Monthly Archives: August 2017

The Red Pill (2016)

Generally speaking, documentary filmmaking is the realm of cinema that sets out to dive deeply into a story that isn’t being told or is poorly understood. Needless to say, it is a genre rife with progressive political agenda building. As films like Inside Job, An Inconvenient Truth and the entire Michael Moore oeuvre attest, there’s no shortage of documentaries which promote a standard leftist narrative. However, when done properly, a documentary film genuinely opens people’s eyes to an issue hidden from public discourse and provokes real debate. It maybe even changes a few minds. Without a doubt, Cassie Jaye’s exploration of the Men’s Rights Movement, The Red Pill, is one of those documentaries. 

The Red Pill is appropriately named and the net effect of the film is best summed up by the explanation given by MRM activist, Paul Elam, in response to Jaye’s inquiry about the the origins of the popular usage of the term “red pill”. In a pivotal scene from the 1999 classic, The Matrix, Morpheus offers Neo two choices. He can take the red pill and have the veil of illusion permanently lifted in order to see reality as it truly is. Or he can take the blue pill and remain anaesthetized and asleep. If being “red pilled” represents being awakened to the plight of men in the Western world, Jaye then asks Elam what the blue pill represents. Elam proceeds to explain that the blue pill is the matriarchal political matrix constructed by the feminist media-academic industrial complex. This matrix is comprised of every article of faith in the contemporary Feminist Bible: the wage gap, rape culture, the epidemic of female domestic abuse, “reproductive freedom” for women, and child custody law. 

By making what amounts to nearly two hours of cinematic kryptonite for the entire feminist movement, Cassie Jaye has made one of the most fearless and important films in recent memory. Rather than being a shrill diatribe against feminism, Cassie Jaye sets up the film by sharing about how her own feminist convictions piqued her curiosity about the Men’s Rights Movement. She opens with a brilliant montage of standard MRM hatemongering found throughout the feminist mediasphere which predictably portrays the hate and bigotry coming exclusively from men. Despite being repulsed by the tone and appearance of actual misogyny, she confides that she found herself drawn in by the magnetic pull of leading MRM website, A Voice for Men. Throughout the film, Jaye shares her own video diaries in which she finds her beliefs and biases repeatedly challenged. And understandably so. As she proceeds to interview the most visible voices of the MRM, you can hear the entire edifice of feminist narrative getting demolished like Godzilla rampaging through the streets of Tokyo. 

Paul Elam

A significant portion of the MRM interview time is allotted to the founder of A Voice for Men, Paul Elam. He begins by letting the gas out of feminism’s hot air balloon of hyperbole. The feminist mediasphere almost uniformly portrays the MRM as a movement of knuckle dragging, mouth breathing, misogynistic Neanderthals who want women barefoot and pregnant. The net result of this sustained campaign of hatred and dehumanization is that men’s issues have been completely ignored. Elam lays out the dire state of manhood in clear and dispassionate terms. Rising rates of suicide, depression, drug addiction, pornography consumption, and unemployment are all well documented trends that are routinely buried under the omnipresent narrative of female oppression. When it comes to workplace fatalities, combat deaths, jobs involving hard physical labor, men are the overwhelming majority in each category yet you hear a deafening silence from the feminist establishment when it comes promoting equality in these pursuits.

Male privilege

Warren Farrell

Former feminist activist, Warren Farrell, pulls the rug from under the entire feminist mythology of patriarchal oppression by simply pointing out the inverse corollary to the axiom of female objectification: female hypergamy. Farrell found himself excommunicated from the Church of Feminism by attempting to point out what’s readily apparent to anyone who isn’t looking at life blinkered by feminist dogma. Women are valued for their sexual appeal and fertility, but men are valued for their ability to gather resources and provide for a family. While feminists seemingly never tire from flogging the notion that a man working 50 to 70 hours a week is part of some nefarious conspiracy to keep womanhood subjugated, there’s little willingness to recognize that this is how men express love and it’s what gives their lives meaning. 

