TARKOVSKY'S WORLDS: Style, Spirituality and Sacrifice
Exploring Andrei Tarkovsky's poetic style and abstract themes, you can find the worlds and stories indelible to him as an artist.
Andrei Tarkovsky is likely most well-known for the often impenetrable meditative, transcendent, spiritual style he injects into every frame of his films. His poetic, visual sensibilities and often abstract themes create worlds and stories indelible to him as an artist – attempting to conjure and create an immersive experience new and intentional each time. Often drawing from his own experiences and existential observations, he saw his self and his films as one. What he filmed was his life, and his life quickly became what he filmed. The art isn’t separate from the man.
"I cannot draw a line between my films and my life.
The films are a part of my life… filmmaking isn’t a job for me – it’s my life."
Tarkovsky's works remain some of the most impressive and valuable works of cinema ever created; each film of his – each more so than the last – is a sensitive journey of self-discovery and identity, asking difficult questions about the deeper meaning of life, mind and soul in a very mature and meditative way, as he uses the medium of film to dive deeper into his own self and question the world and his own place in it. His worlds are filled with the complex; his characters morally grey, a mere attempt at expressing a sense of the reality he experienced every day.
He understood that stories and films aren’t real; instead using fantastically heightened worlds to metaphorically portray his inner thoughts and emotions in an identifiably visual way. From a reflection of his own traumatic coming-of-age in Ivan's Childhood to the looking forward to his own demise in The Sacrifice and everything in between, Tarkovsky used his work as an outlet to explore extremely personal subjects from his life and dissect his own identity. He dove directly into style and story simultaneously, seeing them as one and the same, neither more important than the other.
"The purpose of art is to help man improve himself spiritually.
To rise above himself by using his own free will."
The way that Stalker – Tarkovsky's thoughtfully reflective exploration into meaning, art and life – seems to stand in protest of other science-fiction films of the time. It's imagery and sound (and the often juxtaposition of these elements) somehow evokes the complex and indecipherable range of emotions felt in day-to-day life: the love and loneliness and depression and undeniable adrenaline; things almost impossible to explain in words or apply reason to, but he finds a way through the craft cinema and art to define them. Poring over microscopic details, finding and exploiting the heart and focus of every frame, extracting and isolating the value of each moment… isolating the sound of a dripping tap or the crackle of a fire, Tarkovsky was obsessed with creating this metaphorical, almost-cosmic reality, filling the frames with texture in both image and sound, making his audience feel what they were seeing was real and relevant.
He would tap into our emotional state, pumping the film’s veins with emotion and meaning so even while watching something so incredibly heightened, we knew at the core there was something very real and powerful; something bubbling just beneath the surface. That’s what allowed his audiences to sit there through every burning, unbroken take as we watched this sensitive man take our hand on his journey, following along with his musings as he searched to find the soul and purpose of his own life.
Illustrations by Harry Smith-Hampton