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ZONA by Geoff Dyer

ZONA

A Book About a Film About a Journey to a Room

By Geoff Dyer

Pub Date: Feb. 21st, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-307-37738-8
Publisher: Pantheon

A personal meditation on Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1979 film Stalker—though, this being a Dyer (Otherwise Known as the Human Condition, 2011, etc.) book, it’s about plenty more besides.

Stalker is a relatively obscure entry in Russian director Tarkovsky’s oeuvre, but it’s exceedingly receptive to critical analysis. The film follows three archetypes—Writer, Professor and Stalker—in a mysterious and heavily guarded wilderness as they ponder the meaning of life. Dyer doesn’t provide a critical analysis of the film so much as a scene-by-scene walkthrough of it, just to see where it takes him—which is pretty far. He riffs on The Last of the Mohicans, Chernobyl, his affinity for particular brands of knapsack, the effect of aging on one's enthusiasm for cultural consumption, and more. At his most far-flung, he recalls his squandered opportunities for ménages à trois. Such digressions are vintage Dyer: Inserted as footnotes or parentheticals, they sometimes go on for so long that it can be hard to recall the scene in the movie that prompted the comment in the first place. He delivers a few too many hokey puns, and he sometimes overreaches to argue for the film’s ongoing influence. (A claim that the film works as a 9/11 allegory is particularly forced.) The lack of a strong thesis is frustrating, and ultimately this is a lesser Dyer book. However, it gets over on his enthusiasm for the film and on his infectious admiration of Tarkovsky’s philosophical reach. The “room” at the center of Stalker represents our need to locate our deepest desires, Dyer explains, and in that context maybe talking about those failed three-ways was necessary after all.

A digressive but impassioned mash note to a film that defies easy summary.