Marc Angelucci

The demolition of feminist dogma accelerates when Jaye offers the mic to men’s rights attorney, Marc Angelucci, and president of the National Coalition for Men, Harry Crouch. While we’ve become accustomed to the narrative of deadbeat dads and absentee fathers, Crouch and Angelucci both provide a sobering reminder about how the legal playing field is overwhelmingly tilted towards women in issues of child custody, paternal suits and domestic abuse. If a man wants to be a father or wants child custody, good luck, pal. The feminist establishment has been very successful in turning the legal system against men in every legal dispute. If you’re socked with a paternity suit, brace yourself because the odds are not in your favor. The founder of Men’s Rights Inc., Fred Taylor, tells the heartbreaking story of his failed attempt at gaining custody of his son despite being the better equipped parent. Given feminism’s current crusade to rewrite gender roles, it’s ironic that feminists want to consign women to the motherhood role by legal fiat. 

Erin Pizzey and Cassie Jaye

Permanently laying waste to the one-sided narrative of female domestic abuse perpetrated exclusively by men, Erin Pizzey shares the story of her pathbreaking work in forming the first domestic abuse shelter for women in the UK. On the surface, Pizzey’s story makes her a prime candidate for the Feminism Hall of Fame. But Pizzey’s blasphemy is that she refused to remain silent about the reality of the women that she took into her shelter. Almost without exception, these abuse victims were violent themselves and often initiated violence against their husbands and children. Since Pizzey was unwilling to give these women a moral pass on their problems, she found herself vilified as an apostate by the Church of Feminism. 

After falling so far down the MRM rabbit hole, Jaye seeks the feminist perspective for some counterpoint. Jaye is subtle, but devastatingly effective as she sets up her meeting with Executive Vice President of the Feminist Majority Foundation and Executive Editor of Ms. Magazine, Katherine Spillar. Jaye gives us a brief montage of the plush and very exclusive headquarters of the FMF in Beverly Hills, California. Using around 10 seconds worth of footage, the irony is readily apparent. Feminism consistently portrays itself as a radical and heterodox ideology. On the contrary, it is a deeply resourced interest group and a highly organized establishment orthodoxy governed by moneyed elites. 

Katherine Spillar

Spillar comes across as a classic hidebound ideologue gripped by cognitive bias with touches of smug condescension and religious zealotry. Jaye sets up the interview by saying that she’d like to hear a feminist rebuttal to the MRM grievances and arguments. Spillar expresses what sounds like a mixture of relief and revulsion; relief that she has finally sought the Truth from the Church of Feminism, but revulsion at the fact that Jaye has deigned to consort with, let alone make a film which features such degenerates. Every single response she gives is straight out of Feminism Incorporated and is made even more creepy by her bug eyed fanaticism. Men’s reproductive rights end after conception. Women are still oppressed. There is no real male domestic abuse problem. The wage gap is real. Men need to get over the dissolution of traditional gender roles. Case closed. Discussion over. 


Naturally, no proper feminist perspective would be complete without consultation with the Experts® in academia. Jaye managed to get two male professors of sociology and gender studies to offer their scholarly “expertise”. There’s a reason that pejoratives like “cuck” and “mangina” have escalated in usage and I have little doubt it’s because of guys like Michael Messner and Michael Kimmel. There’s a reason that people are paying more attention to the work of evolutionary psychologists like Gad Saad and social psychologists like Jonathan Haidt, too. It’s because people know they’re being force fed mealy mouthed dogma and canned ideological talking points by stooges like Messner and Kimmel. When Jaye shows the opening ceremony the new Center for Studies of Men and Masculinities at SUNY Stony Brook, you’ll be laughing right along with Elam and the other MRM activists in attendance. 

Chanty Binx aka Big Red

By far, the crown jewel of the feminist portion of The Red Pill is the interview with Chanty Binx, aka Big Red. Binx has become a living meme factory and along with Trigglypuff, is perhaps the ultimate self-parody of third wave feminism. Her dyed red hair perfectly complements the artificial indignation and canned outrage she spews. She reinforces all of the worst stereotypes about feminists by hurling invective and abuse at her presumed audience in a voice that would make nails on a chalkboard seem like sweet relief. 

Patriarchy, fuckface!

