in contrast to the area around the Siberian prison which is a static space, in Stalker, Tarkovsky highlights that 'the Zone' is a space where it is possible to hear the sound of nature in contrast to Soviet life, which was oriented toward mechanization.4 From this perspective, Tarkovsky conveys mystic music that combines Eastern and Western motifs in the space surrounding 'the Zone' where the characters in the film can communicate with the world and interact with themselves in an existential way (Кононенко 2011: 72).5

As Raskolnikov broke out of the barrier of superhuman logic of arming himself in a Siberian prison, the Stalker also only met his true self after entering 'the Zone;' i.e., this states the perspective that humans can perceive the true essence of the world when they break free from the hard shell surrounding them, which is a common philosophy of Dostoevsky and Tarkovsky that connects the two.

Tarkovsky gives Stalker the figuration of the converted Raskolnikov, as well as the figuration of Myshkin, the protagonist of the novel The Idiot. Like Raskolnikov, Duke Myshkin is an artistic self-portrait of Dostoevsky, and his story also represents a spiritual biography of the author. They have the following in common: a dark and depressed childhood, severe neurosis, and epileptic seizures; further, Myshkin is treated for four years in a Swiss sanatorium, while Dostoevsky was imprisoned in Omsk prison for four years; i.e., they share similar experiences of being cut off from the world.

Another characteristic of Myshkin is his stupidity based on his faults. In the novel, Myshkin is treated as an idiotic, weak, and imperfect being, and he is subject to contempt and neglect. Dostoevsky portrays him as a psycho, and he associates Myshkin with the image of idiots for Christ by calling him St. Fool (юродивый), a synonym for the holy idiot from the mouth of the character Rogozhin in the first part of the novel. Here, the most fundamental foundation of the motives and traces of holy idiots is 'self-emptying,' in theological terms, 'kenosis;' i.e., it is one of the paradoxical acts of faith wherein one ultimately seeks to reach self-completion through emptying themselves.

The fact that Tarkovsky projected an image of a 'holy idiot' on the figuration of Stalker is clear during the process of the scenario adaptation. According to Boris Strugatsky's remembrance, when the director still did not like it despite them having revised the scenario several times, the brothers almost desperately came up with the figuration of 'St. Fool-Stalker,’ with which Tarkovsky was satisfied. The concept of the film was completely changed hereafter; the scientific and illusionary foundations disappeared, and Stalker was given a new figuration on the screen. Tarkovsky said in an interview:

Stalker is a character who inherits the protagonists who reveals their weaknesses such as Don Quijote and Duke Myshkin. What Stalker needed is also the power to reveal his spirituality through his weak figure, that is, to remain in a ridiculous idiot-like state. This power is exactly the Stalker's faith (Сальвестрони 2007: 117-118).

In Russian Orthodoxy, the image of Christ is traditionally understood from the perspective of 'self-emptying;' therefore, the pain of a 'holy idiot' is equated with the Stations of the Cross of Jesus Christ. For this reason, Tarkovsky set up the following: the figuration of Stalker in Tarkovsky's film was able to guide others to the room where their wishes could come true, while Stalker himself was not able to enter the room; this was a departure from Stalker the protagonist in the Strugatsky brothers' original novel, who was able to make a wish for himself. Tarkovsky thoroughly attempted to match Stalker to 'the sacrificial lamb' and the Stalker's guiding role to Jesus' 'Christian calling.’ Further, to build a relevant image, the director made sure to show the fish, a traditional symbol of Christ, every time he emphasized Stalker's calling.6

Through this process, the film Stalker becomes another 'passion (страсти),' not a science fantasy film.7 The 'passion' is the Stations of the Cross of the human soul for passing through fear for life, temptations, and loneliness. Through the film, the director attempted to express that what he absolutely needs is a conviction in faith. In the film, the three protagonists barely arrive in front of The Room after crossing a difficult hurdle; the director then puts them through another test. In front of The Room, Stalker tells the story of the legendary Stalker Dikobras, who was his mentor. Dikobras had a wish to revive his brother who died through the fault of Dikobras, on his way to The Room, which he had admired for a long time. However, when he left The Room and came back home, he had become a very rich man. The Room granted his most secret wish of what he had wanted in reality. Dikobras hanged himself out of his shame after realizing this truth. This was not in the original novel Roadside Picnic; it appeared in the film Stalker after having been included in The Machine of Desire, the draft scenario of the Strugatsky brothers.

