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28 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Geoff Dyer's journey through Tarkovsky's zone is a touching and irreverent tribute to a remarkable but difficult film, January 3, 2012
This review is from: Zona: A Book About a Film About a Journey to a Room (Hardcover)
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In Andrei Tarkovsky's Stalker, an outlaw and holy fool leads a Writer and a Professor through the perilous Zone, where they hope to be granted their deepest wish. In the end, though, both discover they may not want to know what it is they most want, and the Stalker despairs for the future of his navigating art. The film itself, however, continues to fascinate and a large part of Dyer's project in this work is to explore the power this film has exerted over him. In the process he develops a quite compelling interpretation of the film and its broader implications regarding life and art and hope, that can at the same time feel somewhat like a highbrow version of Mystery Science Theater, whose critics obviously love what they're laughing at (or with). I know I couldn't put it down - Dyer writes well and is easy to read, and manages to make even difficult insights feel straightforward and fresh. Even more, it brought the film back to life for me, and made me think things about it I hadn't considered any of the several times I've seen it.

I'm not sure there are any books out there this can quite be compared to. Dyer may have invented a new genre, and one that on the basis of this book at least can be said to have a lot of promise. It's not quite criticism or scholarship - even if it's clear that Dyer's done his homework and read pretty much everything there is to read about Tarkovsky's work, and seen or heard about pretty much every major cultural reference to Stalker that has appeared. It's more like a personal essay, a work of personal non-fiction, that talks us through in ample detail the moments of the film, as a way of talking about a great deal more than just a film, some of it highly personal, but a great deal of it showing its implications for thinking about important themes, relating to the creation of art, the difficulty of writing, the search for meaning, and the elusive and unsettling nature of our deepest desires which are unsettling precisely because they may turn out to be quite shallow and superficial. It reads like a conversation with an old friend, or a stranger whose common affection creates an immediate bond, about a place I remember fondly.

Dyer strikes a fine balance between taking the film seriously, a film that he considers (like me) to be one of the greatest works of cinema, and avoiding the trap that some devotees fall into of treating it (and other works by the late Tarkovsky) as sacred and beyond all criticism. While Dyer takes on the role of a travel guide through this remarkable film, talking us through its twists and turns, pausing here and there at various landmarks to provide context or to relate anecdotes, his persona throughout is less like that of the Stalker, the true believer, and more like that of the Writer, who with some reluctance in the end is forced to admit belief in the power of the Zone. He exhibits the dark wit of the Writer, while retaining some of the capacity for wonder of the Stalker. In some ways the book reads as if it were the book that the cynical, world-weary and sarcastic writer was compelled to write, upon leaving the Zone, if in spite of himself and his unwillingness to enter its mysterious Room, he nevertheless was gifted with the discovery that overcame his writer's block and his journey of discovery gave him something else to write about than (what he, at least, considered to be) the entertaining drivel he was selling. Unlike the Stalker, Dyer doesn't preach. He relates, he explores, he laughs at himself, he's cynical but in a way that is not incompatible with the hope that is the heart of the Zone.

I've read several books about film, including a number by and about Tarkovsky. Some may have even been more illuminating and insightful than this one. Most developed their arguments with more overt attention to the demands of precision and rigor. None, however, were nearly as entertaining as this one. None had the power of this book to take me back to a film I love and bring it to life, to make me want to take the journey of the film once again. Highly recommended for anybody who's seen Stalker, and even those who haven't. It really could be read as if it were a kind of fictional walkthrough of a non-existent film, that then you'd be happy to discover really exists. For those who have seen it, even if you didn't like it this will make you want to see it again and give it another chance. Those who haven't are sure to be enticed to give the film a try. I hope at least to have enticed a few to give this book a try.
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