Karen Straughan

The final coup de grâce against feminism is delivered by the redoubtable Karen Straughan in two devastating segments. Straughan exposes the ways that feminists endanger the lives of women in countries like Nigeria by focusing exclusively on the plight of girls. Boko Haram have repeatedly brutalized men and boys for years, but this atrocity has received zero attention on the international stage because the Church of Feminism won’t allow the world to sympathize with boys. Boko Haram exploited this cultural bias by kidnapping girls when they’d normally allow them to escape. So just keep that in mind when you virtue signal with a #BringBackOurGirls hashtag. 

But the final blow is delivered when Jaye asks Straughan why she thinks feminism has such enduring appeal. Her response is succinct and dead on. When you attribute the very notion of Justice with womanhood and Oppression with manhood, you’ve got the building blocks for a religious faith. Not a scientific pursuit. Rather, you have an ideology of Good versus Evil which offers no real emancipation for either gender and is permanently welded to the political apparatus. A combination that’s been remarkably effective and durable. 

As expected, the reaction to the film from the feminist establishment has ranged from disdainful and dismissive to full on autistic screeching and calls for censorship. Film screenings have been cancelled as a result of the online feminist hate mob campaigns not unlike those Jaye filmed outside the Warren Farrell lectures. If any additional proof of the overwhelming bias towards the Church of Feminism is needed, the bumbling idiots from Australia’s Weekend Sunrise provide ample evidence. 

Unlike the propagandistic twaddle proffered by the Michael Moores of the world, The Red Pill is vital and important because it’s a film that tells the truth. It’s a film that refuses to pander to feminist bigotry and elitism. Cassie Jaye has actually lived up to the promise of documentary filmmaking by making a film which draws attention to real problems and the rank hypocrisy of feminism’s hollow rhetoric around “equality”. While some still subscribe to the idea that feminism is still simply about gender equality, the words and deeds of the feminist establishment in relation to the issues raised by the MRM speak for themselves. With The Red Pill, Jaye joins Christina Sommers, Camille Paglia, and Erin Pizzey on the blacklist of apostates who committed blasphemy against the Church of Feminism. And if you’ve made that blacklist, chances are better than good that some sanity, civility, objectivity and genuine compassion has been restored. 

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Social Justice is the Death Knell of Comedy

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It’s a point that’s been made by comedians and cultural commentators alike, but it bears repeating: #SocialJustice is the death knell of comedy. Over the years, the increasing encroachment of political correctness in the pop culture sphere has been assailed by everyone from George Carlin to John Cleese. And rightfully so. To be fair, neo-Marxist, postmodern PC culture is destroying pretty much everything that’s beautiful, ennobling and fun, but the toll it’s exacting on the realms of pop culture and entertainment that I always considered sacrosanct zones of unfettered creativity cannot be gainsaid. Comedy will always be judged based on subjective tastes and preferences, but we can distinguish a few core principles which make comedy funny. Moreover, it’s important to draw these distinctions because the goals of the neo-Marxist Left are completely at odds with making actual comedy.

Comedy is an essential art form because it provides a necessary escape valve from the pressure cooker of daily life. When done well, comedy transforms the deepest miseries and the most forbidden taboos into laughter. It serves as a coping mechanism and as a release.  In order to do this properly, the comedian can only invite the audience to see its own reflection in proportion to the degree that the comedian is doing it for himself.  In other words, the comedian’s jokes are funny because you recognize the truth of the comedian’s experience and empathize with him. This may even include judgments and caricatures that will make people uncomfortable. The job of the comedian is to put thoughts that remain hidden from view of normal discussion on loudspeakers. Generally speaking, the more uncomfortable the confession, the greater the comedy payoff. Even in the case of insult comedians like Don Rickles and Joan Rivers, the insults were funny because at some level, you had that thought yourself. The comedian must have a sufficient level of self-awareness about his own foibles and limitations in addition to being well attuned to the judgments and opinions he holds about others.