In the film, The Room materializes something that comes out of human unconsciousness, and it only grants primitive wishes hidden deep in the mind, not conscious wishes. Despite the fact that the Writer and Professor arrived right in front of The Room as they came over the edge of death, they could not easily set foot in The Room; this is because they were uncertain of their most covert and secret desires. The director recalls the three protagonists, who had to turn back in front of The Room where their true wishes would be granted, to the 'tavern’ in which they met for the first time.8

'The tavern' also appears as an important space in Dostoevsky's novel; Tarkovsky reuses the meaning of that space in the film. In Dostoevsky's novel, the tavern is where Marmeladov, the father of the female protagonist Sonya, in Crime and Punishment; Verzilov in The Raw Youth; and Ivan Karmazov in The Brothers Karamazov show the courage to expose their inner problems that have bothered them. In Stalker, a tavern is a place where three people who meet each other for the first time gather, as well as a space where their attitude toward life is revealed. Through this tavern scene, which appears twice in the film, their inner changes are clearly highlighted. In the first tavern scene, where the Professor and Writer meet for the first time, they only have superficial conversations. However, in the second tavern scene, after they went to 'the Zone' together, they all throw off their masks. They were able to expose themselves without hesitation because they had shared this experience, which was worth exchanging for their entire lives, although they only spent one day exploring the Zone.

However, as a consequence, the three protagonists who returned to their lives without fulfilling their wishes began to show despair. Stalker appears to be the least happy out of the three. Nevertheless, the director leaves Writer and Professor in the darkness of the tavern, and he only gives a ray of hope to 'Stalker.' This exists in the fact that Stalker's wife came into the tavern. The woman who stands in front of them suffers endlessly because of her husband's way of life and because of the pressures that come with raising a child with disabilities. However, she loves him devotedly as she did when she first met him, even after years of being covered with wounds. In this scene, although she knows that loving and following him, whom everyone points to, can bring about great sorrow, she launches into a monologue of love declaring that she has never regretted her choice.

Through the hagiography of the monologue of Stalker’s wife, a mundane story that would likely be a common love story which would appear neither in the novel nor in the scenario is thus transformed into a sublime story. As Sonya of Crime and Punishment went to Siberia along with the criminal Raskolnikov to support his rehabilitation, thereby conveying silent joy to Raskolnikov and other prisoners, Stalker's wife also quietly waits for her jailbird husband to infiltrate into the Zone, and she endures her rough life. Tarkovsky thus implies that Stalker's wife is the only one who can enter The Room without any fear (Волкова 2008: 178-179). However, there is no need for her to go deep into The Room because she already lives her myth of self through her own life.

In the final part of the film, Tarkovsky presents through various instances of mise-en-scène that the power of faith and love—which he wanted to show in Stalker—is ultimately only possible through 'self-emptying'. This is why the director deliberately shows an incredible pile of books in the room of Stalker, who appeared blind and ignorant. The director reveals that he was an intellectual like Writer and Professor while also being a man of faith, unlike the former two. The power of faith that Stalker and his wife had is powerfully transmitted through their daughter. Like the fate that all Stalker's children had to bear, his daughter has a disability, and she cannot walk alone. Although she is physically imperfect, she has the image of a sacred being that can be met throughout Dostoevsky's novels.

A. Tarkovsky’s Stalker: A Study on the Process of Scenario Transforming the Strugatsky Brothers' Fantasy Novel to the Dostoevsky's Works
Park, Young Eun (Hanyang University, Korea), Literature Film Quarterly
Figure 4. The scene where the stalker's daughter stares at the cups.

Tarkovsky further reveals the internal energy of Stalker's daughter with the last shot of the film, which shows that every time she stares at any of the three cups on the table, it moves. Here, the three cups are devices that can be compared to Writer, Professor, and Stalker. A cup filled with alcohol symbolizes Writer, who is overwhelmed by the meaninglessness of existence; a cup containing trash symbolizes Professor, who can only make junk despite wanting to change the world; and the last empty cup symbolizes Stalker, who lives a kenosis life by emptying his head and living with his heart, i.e., emptying himself. The director only presents the figuration of Stalker's daughter in color while presenting Soviet life in a dismal tone. This can also be seen to imply that Stalker’s daughter is a light for the world. Tarkovsky reproduced in the film that the pure faith and the conviction in divinity latent in human is the power to create such a miracle.  

V. Conclusion

Soviet cultural bureaucrats did not like Andrei Tarkovsky's oeuvres because he merely portrayed the unstable soul of the human world, rather than attempting to advance the goals of the regime by enlightening the people. Unlike visualizing science fiction novels or producing films full of the scientific-fantasy atmosphere preferred by the Soviet Union in film policy, in the process of producing Stalker, friction with 'Goskino' was inevitable because Tarkovsky combined the source material with Dostoevsky's novel, which he had wanted to produce a film from a long time ago and which questioned the fundamental ontology of humanity.

