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The Films of Andrei Tarkovsky


I would like to discuss the films of Tarkovsky but don't know where to start.. What I can say however is that since discovering his films through this site my perception of film and even of the purpose and place of art has gradually changed. While JS Bach stated "the aim and final reason of all music should be none else than the Glory of God", maybe Tarkovsky has gone some way to making this true for film. I have to admit that on viewing many of his films for the first time many of the spiritual & philosophical meanings, even the obvious ones, passed me by not because I was unfamiliar with them but because I had never seen such insights in film. In particular Stalker has many lines that surprise me. Tarkovsky demonstrates that he himself must have had great insights into the workings of Creation.
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Re: The Films of Andrei Tarkovsky


Yes, Tarkovsky's films are amazing. And it is not easy to discuss them, because the feelings that they generate in us, when compressed into words, can end up sounding almost banal, whereas in the act of watching these films one is gripped by a profound sense of - well, " the Glory of God." You are right, of all the filmmakers he, perhaps, comes closest to J.S.Bach's definition of art (with the exception of a single film by Pasolini "The Gospel According to St. Matthew", in our view).

Take "Stalker", for instance - what a searingly searching film! The entire thing is propelled by Tarkovsky's desire to get closer to God, to try to understand how He sizes up a person, how He sees into his very being (which often remains a mystery to that person himself). Three men set out for the Zone, in which a mysterious Force is operating, deciding who gets through and who doesn't. In the Zone everything changes every minute, invisible dangers threaten from all sides, no one is allowed to stay still - can there be a better cinematic equivalent for life itself? Truly, Tarkovsky has intuited the never-ceasing operation of the machinery of Creation, of which man remains entirely ignorant (through his fault alone, we must add) as is reflected in the bewildered reactions of all three seekers in the Zone. Here is how Abd-ru-shin describes the unceasing movement of the machinery of Creation in "The Grail Message":

"The working of the self-acting laws in Creation, however, is like a conveyor belt which pulls the human spirit along without interruption. But all those who do not know how to keep their balance, however, will slip and thus stumble and fall.
     Keeping the balance in this case is equivalent to keeping the harmony in Creation undisturbed by observing the Primordial Laws of Creation. He who wavers and falls, he who cannot keep himself upright therein, will be dragged along, because the machinery does not halt for his sake even for a single second. This being dragged along, however, causes injury. And to be able to stand upright again demands increased exertion, and still more effort is needed to find the necessary balance again. It is not so easy in an environment where there is continual movement. If he does not succeed in doing so man will be flung completely out of his course right into the middle of the machinery and be crushed." (Abd-ru-shin, "The Recognition of God".)

Stalker is obviously the most sensitive and intuitive of the three men in the Zone/life/Creation, but he too is groping in the dark, equipped only with his "faith". His seeking to know, however, is genuine, that is why he is able to recognize certain overall principles (Laws) by which the Force operates inside the Zone. He arrives at these bits of knowledge through close observation of quite ordinary, everyday phenomena - so ordinary, in fact, that his companions even ridicule him at first. Yet Tarkovsky realized (sensed it with his very being) that God would reveal His Ways just as surely in the smallest things as in the greatest. And those of us, who concern ourselves with the study of His Laws, know that this is indeed the case. So Stalker is able to discern that this great Force in the Zone does not do anything arbitrarily ("capriciously", as he puts it), although it might appear this way to the uninitiated. In his incredible monologue (after he empties the writer's bottle) he relates how the Zone actually interacts with people and how the results (good or bad) depend on the people themselves, on their state of being, which the Zone assesses with infallible accuracy. (Those of us, who keep delving into the Grail Message, know that this happens through a natural process of radiation). Here again, Tarkovsky was able to observe and live life so profoundly that he experienced personally this continuous interaction with the Laws of God and noted how his own thinking and behavior was decisive for the outcome of his fate. It was out of his personal experience that Tarkovsky was able to state with great conviction:

"...nobody wants, or can bring himself, to look soberly into himself and accept that he is accountable for his own life and his own soul."

"The connection between man's behavior and his destiny has been destroyed; and this tragic breach is the cause of his sense of instability in the modern world... [man] has arrived at the false and deadly assumption that he has no part to play in shaping his own fate."

