Andrei Tarkovsky (1932-1986) is widely regarded as one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. Through his unique style of poetic cinema, Tarkovsky explored complex philosophical and spiritual themes in a strikingly beautiful and meditative way.
Early Life and Influences
Tarkovsky was born in 1932 in the village of Zavrazhye in the former Soviet Union. From a young age, he was drawn to the arts and literature. Some key influences on his later filmmaking style include:
Artistic and Literary Influences
- 19th century Russian literature, especially the works of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky
- Poetry and symbolist writings
- Classical music and opera
- Iconography and religious art
- French poetic realism of the 1930s
- Italian neorealism of the 1940s and 1950s
- Ingmar Bergman
- Akira Kurosawa
- Sergei Eisenstein
Distinct Visual Style
Tarkovsky developed a radically unique cinematic style that stood out from anything else being made. Some of the key elements of his visual approach include:
- Often extremely long, uninter shots
- Allow scenes to unfold naturally in real time
- Create a hypnotic, mesmerizing effect
Camera Movement and Framing
- Smooth, graceful tracking shots
- Unusual angles and perspectives
- Captivating depth of field
- Striking tableaus
- Prominent use of the natural elements
- Fire, water, earth, air
- Evocative of the metaphysical
Tarkovsky’s films explore high-minded philosophical ideas and are richly layered with symbolism and meaning. Some of his most prominent themes include:
- The nature of faith
- Existence of God
- Role of religion and ritual
- Questions on morality
Time, Memory and Dreams
- Subjective experience of time
- Distortions of memory
- The human subconscious
- The blurring of dreams and reality
Art and the Artist
- The creative process
- The role and purpose of art
- Responsibility and sacrifice of the artist
Masterworks and Legacy
Over the course of his career, Tarkovsky made only seven feature films. But these masterworks have had an immense impact and his influence can be felt across contemporary cinema.
- Ivan’s Childhood (1962)
- Andrei Rublev (1966)
- Solaris (1972)
- Mirror (1975)
- Stalker (1979)
- Nostalghia (1983)
- The Sacrifice (1986)
Lasting Impact Paved way for “arthouse cinema”
- Inspired countless filmmakers
- Regarded as one of the finest auteurs
- Continues to be studied and discussed today
Tarkovsky died in 1986 at just 54 years old, cutting short one of the most brilliant filmmaking careers that ever was. But in his short time, he made every frame count and took cinematic art to an entirely new plane. His poetic films will be watched, studied and loved for as long as cinema exists.
Andrei Tarkovsky stands alone as the preeminent poet of the cinema. Through his stunning command of the medium’s capabilities and his deep philosophical themes conveyed through rich symbolism, Tarkovsky created an utterly unique and enveloping experience for the viewer. His films take us out of ordinary time and space and immerse us in Tarkovsky’s mystical world of beauty, dreams and wonders. Even today over 30 years after his death, Tarkovsky’s works continue to enthrall audiences and inspire fellow artists around the globe – a testament to his timeless genius.
Andrei Tarkovsky’s Filmography
Ivan’s Childhood (1962)
- Genre: War/Drama
- Plot: Set during World War II, “Ivan’s Childhood” follows the story of 12-year-old Ivan, who acts as a scout for the Soviet army. Haunted by the death of his family, he seeks revenge against the Nazis. His commanding officer, however, wants to protect Ivan from further trauma and sends him on a mission behind enemy lines.
- Reception: The film received critical acclaim for its powerful storytelling and cinematography, winning the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival in 1962.
Andrei Rublev (1966)
- Genre: Historical/Drama
- Plot: This film is a biographical drama about the life of Andrei Rublev, a 15th-century Russian icon painter. The movie explores his artistic struggles, spiritual conflicts, and the tumultuous historical backdrop of medieval Russia.
- Reception: “Andrei Rublev” was initially suppressed by Soviet authorities due to its challenging themes, but it gained recognition internationally after its release. It is now considered a masterpiece of world cinema.
- Genre: Science Fiction/Drama
- Plot: Based on the novel by Stanisław Lem, “Solaris” tells the story of psychologist Kris Kelvin, who travels to a space station orbiting the mysterious planet Solaris. Once there, he encounters strange phenomena that seem to be manifestations of the crew members’ innermost thoughts and memories.
- Reception: The film received positive reviews for its thought-provoking exploration of human consciousness and emotions. It won the Grand Prix Special du Jury at the Cannes Film Festival in 1972.
- Genre: Drama/Fantasy
- Plot: “Mirror” is a non-linear autobiographical film that weaves together various moments from the director’s life, including childhood memories, dreams, and historical events. The narrative unfolds through a series of visually stunning and emotionally evocative vignettes.
- Reception: Despite initial censorship in the Soviet Union, “Mirror” has since been hailed as a cinematic masterpiece, praised for its poetic and enigmatic storytelling.
- Genre: Science Fiction/Drama
- Plot: In a dystopian future, a guide known as Stalker leads two clients to a mysterious area called the Zone, where the normal laws of reality don’t apply. They search for a room within the Zone that is said to grant a person’s innermost desires.
- Reception: “Stalker” was widely acclaimed for its philosophical depth and disturbing atmosphere. It had influence in the science fiction genre and is considered one of Tarkovsky’s most significant works.
- Genre: Drama
- Plot: “Nostalghia” follows the story of a Russian poet named Andrei Gorchakov who travels to Italy to research the life of an 18th-century composer. As he becomes increasingly isolated and introspective, he forms a deep connection with a local madwoman, ultimately leading to a profound personal crisis.
- Reception: The film received mixed reviews upon release but has since garnered appreciation for its meditative exploration of longing, displacement, and cultural alienation.
The Sacrifice (1986)
- Genre: Drama
- Plot: On the brink of nuclear war, a man makes a desperate vow to sacrifice everything he holds dear in exchange for the salvation of humanity. As the world teeters on the edge of destruction, he grapples with the consequences of his pledge.
- Reception: “The Sacrifice” was well-received for its visually striking imagery and existential themes. It won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival and solidified Tarkovsky’s reputation as a visionary filmmaker.