However, even though the director chose the science fiction novel Roadside Picnic as a compromise (Волкова 2004: 230-231), it seems certain that he noted the possibility to transform humanity expressed in the novel. Tarkovsky, who felt sensitively that human life was losing its original value under the Soviet regime, captured the material for realizing the hideout and the hope of the soul in Roadside Picnic (Гордон 2007: 260-261). In other words, he found psychological and existential clues in this novel that he could combine with the materials of Dostoevsky's novel, which he had always wanted to produce. In this context, the process by which the three protagonists infiltrating the Zone in the introductory part of the film can be interpreted as a journey that reflects their own inner selves. Here, the 'traps' in the area wherein all kinds of garbage and metal piles are piled up like a barrier are also extended to the mental and psychological wall inside humans, rather than physical walls (Шумаков 1989: 163-175).

In addition, Tarkovsky provided an image of the character in Dostoevsky's novel to the characteristic of the character in Stalker. Stalker as well as his wife and his daughter reveal their divine fullness through human defects, as did the holy Sonya and Myshkin, who lead people to complete reconciliation through their own weakness and therefore completely reveal god. Dostoevsky developed the figurations of Sonya and Myshkin as symbols of Russian Christ of self-emptiness and fullness, and Tarkovsky used them to inject images of Raskolnikov and Myshkin into the figuration of Stalker and Sonya into the figuration of Stalker’s wife. Of course, Stalker's spiritual attitude, like that of Myshkin, is superficially subject to be neglected from others. However, this property of 'self-emptying' becomes the principle of fullness in Dostoevsky's novel, which completely inherits the spirit of Russian Orthodoxy, and which plays out as a thesis of Tarkovsky's film. 

Tarkovsky sought to restore the tradition of Russian Orthodoxy in opposition to the policy of the Soviet regime to enlighten the people through film and spread a healthy and progressive spirit to them. The tradition of Russian culture, which lives in Dostoevsky's novel, was a valuable film material for him. It was nevertheless not surprising that Dostoevsky's worldview, which had foreseen that the Russian spiritual tradition could not be fundamentally integrated with materialism, was negatively evaluated under the Soviet regime. Above all, the 'mental crisis' shown by the protagonists of Dostoevsky's novel, who are said to be the master of spiritual realism, represented a self-portrait that the Soviet Union did not want to face. Tarkovsky defiantly brought to the fore that very spiritual crisis that Soviet bureaucrats were afraid of.

Through the film, Tarkovsky returned to the past, to the Russian culture before the revolution, and he turned to the exploration of the human mind, in opposition to Soviet policies of advancing vigorously to the forward, into the future, and into space. He was convinced that only the cord of spiritual traditions that do not break with the past could serve as a source of nourishment that could open up the true future of Russia (Тарковский 1989: 112). This article’s attempt to track the path of suffering of Tarkovsky, who resisted Soviet ideology, will be another significant material that sheds light on his view of art, which confronted the regime that turned film into a means of national advertising.


This work was supported by the research fund of Hanyang University (HY-2019).


1  In this article, Tarkovsky's diary will only be cited in terms of the year and date of the entry.

2  Olga Surkova recorded Tarkovsky's words about this in her diary on December 5, 1978. (Суркова, "Хроники Тарковского")

3  In his diary on April 30, 1970, Tarkovsky recorded: "For the moment I must read. Everything Dostoievsky wrote. Everything that's been written about him; and Russian philosophy—Solovyov, Leontiev, Berdyaev, etc. 'Dostoievsky' could become the whole point of what I want to do in cinema.” (Тарковский 2008: 13).

4  Critics sometimes rate this film as an existential and ecological text in that the contrast between civilization and nature stands out in Stalker (Федоров, 2007).

5  For Tarkovsky, 'music' is a catalyst for strengthening the influence of emotions, as well as a means of interconnecting culture and film art as a whole (Педиконе и Лаврин 2008: 271-275).

6  One of them is a fish image above the bomb thrown after the Professor gave up his plan to detonate the Room. The director also directed Stalker to recite a monologue about the story of Jesus leading his disciples to open their eyes; although they met the resurrected Jesus while passing through the village of Emmaus, they did not recognize Jesus (Luke 24:13-35). Even before and after this monologue, Tarkovsky presented fish images on the screen several times.

7  All of Tarkovsky's works can be seen as essentially a kind of 'passion'. The original title of his first work, Andrei Rublev, was Passion of Andrei (Страсти по Андрею). In his last work, The Sacrifice, Peter's aria—among Bach's <The St Matthew Passion>—frequently resonates for a similar reason (Шитова 2012: 199).

8  As can be seen in Stalker, Solaris, and Mirror, the beginning and the end of Tarkovsky's films have important meanings. At the end of the films, the protagonists complete a circle and return to the place where they left to find their separate ways (Сальвестрони 2007: 108).

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