"I am convinced that any attempt to restore harmony in the world can only rest on the renewal of personal responsibility."

Some people consider these statements moralistic or pretentious, whereas they just reflect a simple reality of what it is like to be living inside the "Zone"/Creation and having to adjust to Its Laws in order to be able "to pass" safely. Every person will have to realize this sooner or later. That's why all personal complaining about one's fate is of no avail - and a waste of precious time allotted for the recognition of the Laws.

In short, Tarkovsky was able to perceive some of the workings of Creation through his own profound and accurate inner experiencing. This is one way of acquiring some of the Knowledge of Creation. But this will always remain incomplete without the Source of Knowledge brought down from the Summit of Creation and cloaked in human words. We personally feel that Tarkovsky would have no trouble finding the Grail Message in the beyond rather quickly, since a person like him doesn't stop seeking until he finds what his heart is longing for: the actual proof that his Creator is both Perfect Love and Perfect Justice.
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Return to earth


Solaris is about the culture of ratio, the intellect where science is the only way to search for truth. The film is about how humanity reacts if he is confronted with something that is scientificly impossible and how science (the intellect) wants to controle it: the civilization of the intellect that wants to controle and dominate the miracle of life. On the spaceship the scientists have scientific experiments to find ways to controle the cosmic ocean, to dominate life. Sartorius is the prototype of this modern scientist. He wears a white coat and is only interested in the search for scientific truth.

At the beginning there is also a big contrast between nature (our natural invironment with plants, trees, horses, dogs, children and water, rain) and the industrial city: the culture of ratio: our civilization with cars, highways and skyscrapers: the grey world where life is no more. Only when Burton’s son enters frame color returns.

In this culture a human being is a one-dimensional man who is in service of the general cause: a socially useful animal.

“The point is that we live in a society that has been structured by our ‘concerted’ efforts and not by the efforts of anyone in particular, in which the personality claims its rights of other people rather than of itself. Consequently the individual either becomes the instrument of other people’s ideas and ambitions, or else he himself becomes a boss who shapes and uses other people’s energies with no regard for the right of the individual. The idea that everyone is responsible for himself seems to have vanished, to have fallen victim to a misconcieved ‘common good’, in the service of which man acquires the right to be treated with a total lack of responsiblity……………. We live in a world governed by ideas which other people have evolved, and we either have to conform to the standards of these ideas or else alienate ourselves from them and contradict them – a position which becomes more and more hopeless.” (Andrei Tarkovsky)

The councel of space exploration uses Chris Kelvin the moment he is useful to the expedition. He gets a clear function: to make a psychological rapport of the conditions on the spaceship Solaris.
This councel doesn’t believe Burton when he explains what he has experienced: the intellectuals don’t believe in miracles. They redicule Burton by saying he was hallucinating. Burton has to defend what he has experienced. They even point to him that it is all his fault because Burton refuses to be reasonable.
After that Chris Kelvin and Burton have a conversation outside: Kelvin doesn’t believe Burton and redicules him: Chris here is the scientist who wants only the truth and wants to radiate the ocean to achieve his goal. “Think of Hiroshima” he says: Science and it’s progress is Holy and everything is allowed to obtain the truth or its goal: even destruction: scientific culture destroys what it can’t understand.
His father points out to Kelvin that he is to hard and that it is dangerous to send people like him out in space. His father is someone who loves old things: books,… even his house is a replica of an old house: his father stil has a strong connection with life and nature. It starts to rain when he says he doesn’t like modern things. The father wants to break his son’s rational blindness by Burton’s visit the day before his departure. He wants Chris to remember that he is a son of planet earth and that he should go to Solaris with an open mind and heart for the mystery of the ocean (water). He doesn’t want to send his son as a disciple of science.

His mother is not present: the warmth of his childhood is no more. His mother reappears when he thinks about his childhood. Later he will meet his mother again when he is sleeping on Solaris. His mother cares for him, washes the dirt of his arm. Sleep is also very important: a human being is sleeping a mayor part of his life: only scientific man or modern man sleeps very little because he is to busy with his search for truth. At the beginning his father says Chris has worked nights and nights: he didn’t sleep much. It’s this sleep that is of great importance when Chris is on Solaris. Scientist see sleep as a waste of precious time.

