Zona. A Book About A Film About A Journey To A Room. Geoff Dyer. Canongate Books, 2013.
Dyer’s humorous, witty and simultaneously serious style of writing proved addictive for me. For this particular book, my jaw dropping awe while watching three films of Andrei Tarkovsky, the former USSR film director, also served as a magnet. I admit, “the awe” might have something to do with my incomplete understanding of all the three films I have seen of Tarkovsky until today : Solaris, Stalker and Ivan’s Childhood. Apparently, Dyer has also been under Tarkovsky’s spell since the day he had watched Stalker first time as a youngster.
As one may guess, the book is on Stalker, where a trip to “Zona” is the essence of the story. Still, like many of Dyer’s writings, it is on many other things as well. Even those who has not seen Stalker can enjoy reading the book. It is also on Dyer’s childhood, his family, his wife, his fantasies and -at least as important !- his German made grey leather bag.
In spite of the sketch Dyer seems to enjoy making of himself occasionally (basically, a retarded bastard who is drunk most of the time), he must be a very disciplined author and an avid reader. He also has the perfect eyes of the visual critic. The two books by him I have read before (Yoga For People Who Can’t Be Bothered To Do It and The Ongoing Moment) and another which was edited by him (Understanding A Photograph by John Berger) was either peripherally (the former) or essentially (the latter) on photography and his seemingly casual approach to photography in general and his approach to photographs in particular has taught me a lot. Now, he is on Stalker; what else could one ask for?
For those who have no idea about the movie Stalker on which this book is centered,The Zone (Zona) is a forbidden part of an unknown country. According to its director, the film has nothing “symbolic” (though many viewers think otherwise). Although the film is categorised as a Science Fiction by many (it was in fact based on a sci-fi story by Strugatsky brothers) there are practically no elements in the film that one may expect to see in a science fiction movie. No space ships, no time travel, no high-tech weapons… It is a philosophical film, for lack of a better word. The tempo is slooooooowwwww… Dyer reports that Tarkovsky insisted on this being particularly slow at the beginning as he wanted those who will not understand the rest of the film anyway can leave on time!
A few quotes :
(About Zone) : “An amazing place where amazement is vain because everything is normal here (p70)”.
(An aphorism from Kafka pertaining to Zone) : “Beyond a certain point there’s no return. That’s the point that must be reached (p81)”.
“… they are realising that one of mankind’s deepest wishes is the need to complain, to moan, to be disappointed. Perhaps that’s why gods were invented, so you could moan at them for the way things turned out, for things not happening, even, at that relatively late stage of human develeopment (as personified by Thomas Hardy), for not existing (p111)”.
“He has gone from extreme skepticism to fearful belief. Perhaps this says something about the nature of faith. Maybe there is no belief without fear – fear of the consequences of that belief (p137)”.
(An anectode about “Writer”, one of the leading characters in the movie) : “A true writer, as defined by Thomas Mann : someone who finds writing more difficult than other people (p 148)”.
“Not many people can confront the truth about themselves. If they did they’d run a mile, would take an immediate and profound dislike to the person in whose skin they’d learned to sit quite tolerably all these years (p165)”.
“We think we have huge goals in life but actually, when it comes to it, we’ll settle quite happily for something trivial that we’ve had all the time and which made our lives bearable (p167)”.
And, finally :
“The only good life is one in which there is no need for miracles (p178)”.
The movie, Stalker, is essentially on “faith, hope and belief”. And, it is painfully so.
Dyer’s book makes -among other things- this fact clear.
Do you have faith? Do you need hope? What do you believe?
Stalker will never become an old film about something trivial because it forces you discover your real replies to the above questions. It then leaves you wondering whether your answers were really true to yourself and makes you ask the same questions again in an unending loop.
Now, I should watch it the fourth time.