Most importantly, comedy is meant to be the province of breaking cultural taboos. Comedy is the art form that’s going to go there if that’s where the laugh is going to be found. Especially if it’s painful or uncomfortable subject matter.  It’s a cliché, but laughter is the best medicine. Of course, comedy is a vast art form and for the sake of concision, I’m not including slapstick, sight gags, and pranks nor do I intend to make this essay an extended exploration of every comedic style. My intention is merely to underscore the psychological mechanics of comedy which make it tick and the ways intersectional social justice completely undermines comedy’s most fundamental building blocks.

Given that comedy requires both emotional honesty and unconstrained access to every realm of life where jokes might be found, this dual mandate puts the entire art form of comedy on a collision course with #SocialJustice. The success of neo-Marxist Left hinges on carving society into groups and placing everyone within the hierarchy of oppression. Subsequently, anything done or said by the privileged group that is perceived to be disparaging of the oppressed groups creates an unacceptable perpetuation of oppression which must be condemned and silenced. Since this now includes pretty much everything that is a product of Western civilization, everything that was once considered funny is now in the crosshairs.

Take Mel Brooks’ 1967 lampoon of the show business industry, The Producers. Anyone with a functioning brain knows that Brooks made a Nazi musical the object of the producers’ quest because it was the epitome of bad taste. That’s the joke. Apparently, it’s not good enough for the pearl clutching moralists of the #SocialJustice Left.  Despite Blazing Saddles being a satire of racism and bigotry, how long before his 1974 classic gets the same puritanical reprimand from the Church Ladies of the Left?

Making matters worse is the ever shifting standards of #SocialJustice piety. The nature of intersectional social justice is to constantly move the goalposts of oppression in order to find the group believed to be the most aggrieved. The Kids in the Hall perfectly ridiculed the PC culture Oppression Olympics in 1992, but with the exception of South Park, you won’t find a single mainstream comedy show touch this stuff today. Back in the 90’s, Julia Sweeney managed to get a lot of mileage from her gender ambiguous SNL character, Pat. The comedy came from watching the confused reactions of everyone who wasn’t sure about Pat’s gender. It would be a perfect character to revive today given the white hot controversies over transgender bathrooms and military service, but I have little confidence that SNL would move beyond the self imposed confines of their ideological bubble.

All of which brings us to the core of the problem. Intersectional social justice is a microcosm of the moral relativism, situational ethics, and absence of principle that’s emblematic the Left. The Left has so badly corrupted and destroyed the idea of individual liberty and equality before the law that the only way one can express moral virtue is by circumscribing what you think and what you say to the realm of politics. It encourages people to be overly self-conscious and to self-censor. Needless to say, this is a recipe for totalitarianism. Intersectional social justice is breeding a police state mentality in which people are actively looking for WrongThink and stoking the thirst for retribution and punishment. It’s even more pernicious than if it was a top down legislation because people are freely adopting the mindset as a mark of moral virtue.

Unfunny partisan stooge, Trevor Noah, recently appeared on The View to make the following pronouncement about jokes he and his comedy peers made in the past.

“There were things we shouldn’t have been saying”

Unbelievable! A so-called “liberal” comedian delineating boundaries around what can be proper subjects for humor and calling it “progress”. Even Joy Behar concedes the constraints PC culture has imposed on today’s comedians. Lenny Bruce is surely turning in his grave.

The most odious and detestable pearl clutching SJW to rise to semi-prominence is the painfully irritating Dylan Marron. A sanctimonious prig who affects an utterly repellent pretense of cheeky irreverence and edgy contrarianism, Marron looks at older films and judges them through the lens of intersectional social justice. And SURPRISE! He finds them #PROBLEMATIC. Just like his feminist analogue, Anita Sarkeesian, Marron is one of the Left’s new self-appointed Culture Cops.