Before Chris goes to Solaris he burns all things that are important for him: he cuts himself from his past.
When his dead wife appears for the first time he wants to get rid of her: he sends her off into space: he burns himself: the burnmarks of his horrible act. Later he realizes what he has done. Then he accepts her.

His wife (love) gets Chris back in contact with life, his childhood, his past, the miracle of life,….
This is in great contradiction with Sartorius who just wants to controle it: he doesn’t acknowledge this gift. He doesn’t have any respect for Hari. She’s not human he states so she is less important. He sees her as an object for his scientific experiments. He wants to controle it, dominate it,…

When Chris shows his “childhood” film to Hari: we see Chris as a child, his mother, his father, the dog, snow (water) and Hari. Hari now realizes she isn’t human: she looks in the mirror.
Later she realizes in the library when she is alone that Chris belongs to planet earth: she looks at the paintings of Breugel and realizes this. Then Hari sacrifices herself for Chris so he can return to earth.

Chris is the intellectual scientific man who is confronted with something that is impossible: a miracle: his dead wife comes back to life again when he approaches the cosmic ocean. In essence this film is about how science realizes it was wrong and returns back to earth. Back to its origin: this is clearly stated in the end through the parable of the lost son who returns home to his father.

Shame will save the world.

“I am convinced that we now find ourselves on the point of destroying another civilisation entirely as a result of failing to take account of the spiritual side of the historical process. We don’t want to admit to ourselves that many of the misfortunes besetting humanity are the result of our having become unforgivably, culpably, hopelessly materialistic…….. It seems to me that art is called to express the absolute freedom of man’s spiritual potential. I think art was always man’s weapon against the material things which threatened to devour his spirit.” (Andrei Tarkovsky)


I know I have just discussed the tip of the iceberg here: there’s much much more I haven’t talked about. But personally I think it’s useless to explain the whole film in its detail. You have to discover it yourself. The only advice I can give you is to watch with your eyes: the key to understand everything lies in the images: what is shown.
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Re: The Films of Andrei Tarkovsky


Hi People,

I've been looking for somewhere to discuss something that's been disturbing me since seeing the Criterion edition of Andrei Rublev.

Amoungst the additional footage included in this edition there are scenes during the city-raizing sequence not included in other edits that I can't square at all with my impression of Tarkovsky. There is a shot of a penned bull on fire, and the bit where the stairs collapse under the horse is also extended so that the horse eventually appears to become impaled by a passing Tartar.

Surely Tarkovsky wouldn't inflict such cruelty and suffering just to make an artistic point? It doesn't ft at all with the impression that I've formed of him through his films and interviews.

Any ideas anyone?
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Re: The Films of Andrei Tarkovsky


Horses are a metaphor for the Russian people. In the beginning of Andrei Rubljev you can see a free horse rolling over the earth, later it is domesticated by the ideological dominating Tartars. Eventually the horse gets killed. All through Tarkovsky’s work you can find these images of horses that follow their own evolution. In Ivan’s Childhood a drawing is shown “The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse” by Albrecht Dürer. In Solyaris, in the beginning, you see a free horse running around in nature, later it is locked up in the garage next to the car: the horse (life) is replaced by the car (the child is afraid of the horse in the garage!), the third time the horse appears it is free again (it is worth to note that in Russia the third free horse in Solyaris was cut from the film!). In Nostalghia again there are free horses in Andrei’s memories of his homecountry. For Tarkovsky a horse is a metaphor for freedom, life, the pure, the untouched. It is only when man came along that the horse was domesticated: the ideological man that dominates this life, controls it and uses it in battles (our history is full of violent battles on horses: just open a history book). So yes, it’s an artistic choice: it’s a powerfull statement. But that’s not so exceptional. Remember for example the work by Picasso “Guernica” where you can see a screaming dying horse (and bull): it was Picasso’s reaction to the Spanish civil war.

Any other questions about Tarkovsky’s films I’ll be happy to answer (with the hope I can answer them of course).

Chris.
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Re: The Films of Andrei Tarkovsky


Thanks for the prompt reply!

