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Mysticism Through Cinematography: Movies by Soviet film director Andrei Tarkovsky

I can assuredly state that movies by Soviet film director Andrei Tarkovsky (1932 – 1986) have the power to change you. That’s because this man could simultaneously shock and entertain his audiences, as well as lay the ground for their reflection in his wonderful films. Given his thorough exploration of universal themes such as love, hatred, war and peace, or even consciousness, his movies always act as reminders of people’s common and yet profound humanity, which is why I believe he’s one of the most important film directors of the past century.

Photo of Andrei Tarkovsky
Photo of Andrei Tarkovsky

His main strength as a film director, I think, is his clever ability to put distance between the artwork and its viewer. For example, even though the themes addressed in his films are common, they are always interwoven with strong Russian mysticism – mysticism that places his stories almost out of reach for the viewer. And, it is this very distance that enhances the viewer’s capacity for reflection. In other words, when watching his work, people can’t be sure if their understanding of the work is what he intended it to be.

Rather than delivering monolithic and incontestable truths, Tarkovsky preferred to tackle universal themes with the utmost subjectivity and sincerity. His work posed problems rather than provided solutions (Solaris, 1972). His viewers via his fascinating use of cinematography shared the ongoing agitation of his characters. Similarly, the preponderant notion of the “quest” his characters faced, as exemplified by Stalker (1979), brought up existential questions: Do people really want to believe in an existing truth? Aren’t they, in a way, forced to do so in order to live their lives?

In his films, time doesn’t count, but temporality does. If a narrative frame exists, which is not always the case (The Mirror, 1975), it is entirely projected toward a single point. Fans know the outcome of the scenario is just a pretext for its depiction; so, instead of looking for answers in the story, they do so in the way it is told (Ivan’s Childhood, 1962). This gives his cinematography a unique place in the history of cinema, because he successfully reached a fragile balance between uniqueness and universality - his films are perceptive images, and our understanding is perceptive sensation.

Rarely has a film director been so precise in his mysticism. Tarkovsky’s death, in 1986 (he was 54), didn’t allow him to make more than the seven feature-length films he left behind, but they alone provide enough content for his fans to decipher for a long while.

*Note Originally published in 2018.

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