“A book read by a thousand different people is a thousand different books” – Andrei Tarkovsky
Notes from the Zone: Stalker
The day I first heard anything about the Zone I was on a forest walk not too far from it. It was a particularly windy day which was moving the branches of all the trees in a way which I clearly remember thinking was very reminiscent of Mirror (1975) by Andrei Tarkovsky. Often a repeated and mysterious motif such as this from a film or other artwork can stick in our minds and become associated with the real thing when we experience it. I did come to see this as another strange piece of foreknowledge of this project as Tarkovsky also directed a film called Stalker (1979) which concerned a Zone with many similarities to the one I am now concerned with.
While Mirror had been a more biographic piece for him, this next film was loosely based on a science fiction novel by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky (Roadside Picnic 1972) and concerned a Zone where strange and supernatural things occur. While in the film it is never fully explained what has caused this outside of an ‘event’, in the book it is made clear that an alien visitation has occurred at six zones in total around the world. There is what appears to be a factory location in the film (it was shot in a disused and decaying Estonian power plant) which today interestingly has itself become a place of pilgrimage for fans of the film. Considering that Tarkovsky himself and other members of the cast and crew have since died from cancers that some attribute to their having been at this location, these fans must feel quite compelled to risk a visit. Perhaps some of them have come to believe in its fictional reality?
The three main protagonists are on a quest to a room in this building where a persons deepest desire is said to come true. Incidentally, long previous to this there was also a room with this capability in the novel The Third Policeman (1967) by Flann O’Brien, which he is thought to have written in 1939 and later this device was used again in the television series Lost (2001). While I have heard no mention of a particular room in the factory or elsewhere, the Zone itself is said to be capable of granting this same wish once you are anywhere inside it. Quite how is another question entirely but finding out how this might work is said to be the ultimate purpose of many people who venture inside.
I have not come across any talk of contemporary stalkers or guides of the Zone (as you find in the film) but for what it’s worth I did find out that there is a mythological story of Maeve, Queen of Connaught in the west of Ireland, being brought by a mysterious stranger to visit a druid in a place that sounds very much like the Zone. Here she received council and it is claimed was granted her desire to succeed in her war with Ulster. Another coincidence between both Zones is that the characters in the film enter it on a railway line and there is also the remains of railway tracks here (see Railway page).
As a side point I find it interestingly that Stalker itself appears to predict the accident in Reactor No. 4 (mentioned by name at one point in the film) at Chernobyl in 1986 and the creation of its own very real exclusion Zone.
While the border of the Zone in the film is protected by armed guards and fencing nothing much tangibly supernatural actually happens inside of it. While it is certain that an event of some magnitude and mystery has happened there in the past, it is left ambiguous as to whether the Zone is still active or only now exists in the imagination and stories of the Stalker guide and other believers like him. His daughter however does show extra-sensory abilities at the end of the film when she uses telekinesis to move glasses around a table. For me this is the key moment when your heart opens to the possibility of the unknown which has been long hinted at in the film but not delivered until now. In one interpretation of this scene the long sought for room suddenly becomes an everywhere while still remaining as difficult to understand or master as before but at least now falling outside of the guarded Zone itself.
For many workers of the factory and more casual visitors also it too must seem like a place where nothing out of the ordinary happens and outside of the increased synchronicity and glimpses of the future my visit appeared to generate nothing truly super-natural happened there for me either. It could all be in the imaginations of those who have heard about it too but this betrays that a yearning for such a possibility exists. In the film each character undergoes a personal revelation, which could be seen to indicate the Zone is active and causing each of their deepest and most hidden (even to themselves) desire to be discovered, that of finding themselves and their true natures. Perhaps the Zone I am investigating operates in a similar way, reflecting back to each person whatever it is they need in unique ways. If someone happens to need to see the super-natural to believe in it they will, if not they won’t.
If such a place could be real then I think we have undoubtedly forgotten how to commune with it and become blind to its wonders. The first step to reactivating it and unleashing its powers might be to start believing in the possibility of the unknown again.