I'm aware of the symbolism of the horse within Tarkovskys' work ... still the un-necessary cruelty and suffering aspect bothers me as it just doesn't seem in keeping with the character of the man.

For some reason I'm less bothered by the headless chickens and suffocating fish in Paradjanovs' films .... probably as I assume that these will all most likely have been eaten and would have been killed in this manner anyhow and probably raised in relatively free-range conditions. There is no artificial suffering imposed beyond the normal cycle of the society in which the event occurs.

With the bull and the horse in Rublev the suffering that is inflicted is both cruel and unusual. I still can't fit this to my understanding of Tarkovsky as someone who appears predominantly pre-occupied with what it means to be human and with the nature of that humanity ... to enflict unusual cruelty and suffering just in order to make an artistic point about how dreadful unusual cruelty and suffering are ... ?
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Re: The Films of Andrei Tarkovsky


You have brought up a very valid point. We used to have in our video library a program about Tarkovsky (all in Russian), which featured mostly reminiscences of his friends, but also had a very brief interview with him conducted on the set of "Andrei Rublev". Interestingly enough, the interviewer brought up this very point of unusual cruelty to animals. At that time no one outside of Russia has seen this extra footage, so we were actually confused by what the interviewer was referring to. We surmised, of course, that there must have been footage which was later cut from the film, but Tarkovsky's answer didn't really register with us, because we were busy trying to figure out what he was referring to. What we do remember about his answer is that he said that the animals were taken from the slaughter house, so that they would have been killed anyway and, as he put it, "We didn't invent any special tortures for them". As to the manner, in which they were treated on the set, to the best of our recollection, he said that they covered the bull with asbestos, so it didn't feel the flames. We cannot recall what (if anything) he said about the horse - and the tape itself, unfortunately, got lost in one of our moves.

We should remember that the Light permits the killing of animals for certain purposes (such as food, for instance). Keeping in mind that the soul of the animal is never destroyed along with the body, the Light, for example, compelled hundreds of birds to offer themselves to the Israelites, when they had nothing to eat after leaving Egypt. One thing that is never permitted, of course, is to inflict prolonged suffering on any animal. Severe karmic consequences await all those, who do that. Hopefully, Tarkovsky didn't burden himself with this and that it only appears that the animals are suffering.

All in all, it might have been very fortunate that these segments were cut from the film in the standard version, which Tarkovsky said he was perfectly happy with. And it is only with the fall of the Soviet Empire that this version with extra footage was discovered and, of course, everybody wanted to see it. However, it should be remembered that Tarkovsky never sanctioned this extended version.

As for any discussion of symbolism in Tarkovsky's films, one should tread very softly here. While it is true that his cinema uses poetic metaphors (and Paradjanov said that he himself learned how to use cinematic metaphors by watching Tarkovsky's films), this does not mean that one can unceremoniously pick apart every one of his films by pinpointing the specific meaning behind each image. Tarkovsky himself was infuriated, whenever this was attempted during his lifetime. He almost certainly would have balked at such a coarse and heavy-handed statement as "horses are a metaphor for the Russian people". It would be better to simply give him credit for discovering the horse as the most eloquent image for nobility, purity, freedom. In our discussions of great cinematic works we would all do well to remember what Bresson said: "I have often been surprised not to recognize myself in the comments of the people, who like my films."

Last edited by questers, 5/30/2004, 8:44 am
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Re: The Films of Andrei Tarkovsky


Thank you questers!

That certainly goes a long way to making me feel better about the whole issue. I don't suppose that I would have found out about the interview you refer to anywhere else either.

I agree that one has to take great care when discussing the imagery of Tarkovsky, perhaps not least of all because his films are so open to personal interpretation.

I've always felt that one of the ways in which his films work so effectively is that, in complete contrast to commercial cinema with its' narative trajectory of cause-and-effect presenting seemingly 'inevitable' truths (whilst merely promoting a specifically targetted hegemony), Tarkovsky creates spaces within his work for the viewer to respond both emotionally and intellectually according to their own nature and experience and not to some prescribed, preconceived 'truth'. This would go some way to explaining why his films become such an individual and personal experience to everyone who sees them.

