The cliché is that the book is always better than the movie. But what is more impressive is when the movie conveys the feeling that you have just read a book. The film making of Andrei Tarkovsky in each of his seven leaves the audience with just such a feeling. And that is the easiest way to define awe.
How does he achieve this effect?
The first is obviously his use of time. Each scene must be endured like the slow dripping of water. This is of course why many people will shun his films. The silence, the long shots, the diffuse dialogue leave enough room for the audience to consider their own place in a world of images. The films encourage you to be a participant, to wander at a stately pace the strangeness of the world.
But this does not always suit everyone’s taste. The uninitiated will writhe in their seats rather than watch. This is because, usually, the audience of a film is trapped, comfortably seated with blinders on, the universe of the screen no wider than a road. More than once I have left of blockbuster only to feel like a beast of burden. A film like The Sacrifice or Mirror give you no other task than to feel.
Another cliché comes to mind: the eyes are the windows to the soul.
But to reverse that cliché would suggest that there is inside all of us a soul that is hiding in our bodies, looking out at the world. We ask it to come forth, to make itself known to us. Sometimes it is scared by what it sees. Even so, this fear drives it out of its hiding place. A great work of art drives the soul to the surface.
And this is the second quality of Tarkovsky that rarely goes mentioned. He is spiritual. That is, he makes films for the spirit. There is an unfortunate tendency in film today to create a product that appeals to the lowest common denominator. The logic here is that by creating something appealing you are doing the audience a favor. Quite false. It is not didactic to dangle a treat before the soul. It is the job of the film maker to make us yearn for inarticulate beauty. It matters not whether the tale is comedic or tragic. Only that it bring us to the edge of the eternal.
That is, to be a mirror in which we see why we are noble.
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