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The Left would argue that protesting offense is itself an exercise of free speech. It’s an argument to which I would respond by offering that you just not attend the performance and allow those who want to consume the comedy to enjoy it without being hectored by obnoxious scolds. It’s one thing to protest a comedian or a film screening, but if you are actively trying to prevent others from exercising their right through riots or threats, then you can’t really call that “free speech”. That’s the behavior of a complete totalitarian. Trevor Noah and the media dittoheads within the progressive echo chamber laughably argue that these arbitrary constraints on topics are improving comedy. How about you stop trying to define what’s acceptable in comedy and just allow the art form to progress organically? But we all know that’s not how the intersectional social justice game is played. It’s a one-sided particularist argument and if you’re on the side of oppression, you get the muzzle.
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If you go back through the past 50 years of television and cinematic comedy alone, there’s nothing that passes the #SocialJustice litmus test. Whether it’s Monty Python, Mel Brooks, Cheech and Chong, Sam Kinison, Eddie Murphy or Airplane!, today’s #SocialJustice activists will find nothing redeeming in the comedy tradition.

Comedy can’t take one ideological position nor can it cordon off select people or topics as subjects of potential ridicule while exempting others. When it does that it stops being comedy and metastasizes into propaganda. The traditional comedy television axis of late night talk, Comedy Central and SNL has become a dull and monolithic bastion of partisan talking points and smug condescension. The Amy Schumers and Sarah Silvermans are lionized as torchbearers of new school PC comedy, but shrill anti-Trump diatribes and vagina jokes will only get you so far. If anything, the quasi-McCarthyist, anti-Trump hysteria that has gripped the Left for well over a year deserves to be viciously ridiculed.  As do the idiotic straw men that are constantly being built and recycled by the media lackeys.

The Left’s de facto speech cops in Silicon Valley aren’t helping by throttling conservatives, classical liberals and libertarians on social media. The nascent shitlord community on YouTube has been kneecapped by the Google Gestapo and are seeing their videos flagged for demonetization and sequestered from trending algorithms. Facebook’s Politburo has been equally aggressive in policing meme pages that deviate from leftist orthodoxy.  Milo Yiannopolous and Sargon of Akkad are the latest people who’ve been disappeared by the Twitter Stasi. Comedy needs to be wrested from the deadening chokehold of the Puritans, scolds, and killjoys of Left. Progressives affect a pretense of being anti-authoritarian while simultaneously ignoring the vast institutional power they possess. You can’t claim a monopoly on pushing the envelope when your ideas already pervade every corner of culture. The real heroes of comedy today are the meme warriors and YouTube shitlords who dare to commit blasphemy against the Imams of #SocialJustice. The best comedy always comes from people who push back against the prudes, scolds and the killjoys. So fear not, shitlords. Kekistan will rise again. 

Stalker (Сталкер) (1979)

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Andrei Tarkovsky’s enigmatic, brooding and grindingly slow SF film from 1979 is a favorite among artsy film connoisseurs and tastemakers, but the praise that has been heaped upon it needs to be taken with several grains of salt. Stalker is indeed a masterfully made film, and as far as I can tell, is a fairly explicit metaphor for the crushing despair of life under socialism. It is also an extended exploration of the nihilistic mindset that gave birth to one of the most repressive regimes in the 20th century. Criterion has just released a newly remastered blu-ray, so the world can now enjoy its bleak splendor as never before. That said, I don’t know that it will appeal to anyone beyond the hardcore cinephile set due to its grim aesthetics, cerebral artiness and glacial tempo.

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Since the storyline of Stalker is fairly straightforward on the surface, the allure of the film lies in attempting to peel back the layers of metaphor and symbolism. Tarkovsky’s work invites painstaking analysis because his film lives mostly in the realm of abstraction and semiotics. Considering that Stalker alone has inspired reams of film school exegeses and an entire book which deconstructs every minute detail, it has gained a reputation of being a puzzle of infinite depth.  Despite having a reputation which verges on a near mystical reverence, I think the film is quite possibly much more straightforward than prevailing opinion suggests.

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First and foremost, the film cannot be disassociated from socialist context in which it was created. This was, after all, a Mosfilm production, and by default, a work of art made by people living under a socialist dictatorship. Art was tightly controlled under the Soviets, so no filmmaker could make anything that was too explicitly critical of the regime. Making a ponderously slow film which buries its editorial under abstractions but still lends itself to a multiplicity of subjective interpretations was perhaps the only way to attempt to say anything that wasn’t boilerplate party propaganda.

Writer: While I am digging for the truth, so much happens to it that instead of discovering the truth I dig up a heap of, pardon… I’d better not name it.

