Andrei Tarkovsky : A Poet of Cinema
Noel Jacob Sony
A filmmaker who moulded time to create films, Andrei Tarkovsky is one of the greatest poets of cinema. He created a cinematic language through which one could experience personal yet universal truths of life. Though he has only made seven feature films in his lifetime, each one of them is considered a critical masterpiece of cinema. His films are characterised by their slow pacing, long takes, and visceral, immersive, almost hypnotic imagery. This leaves the viewer in a state of meditative trance, considering the inclusion of heavy philosophical themes. To him, cinema was a spiritual art form meant to guide people in their search for eternal truth. Cinema is a mosaic of time. No other art form can capture the experience of time the way film does. Tarkovsky grew up in an artistic household, where he was greatly influenced by his father's poetry (which had gained the attention of some of the most prominent Russian poets of the time). This influence along with his history as a photographer led him to search for a cinematic equivalent for poetry. Hence, his films are often laden with visual motifs and metaphors that reflect the emotional atmosphere of the scene. Tarkovsky despised arcane symbolism as it provided definite meaning privy only to few - but with metaphors, he could craft images of indefinite meaning that allowed for varied subjective interpretation. His films are not guided by a traditional sense of narrative but by an intuitive sense of emotion, imagery, dreams, and memories. Tarkovsky’s films are slow-paced in a way that forces the viewer to take the time to reflect on each sequence, thereby transcending beyond the frame. His camera movements were simple but always included very long takes. He would often prepare with his cinematographer for two days before filming for every long take shot. His philosophy was that - holding a shot for long enough builds a certain tension with time and allowed the viewer to completely immerse themselves in the film, rather than to be pulled out of the film by a steady use of cuts.
Often when one thinks of realistically capturing an event, what is often forgotten is the psychological aspect of it. By merely recreating the physical aspects of an event, can one truly depict it in its truest form? This is where the dream-like surreal sequences of Tarkovsky come in. By creating striking surreal imagery, one can instil a certain emotion or feeling in the viewer, irrespective of its physical importance. If a certain image or personal experience could move the filmmaker deeply, then by cinematically recreating its essence, it should be able to move the viewer in the very same way. His films, therefore, contain scenes drawn from deeply personal experiences and memories. His first film, Ivan’s Childhood reflects his childhood memories of living through the war. While his fourth film Mirror is known for being almost autobiographical. His sixth film Nostalghia follows a writer in Italy, who constantly feels a sense of loneliness and nostalgia for his family and home back in Russia, but is unable to return. This reflects Tarkovsky’s own life at the time when Soviet authorities strongly objected to the use of spiritual and religious themes in his films, and he was forced to move out of Russia to continue making movies. A recurring theme in Tarkovsky’s films is the natural elements. Whenever a character goes through an emotional experience they are always in contact with the elements - either the soothing flow of water, the crackling of fire, the steady blowing of wind, or the muddy texture of the earth. This heightens the emotional resonance of the viewer towards the scene, by juxtaposing natural elements with an emotional state. Tarkovsky was known to be very particular with sound, focussing only on the few sounds that were most important to the character at the time. Tarkovsky died of lung cancer in 1986 after he finished his last film, The Sacrifice. It is believed that he had been poisoned by radiation while shooting in the abandoned radioactive ruins for his sci-fi film Stalker, as many of his colleagues who had been part of the film had died in a very similar way. Others claim that he had been poisoned by RBG agents for what they thought of as anti-Soviet propaganda. Tarkovsky was once asked why people watched movies. He replied that people watched films for "time spent, lost, or yet to be experienced". The purpose of art was not to put a point across but to prepare a man for his death. Andrei Tarkovsky is among the world’s greatest and most influential filmmakers of all time and fundamentally redefined our idea of what cinema can be and what it can achieve, while also paving the way for new possibilities for this art form. Andrei Tarkovsky’s Filmography: Ivan’s Childhood Andrei Rublev Solaris Mirror Stalker Nostalghia The Sacrifice