I am aware that Tarkovsky would shoot scenes that he had no intention of including in the finished work, merely to distract the censors from more important scenes that he wished to keep ... but that wouldn't really answer the point about potentially needless suffering ... if anything it would perhaps be worse.

Certainly Rublev loses none of it's impact without these scenes and they do not appear integral to the film, although I am also aware that again, unlike commercial cinema, many of the scenes in Tarkovskys' films serve no function in forwarding the narative of the story, but the story narative in the cinema of Tarkovsky (and many of the other directors upon whose work this site focuses) exists merely as a framework of opportunity upon which to hang and structure the metaphysical discourse. I guess that this would be why the films of these directors appear to speak directly to the spirit rather than to the ego.

Thanks again for you help with this, and for your excellent site! Again, I doubt that I could have found anywhere else to discuss this.
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Re: The Films of Andrei Tarkovsky


The “Guernica” by Pablo Picasso was a reaction to the Spanish civil war where Hitler’s pilots bombed the little town called “Guernica”. The goal of this actions was to discourage the young democratic government by killing innocent civillians. And Tarkovsky was clearly influenced by Picasso’s “Guernica” (I got this in black on white in a book about Tarkovsky). So certainly in “Andrei Rubljev” and “Solyaris” the horse has a lot (but not everything) to do with the Russian people. It think it is rather explicit when the horse falls from the stairs on the ground and Tarkovsky immediatly cuts to the people who are taking shelter in the church (with a sad choir) from the cruelty that is happening by the Tartars. That’s why some images in these films were cut (or censored) by the Russian government. Certainly the third free horse in “Solyaris” got many Russian authorities angry!

Now, I know Tarkovsky didn’t like when people searched for metaphors in his films, but on a regular basis Tarkovsky (as you probably know) also cites from existing paintings (“Dürer” in “Ivan’s Childhood”, “Dürer” and “Picasso” in “Andrei Rubljev”, “Breughel” in “Solyaris”, “da Vinci” in “Mirror” and “Offret” and “Caspar David Friedrich” in “Nostalghia”) and in this case it is no different.

Chris.

As for inflicting cruelty as an artistic point, I think in some cases it’s sometimes necessary to show the real horrors of cruelty itself. You can’t make a war movie without showing the “real” horror of war. You can’t camouflage it or soften it up. It’s better to show the real cruelty when your film deals with cruelty: that’s the most effective way. I don’t think it is that bad to really kill one horse or one bull for an artistic film (certainly Tarkovsky took precautions to make sure the suffering of the animals was more or less acceptable). I once shot a documentary in a slaughterhouse and I have to say that the cruelty there was nothing compared to what Tarkovsky has shown or done. And this cruelty in slaughterhouses happen on a regular basis and one after the other in the most horrible way. So I do think Tarkovsky’s cruelty wasn’t really extreme (in the way for example “The Passion” was) when you compare it with the horrors that are constantly happening in our world in every possible form. So in my opinion what Tarkovsky did is acceptable. But that’s only my personal opinion.
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Re: The Films of Andrei Tarkovsky


Hmmm .... just watched the relevant scene back.

While the emollated bull is only in shot for a few short seconds and was probably cleanly killed imediately thereafter ...asbestos or no it is clearly in some distress.

The horse obviously is already competely lame and is litteraly shoved off from the wall onto the collapsing platform and then killed shortly after with a lance to the heart.

I still find it disturbing .... probably it is not a bad thing to feel this way and very probably the imagery is intended to be disturbing.

I can't help but be minded of Bill Hicks' notion of using the terminally ill as stunt people to heighten the realism of the violence in movies.

The issue for me isn't cruelty to animals in particular (often higly emotive and reactionary), it's cruelty per se. I just don't feel like it can be justified for artistic reasons, for entertainment ... well ... at all.

I guess I may not be able to reconcile the issues here and how I feel about it, but thanks to questers I think I have a better understanding of how Tarkovsky felt about these scenes and what he felt was acceptable in his treatment of the animals concerned.

Clearly he did what he felt was reasonable in his attempts to limit the needless suffering, taking animals from slaughter houses and ensuring that their agonies were not prolonged beyond what he required of them. I think I'd draw my line a little differently on this issue though but it's gong to be easier to agree to disagree with Tarkovsky on this point with the insight provided by questers.
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