One of Sci-Fi's All-time Greats is Streaming on Prime in April

One of Sci-Fi's All-time Greats is Streaming on Prime in April
Image credit: Mosfilm

It's a masterpiece that may have killed its director.


  • A trippy post-apocalyptic movie by Andrei Tarkovsky is considered one of cinema's all time greats.
  • It received mixed reviews on release but has since become a cornerstone of sci-fi.
  • Toxins on set likely caused the death of the director and two people close to him.

It's 1979, and Andrei Tarkovsky's Soviet-fantasy-sci-fi masterpiece has finally been released, after a difficult shoot and months of delays.

The movie is Stalker, based on the novel Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky. It takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where poverty is rampant and the effects of some unnamed disaster hover over the landscape. The film's dreamy, trippy visuals and an ending open to interpretation meant that it was initially met with skepticism and a variety of mixed reviews.

However, it wasn't long before Stalker was hailed as one of the greatest pieces of sci-fi ever created, a title that it still holds 45 years later.

What's it About?

In an unnamed and desolate land, 'Stalker' is the name given to smugglers and those to try to sneak through the forbidden and mysterious Zone. In the Zone, the laws of physics seem to be suspended and it takes tremendous skill and luck to navigate its dangers.

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In spite of his wife's fears, the Stalker takes on two clients – a writer and a scientist – who wish to enter the Zone. Their goal is to make it to the heart of the area, where a mysterious location called The Room will grant those who enter their deepest desire.

The trio must navigate warped time and space before arriving at the Room, where secrets are revealed and the cost of gaining your desires becomes clear.

But What's It Really About?

The nature of faith – hope – religion – desire – love – art – selfishness – family – these are all themes that Tarkovsky has woven into Stalker, which also clearly evokes the devastation of a post-nuclear world.

Although the narrative of the film is relatively straightforward, it's also an examination of the human experience that is open to interpretation and is impossible to pin down precisely. The film's dreamy pacing is sometimes soothing but sometimes anxiety-inducing, and just when you think you have a grip on what's going on the ground beneath your feet starts to shift.

This is all the more remarkable when you realize that Stalker essentially had to be shot twice – almost all of the original footage was ruined when it was developed improperly, and Tarkovsky had to start all over again with a new cinematographer.

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What The Critics Say

In spite of initially mixed reviews, the movie is now almost universally beloved. Critics have said:

'The film has a hypnotic pull, drawing the viewer deeper and deeper into its enigmatic adventure by crafting a world all its own.' – The LA Times

'It is masterfully done, contains some haunting images, and has a difficult-to-pinpoint mesmerism in the way it progresses. Once it gets you (which, for some, may never happen), it will hold you like a fly trapped in amber.' – ReelViews

'A vast prose-poem on celluloid whose forms and ideas were to be borrowed by moviemakers like Lynch and Spielberg.' – The Guardian

'Not an easy film, but almost certainly a great one.' – Chicago Reader

A Tragic End

Although Stalker was originally slated to be filmed in Tajikistan, an earthquake forced production to change gears. The majority of the movie ended up being filmed in Estonia, where an abandoned electrical station was used for the set. Unfortunately, there was also a chemical plant upstream that was sending poisonous liquids into the river.

Nobody was on set as long as Tarkovsky, his wife Larissa (who was his assistant director) and lead actor Anatoly Solonitsyn. Due to having to reshoot most of the movie, they were on location even longer than expected. All were exposed to the toxins in the river, and all three died of lung cancer.

Stalker is now available to stream on Prime.