Starring:- Margarita Tereshkova, Ignat Daniltsev, Filipp Yankovsky, Larisa Tarkovskaya, Anatoli Solonitsyn, Alla Demidova, Oleg Yankovsky, Tamara Ogorodnikova, Maria Vishnyakova, Innokenty Smoktunovsky.
Directed by:- Andrei Tarkovsky.
“Take care of all your memories, said Mick
For you cannot relive them.”
I feel as if the aforementioned lines from Bob Dylan’s song Open the Door, Homer sums up the enigmatic meaning of Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1975 movie The Mirror, where we find the equally enigmatic and touching filmmaker at his most personal in the form of a series of memories presented in the most perfect manner possible – fractured, muddled and tender. One of those movies which are more like an experience than a movie, The Mirror is the cinematic epitome of remembering one’s past while trundling on a bridge set on fire by our ambitions and regrets, resulting in shaking of heads and liberation in an ethereal concoction.
The Mirror tells the tale of Alyosha, a man in his forties on his deathbed going through the most vivid moments of his tumultuous life. It moves between the prewar sequences consisting of Alyosha’s (Filipp Yankovsky) exploration of the world in his small age, the war sequences where teenager Alyosha (Ignat Daniltsev) gets bludgeoned by reality, the postwar sequence in which Alyosha, a grown-up and the other half of a broken marriage, is busy gnarling his fangs with his estranged wife (Margarita Tereshkova) over their son Ignat (Daniltsev again), with his mother Maria (Tereshkova again) serving as a metaphorical anchor for the misty ship fighting against the turbulent waves of obscurity and incorrect feelings of delinquency, albeit not in a linear manner.
Tarkovsky makes his intention clear right from the opening sequence, that of a stutterer getting cured by hypnotism, revealing inscrutable processes that riddle the movie in its entirety, gifting it a surrealistic cape to cover its fangs with. The stage is set for our wildest dreams to come true in a scene in which the family barn catches fire. Even though the scene which precedes it is one of the most beautifully composed and written scenes I’ve ever laid my eyes and ears on, we get eternally destroyed by the sublimely blind force of Tarkovsky’s vision in this scene.
The wonder with which the children receive the news beautifully portrays the innocence and excitement of those children, who are tied tightly by those serene strands of muted appreciation of the debacle taking place in front of them. The elemental juxtaposition and their extraordinary auditory presence throughout the scene sends chills down the spine, the amount of pleasure and melancholy being so high that it may result into a fanboying overdose, which is kind of happening right now so… Yeah.
Even though the aforementioned barn sequence is the most famous shot of the movie, or most possibly of all time, my favorite from the movie will be Alyosha’s dream about his grandfather’s cabin, shot in stark black and white. Filled to the brim with symbolic images and beauty of the first degree, this scene is one of the very best ever put on celluloid. The smooth rhythmic movement of the camera, almost gliding on the winds which shake up the grass, making them ripple like an oceanic wave provides a completely ethereal perspective into a person’s labyrinthesque memory, losing ourselves in a forest where chickens jump out of the tree-trunks in the most serene manner possible. It is said that Tarkovsky made two helicopters land behind the camera and ordered them to turn on the rotors whenever needed, to bring the effect of wind blowing through the grass. I don’t know whether it was for the opening sequence with Solonitsyn, for this scene or for both but the mandate is unanimous – it is fucking brilliant to look at, and if possible, to live and breath in.
Another scene which I love and was recently immortalized by CineFix’s analysis is one revolving around a stain on a wooden table. After having us revel in the beauty of a burning barn and a proofreader running to her workplace, Tarkovsky pushes this ornate plate to us, upon which this scene is presented in the most lavish and nauseating manner possible. After hosting a mysterious woman (Ogorodnikova) by reading Pushkin’s letters, Ignat leaves the room and comes back to see that the woman has vanished. His eyes fall on a steamy stain on the table, which begins to fade away with the soundtrack ascending into a discordant cry which continues till it is nowhere to be found.
