In Zona by Geoff Dyer, he claims that a work of art that changes your DNA can only be experienced at a young age, typically in your teens or twenties and can not happen later in life. That art for him is the 1979 cinematic sci-fi masterpiece Stalker, directed and written by the legendary Russian Tarkovsky.
I wasn’t particularly interested in reading about the movie Stalker since I hadn’t seen it, but when I picked Zona up in the bookstore I could not put it down.The influence of this film on Dyer is evident as he passionately and carefully summarizes the story and its meaning. He has not only analyzed every reel of the film but the challenges, and there were many, in making the film.
His love of this film is the basis for analogies and metaphors and associations with art and life. The film leads to Burning Man, Nabokov, Kafka, Antonioni, Fitzgerald, Nosferatu, Brother’s Karamazov, Solaris, L’Avventura, The Italian Job, Henry James, Hopi Indians, Buster Keaton, Flaubert, Roland Barthes, Daniel Day Lewis and on and on.
He suggests that this film with its slow pace has given him a deeper appreciation for art and allowing a story to unfold. This is not something available in movies today he laments. But he also did not love Stalker when he first saw it; in fact, he was a little bored, but “it was an experience I couldn’t shake off.”
The title Zona refers to the mythical zone in the film where your innermost desires will be granted. Dyer’s deepest desire appears to have been sleeping with two women at once. I mention this because it’s revealing and humorous, but also reflects the wild honesty in his writing.
If you haven’t seen this film, I suggest you read this book before you do. If you have seen it, this book will change or reinforce your impression of a fascinating movie.
There’s a sense of going over the edge in Dyer’s writing—that is often like reading a revealing memoir—he is so original that I can’t think of another writer who can reach his state of unforgettable madness.
For me Dyer lifts Tarkovsky up to the level of a Homer in the sense that Stalker encompasses history, myth and a fantastical journey that only art can communicate.
Learn more about Geoff Dyer and Zona on NPR
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