Monday, April 1, 2013

Zerkalo (Andrei Tarkovsky)


Coming into Andrei Tarkovsky's "Zerkalo" with only "Stalker" in my 'already watched' list, I was caught by its stream-of-consciousness style with my tattered pants down. Well, I should have known, it is a Tarkovsky film after all. Indeed, "Zerkalo" is the kind of film that won't comfort you with its immediate meanings. Instead, what it will do is befuddle you with its visuals, floor you with its powerful, wisdom-infused poetry and, ultimately, help you reach your own personal epiphany. 
Although it is commonly viewed as one of Tarkovsky's most inaccessible films, I think I must beg to differ. Sure, it is a non-chronological, dream-like film, but it's not that hard to absorb. Sure, to comprehend it fully and come up with your own meaning, shot-per-shot, truly is a heavily analytical chore, but its essence, that of the lucid story of a man named Aleksei (a cinematic avatar of Andrei Tarkovsky himself) and his last-minute retreat to his fragmented memories, is not that hard to digest. In fact, with it being a most personal film by Tarkovsky, who are we to intervene with what he really means? Perhaps, "Zerkalo" has but a single, unifying definition, and perhaps it is only Tarkovsky who knows it deep inside, but the film, in all its lush visual glory, is very easy to associate with one's own experiences and with one's own life; if you had ever reflected upon your own existence, that is. 
In all fairness, "Zerkalo" can easily be accused of pretense, and maybe it is fair to say that it truly defies or even negates comprehension, and that, on a more esoteric note, we must first read about Russian history to really be at ease with the film. But, really, do you need textbook lessons when what's unraveling in front of you instantly connects on a personal level? I think not. Watch the film solely to decipher its meaning, and you may utterly be frustrated. But watch the film to purely reflect on its life-affirming visual poetry, and you will be rewarded a hundredfold.
After watching the film, there was a subtle lump in my throat, and my eyes seem to be on the verge of something. But was it tears? I do not know, and neither the sensation that I've felt at that very moment. Indeed, "Zerkalo" is unlike any film I've ever watched or experienced; it's also a film that can easily disprove certain things you thought you know about life. 
For starters, it's a film that's more than worthy of fervent celebration, and that Tarkovsky is worthy of praise not just as a filmmaker but also as a plaintive man who was able to look between the lines and present what may be the most honest reflection on war, the transience of time, and the briefness of life ever filmed, that of which can only be rivaled by Dalton Trumbo's earlier film "Johnny Got His Gun". Indeed, I was touched and I was affected, and the next thing I know, I was watching the film the second time in one night, and after wrapping up my second viewing, I was once again blown away, and I was also able to come up with my own sad interpretation of the whole film: That more than it is a film about a dying man's cerebral swan song, it is also about him coming to terms with a painful truth that has haunted him all his life: that he was, for a lack of a better term, an 'unwanted' child. 
The key scene to support my idea is the moment when Aleksei's mother (Margarita Terekhova) queasily walks away after seeing a sleeping little boy and then subsequently hearing the fact that the said boy's father and mother wants a little girl after all ("He put us up to a lot of trouble, little rascal," said the mother). In my view, she has walked away not just because she can't take in such an honest truth but also because she identifies herself with the same parental sentiment. Pay attention then at the final, heart-breaking scene (presumably a distant flashback) where she was asked by her husband if whether she likes a boy or a girl for a child. Unsure, anxious and on the verge of tears, she merely answered with an apprehensive smile. And then, we see her next as an old lady, walking through some dingy shrubberies with two children in tow, a boy (presumably Aleksei) and a girl. We see her walk hand-in-hand with the little girl, but we also see how obviously indifferent she is towards the boy, who merely trails behind. And as the camera pans slowly to the left (while zooming out) to show the path being tread by the old lady and the two children, we then see a mysterious man standing in the distance, staring intently at the three of them. 
Who is he supposed to be? In my perspective, it's the adult Aleksei, who can finally look at this particular scene of 'truth' (that his mother, after all, is apathetic towards his existence) without much hurt or hesitation anymore. The film, ultimately, is about a sort of emotional pain that can only be healed by confronting one's own memories, and by doing so, Aleksei has emotionally liberated himself. After all, the mirror that the film is pertaining to is in fact our most distant dreams and memories: two artifacts of the soul that we can stand in front of and look closely to so that we can examine what's wrong with ourselves, and the lives we have lived.   
"My purpose is to make films that will help people to live, even if they sometimes cause unhappiness," says Tarkovsky, who, in this film, has helped not just his audience but also himself. "Zerkalo" is heavy cinema, but just like any Tarkovsky films, the perceived heaviness of his films is most certainly followed by an unexpected episode of euphoria. I know, because I've felt it.

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