Stalker was the final film Andrei Tarkovsky made in the Soviet Union, and is a hypnotic, beguiling experience that refuses to surrender to any one interpretation. That hasn’t stopped critics and fans attempting to apply their own readings of course; is it a religious allegory, a commentary on life in the Soviet Union, an essay on filmmaking or is it about three miserable Russian blokes having a bit of an aimless wander? It could be all of the above, or none – it’s up to each viewer to decide for themselves.
The film is a loose adaptation of Russian sci-fi novel Roadside Picnic by Boris and Arkady Strugatsky, and while on the surface they share similar characters and themes, they play out very differently. Even more interesting is how Roadside Picnic kicked off an unofficial franchise of sorts, being adapted into just about every medium imaginable. The core concept of the book has proven remarkably flexible in ways other stories may not; About Schmidt might make for a touching low-key drama, but it’s hard to see anyone making a pulse pounding video game or experimental soundtrack from it.
So let’s get in The Zone, and explore the many different versions of Roadside Picnic.
Published in 1971, Roadside Picnic is set in the aftermath of The Visitation, an event where aliens landed at different spots around the world. These unseen travellers made no contact with mankind and left each site strewn with bizarre, sometimes hazardous artefacts. The world quickly learned these zones are incredibly dangerous, where the laws of physics break down and otherworldly traps are everywhere. Governments across the globe seal these zones off, but since the artefacts are of high value, a culture of thieves – dubbed ‘Stalkers’ – sneak in to acquire and sell them on the black market.
Roadside Picnic takes place over an eight year period, following the fortunes of Red Schuhart, one of the most experienced (aka lucky) Stalkers….