Director: Andrei Tarkovsky
Writers: Aleksandr Misharin, Arseniy Tarkovskiy, Andrei Tarkovsky
Stars: Margarita Terekhova, Filipp Yankovskiy, Ignat Daniltsev
Synopsis: A dying man in his forties remembers his past. His childhood, his mother, the war, personal moments and things that tell of the recent history of all the Russian nation.
This film was viewed as part of the event, “Tarkovsky: 6 Films, Master Works by a Master of Cinema,” at the Kentucky Theatre, accompanied by a Q&A by Raymond De Luca, Assistant Professor of Russian Studies and International Film Studies at the University of Kentucky
Well, we have arrived. Tarkovsky’s most difficult, and possible, most personal work, Mirror. I am not going to pretend like I understand every single moment and reference in this incredibly dense, poetic film. But I can give you my perspective. It does seem like the further we get into Tarkovsky’s filmography, the more confusing and effortful it becomes. But I would still argue that it is also rewarding, in the end.
This is now the second time I have watched Mirror and I still find myself intimidated to speak about it. Having a non cinephile watch Mirror is akin to beginning to listen to music by taking in the most complex symphony ever created. Yes, you can understand that there is greatness, but it can be difficult to pinpoint. Like many of his works, Mirror is not entertainment, but art, and almost designed to confuse. Mirror appears to be loosely based on Tarkovsky’s life, even featuring poetry written by his father, which was a problematic relationship for the director throughout his life. But interestingly, the film is, in many ways, owed to his relationship with his mother.
Like memory itself, this film is non linear in structure, and not completely dependable as far as its narration. Even more than previous works, Mirror features many difficult to understand, dream-like sequences. Tarkovsky also continues to engage in the use of different color structures (black and white, color, sepia) as he did in Solaris and will continue to do in Stalker. Tarkovsky is again focusing on the internal, but in a slightly more obvious way. That is, Mirror is focused on one man and his own memories and important moments in his life.
It is an interesting film to engage with, specifically within the oeuvre of Tarkovsky. In many of his films, Tarkovsky seems to be seeking for truth in humanity (more on that in an upcoming review of Stalker). But here, truth is more evasive. There is no simple way to engage in truth from inside one man’s brain. The way that we see our memories, our experiences, our dreams, are not grounded in any kind of truth that is attributable to the many. It only feels true to us. And the difficulty of this movie actually seems to prove that point. Mirror makes me think of times that I have tried to tell other people my own experiences. I usually end up speaking in circles, unable to truly show them what I mean. I know it and they never will. In many ways, this is the tragedy of human existence and the limits of our communication.
But even if you cannot find the grasp of memory and dreams, no matter how much musicality and poetry is involved, film is a truly visual medium. Tarkovsky, as usual, takes full advantage of this fact with fastidious crafting of images. The opening of the film, wildly confusing on first watch, is a microcosm of both Mirror and life. It features a young woman teaching a child with a stammer to speak. The child struggles and she appears to hypnotize him. And with a snap of her finger, the child speaks clearly. When we look back at our own lives and learning – speaking, reading, riding a bike, dressing ourselves – it seems to pass in an instant, in a snap. This is why in Tarkovsky’s film, it is difficult to make sense of the order, structure, and style. But on repeated watches, like with all great works of art, it teaches us less about what Tarkovsky meant, and much more about ourselves, our experiences, our memories, our mothers.