Andrei Tarkovsky: The Mirror (1975) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Andrei Tarkovsky: The Mirror (1975)

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"Я буду снять напряжение сейчас, и вы будете говорить четко и без усилий."

Andrei Tarkovsky takes us on a trip through his memories in the semi-autobiographical The Mirror.

Floating away Kyle Commentary BannerThe Mirror exists better in my memory than it did while I was watching it. Here's the most experimental (by far) of Tarkovsky's efforts that we've seen, and for me that resulted in a viewing experience that, if made into a graph, would look like a heart rate monitor rather than a steadily climbing line like the other films. That's not a problem, but it makes it difficult to talk about so soon after seeing it.

There are incredible moments here, such as the one where a woman walks backward through her burning/collapsing house (I think that's what was happening), but there are also moments that jump into narrative in a more straightforward way, and the struggle to place those in the context of the movie was distracting for me. When Tarkovsky/the “narrator” is simply remembering and free-associating, the movie is immediately brilliant — much like the previous films, we experience these scenes on an almost instinctual level.

The movie I couldn't get out of my head while watching The Mirror was Lynch's Inland Empire. The way I've most commonly found myself describing that film is that Inland Empire is to most other movies (even Lynch's) as a poetry book is to a novel — rather than scenes/chapters building directly on one another to reach a coherent narrative end point, we have a collection of units that, taken together, create a distinct impression, a less-definable but no less affecting whole. The Mirror is more ambitious in a way than Inland Empire, in that it requires you to jump back and forth between the two.

When we do the End of Tarkovsky podcast, I'll have a better sense for how I feel about this movie. I need to watch it again so I can feel a little more sure of what I'm in for. It'll also be another opportunity to see the man work in black and white, which will be more than welcome.Maybe the angle doesn't matterAndrewCommentaryBannerShortThat's a fun association for the two of us since we made an appointment to make sure we watched Inland Empire together.  But, to the film at hand.  I feel a little more comfortable talking about how I feel about it now, but that's also because I was in awe when I was watching The Mirror.  I agree that this is going to be one of those films that I'll revisit, but I have felt that way about all of Tarkovsky's films so far.

The dream logic of his shots astonished me at times with how simply he was able to replicate the experiences of doubling-back once you realize that you're dreaming.  Early on, when the dreamer is still floating through that house, the camera comes to an outbuilding that is on fire with a man and woman staring at the flames.  Then, when the camera cuts, we see a very slight variation of the same scene but the man walks into the frame to watch the fire where we saw him standing previously.  It's one of those things I never really thought about when remembering dreams, the way your brain doubles-back to figure out how it got to where it is.

The other impressive thing about this film is the way it silently quotes from his earlier features.  There's a bog-crossing scene that recalls Ivan's Childhood, dialogue wondering if plants feel and think that made me think of Solaris, and, of course, the lush colors that recall the transcendent moments of artistic realization in Andrei Rublev.  There's even room for a wonderful nod to The Steamroller and the Violin.  Since we've watched these films so recently it made these scenes feel like comfort food, like Tarkovsky's way of saying that he remembers the past but is not consumed by it.  Your comparison to Inland Empire is an apt one in this sense because that is a film completely obsessed with the past in an unhealthy way for its protagonist.

The film I thought of a bit more readily was Russian Ark, which I'd love to watch again because it is clearly in debt to Tarkovsky's style.  That film was done in a single-shot take as a narrator walked through Russian history aboard a massive ark floating through time.  Both films have an uncanny way of making a scene feel like it's in a completely different world by altering one or two things about the shot.  Russian Ark was more impressive on a technological scale, but the way that The Mirror cuts up those dreams, wondering where we came in and floating toward the next destination, grabbed me in a way that I was not expecting.Reassurance

Question time!

Tiny Kyle CommentaryWe may not agree on this, but The Mirror is a movie I need a bit of time to process. I feel like I'll appreciate it more once it has some time to sink in. What are some other movies that your appreciation has grown for over time?

A few stick out for me — the first is Adrian Lyne's Jacob's Ladder, which I at first thought was a hectic mash-up of random, equally weird scenes divided by Danny Aiello as the most terrifying chiropractor. But it's a movie that, once you've seen it and understand the context of a lot of the previous scenes, starts to develop in the mind. You want to watch it again to see if there are keys that you missed. Scenes that seemed hackneyed come into an unsettling level of clarity.

The second illustrates the “film as a collection vs. narrative” concept as well, though in a totally different “low art” variation on what's going on in The Mirror. Last year I watched the cult film Beyond the Black Rainbow — and at the time I felt like it was quite a bit of overstatement and unfocused play, punctuated by a few incredibly powerful moments. It was like enthusiastic kids were playing adults unsupervised. As time went on, the truly unique qualities set in — even though it wasn't accomplishing anything other than warping and repurposing genre(s), it was doing so in a way I'd never seen before.

It's interesting that the experience I'm likening The Mirror to for me is two films that, at the time of viewing, felt like they were doing ordinary things in subtly unique ways — and that The Mirror is almost 40 years old and still feels like that.The soldier and the boyTiny Andrew CommentaryWithout a doubt, The Big Lebowski.  The first time I watched the movie I had no idea what all the fuss was about.  Nothing about the movie appealed to me and I was annoyed at a lot of the aimless narrative wandering.  However, two important things happened.  First, I started to broaden my horizon with a lot more classic noir and detective films.  Second, it seemed that no matter where I went for the next six months, all I heard were friends telling me jokes from The Big Lebowski.

So I watched it again.  I smiled, and generally had a better time with the film, but still didn't appreciate it.  But that second viewing left me with a nagging sensation to watch it again.  Then I was laughing, full and happily, at a lot of the jokes.  Then somewhere in the middle of my fifth viewing I fell completely in love with it.  There are few films I find as shaggily charming and intelligent as The Big Lebowski, and I'm glad that I gave it another chance.

On the opposite side, a film I may never stop giving myself hell over, is Garden State.  That was a film that I fell completely in love with during the first time I watched it because of its still-excellent soundtrack and because I was in a terribly weak emotional place at the time.  Looking back at the film now, especially with all the drivel that Natalie Portman had to work with, I wonder how I managed to develop a better taste in movies at all with that as a guiding light.  The best thing I can say about it now is that it led me to search out its better influences.

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Next week: Stalker.

Tarkovsky with text

Posted by Andrew

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