That’s when I realized I am witnessing something viscerally magical, something which has incomprehensibility so strewn in its blood that it has the ability to easily manipulate us into revisiting our innermost memories or desires, lying deep into the unconscious, making us fight through the rummages of devastating scenes of discomfort to find them and nurture them. Every time this scene sets in I gape at it, perceiving the perfection with which Tarkovsky has captured the wonderment and curiosity which rules over children in their heydays, like looking at those dust specks flying around, glistened by those sun rays, or waiting for a circular condensation pool left by a cold water bottle on a table to evaporate. These moments are the bricks with we, as children, built our ethereal castles of bewilderment and idiosyncrasies. This scene demands a separate blog post of its own, on which I feel I won’t be able to work on, because there are dead ends everywhere in this maze of Tarkovsky’s making or because I am a big procrastinator. Do try CineFix’s video for better results.
Tarkovsky fills the movie with imagery of such unparalleled beauty that it almost feels like a toned-down Russian version of Alice’s Wonderland, where (if we are going to read between the lines) the government and its iron fist ruling laced with exemplary propaganda serves as the witch in the naturally beautiful kingdom of ice. Shown during the sequence set during the war, we can see to what extent the government can go to exert their influence over their people, right down to the children – their innocence getting butchered by the bullets of inhumanity. All right, that sounds downright cheesy but that’s what it is, at least in my opinion. One of the cadets, an orphan, tries to rack up recognition or prove his mantle in front of his fun-making fellow soldiers by throwing a dummy grenade, only to destroy his stature in the process. A stab at Soviet Union’s economically and intellectually gawky perspective on Darwin’s “Survival of the Fittest” analogy, the short-lived attack ties itself up into a neat bow when the officer rebukes the orphan’s claim of getting alive out of Leningrad, a pitiful waste of productivity when it comes to Soviet Russia.
I love how beautifully The Mirror explores the tumultuous relationship between Alyosha and the women in his life even when it is preoccupied with the portrayal of memories. Alyosha’s family history and his mother Maria’s mysterious persona is presented, making us a member of their turbulent family. For Alyosha, and ultimately for us, Maria and Natalia, his estranged wife, look alike because he pities them both. Alyosha feels guilty for what he has brought upon them, for his inability to be a part of or to lead a happy life. Tarkovsky leads us onto the path and like most great filmmakers, leaves us astray with a twist so minuscule yet powerful that we perceive ourselves as preys of an insightful magician.
The Mirror plays hosts to Tarkovksy’s father, Arseny Tarkovksy’s poems, which serve as a quasi-narration of the movie. It feels wonderful yet strenuous to listen to the poems when such beautiful visuals play in front of our eyes. It is after my third viewing that I am writing this post, and it was in this viewing that I paid attention to the poems and realized their importance as a bridge connecting these virtuous islands in such a fashion that we are left stranded, not knowing where to go. The jarring usage of stock footage feels as if Tarkovksy is hinting towards The Mirror being a physically spiritual answer to Bergman’s Persona; Both of them so adventurous in their approach towards filmmaking that they have defined what cinema can do and perceive.
I think it is safe to proclaim The Mirror as Andrei Tarkovsky’s greatest work. Only a handful of movies can boast of every second of its runtime being examples of excellent direction, with The Mirror being one of them. It is said that Tarkovsky and his cinematographer Georgi Rerberg composed every shot with an artist, and shot them with mostly little to no difference, saving them a lot of time in production and resulting in a museum of artworks. A movie with such flawless precision in making the objective look subjective, complemented with extraordinary performances from Margarita Tereshkova and Ignat Daniltsev, The Mirror is one of my all-time favorite movies, portraying itself as a mystic representative of the human psyche in a place consisting of movies ranging from Punch-Drunk Love to 2001 : A Space Odyssey. I’d like to bookend this post with one of the most alluring yet tenebrous lines of poetry I ever had the fortune of witnessing through this movie –
“A question that has no answer:
Whoever can come back
From the floor where no dancer
Was ever to leave track?”