The degree to which Tarkovsky’s aesthetic was a purely organic phenomenon in contrast to the extent that it was an adaptation to the confines of Party diktats are questions which must be considered. Stalker poses questions about the nature and role of art, and the fact that this film’s emotional spectrum ranges from sadness to suffering certainly tells us something about how art was affected by the psychological strictures imposed by socialist rule. I propose that the SF premise merely provided the necessary metaphorical pretext for the underlying editorial.  Since absolute fealty to socialist orthodoxy and groupthink was a way of life, telling the truth in a direct way was a counter-revolutionary act all by itself. In this film’s case, the ponderous pace and desolate tone was likely Tarkovsky’s way of pulling you deeply into the experience of life through Soviet eyes.

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Based loosely on Arkady and Boris Strugatsky’s 1971 book, Roadside Picnic, Stalker tells the story of three men who enter a quarantined area called the Zone. The Zone was declared off limits to the public as a result of some unknown incident that may have been paranormal in nature or simply an industrial accident. The big attraction of entering the Zone is the presumed existence of the Room; a place where all wishes can be granted. Two of the men, known only as the Writer and the Professor, enlist the services of the titular Stalker to navigate the Zone and lead them to the Room. Theoretically, this sounds like it could be a premise for a SF action thriller, but the film has more in common with existential theatre like Waiting for Godot or No Exit than anything in the conventional SF cinematic canon. Needless to say, the film is completely devoid of aliens, space travel, futuristic technology or any of the features we normally associate with cinema that calls itself science fiction.

The broad themes are spelled out very clearly in the first part of the film albeit in a somewhat oblique manner. As the film opens, we’re taken into the bedroom of the Stalker over the course of roughly nine dialogue-free minutes as he awakens next to his wife and disabled child. While dressing and preparing for the day, his distressed wife joins him in the kitchen and warns him that he risks returning to his old ways and being sent back to jail. Right away, Tarkovsky is revealing an important fact of life in the Soviet Union: the USSR was essentially an open air prison camp. Socialism had criminalized freedom itself, and the citizens had become complicit in their own enslavement.

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We discover in the subsequent scene that the Stalker is being enlisted to guide two other men into the Zone to find the Room. Since the Room was a place where one’s deepest wishes could be fulfilled, the Room could be viewed as a metaphor for hope, redemption, and the attainment of human dreams. In a word, freedom. No one can reach the Room without first passing through the heavily guarded perimeter of the Zone. The Zone is both an explicit metaphor for the Soviet state as well as the psychological confinement it engendered. The State had outlawed freedom, so the Stalker’s willingness to defy the State and lead others through the Zone is what makes him an outlaw. Naturally, his wife is fearful of caring for their disabled daughter without him, so she implores him not to go.

Stalker: The Zone wants to be respected. Otherwise it will punish.

Tarkovsky seems to have a view of humanity that alternates between nihilism and idealism, but tilts heavily towards the former. In one of Stalker’s monologues, he describes the Zone as an entity whose malevolence is both triggered by the appearance of people and a reflection of man’s nature.

Stalker: The Zone is a very complicated system of traps, and they’re all deadly. I don’t know what’s going on here in the absence of people, but the moment someone shows up, everything comes into motion. Old traps disappear and new ones emerge. Safe spots become impassable. Now your path is easy, now it’s hopelessly involved. That’s the Zone. It may even seem capricious. But it is what we’ve made it with our condition. It happened that people had to stop halfway and go back. Some of them even died on the very threshold of the room. But everything that’s going on here depends not on the Zone, but on us!

The Stalker eventually meets the Writer and his glamorous girlfriend at the waterfront. Stalker rudely dismisses the woman as he and the Writer climb into a car to meet the Professor. Both the Writer and the Professor are quite possibly archetypes for the artistic and academic intelligentsia who have largely been conscribed to the role of being apologists for the State. The rudeness and disdain the Stalker exhibits towards his girlfriend is easily understood when examined in this light. After a contentious rendezvous with the Professor which symbolized internecine Party squabbling, the two men reveal their motivations for undertaking this treacherous journey. The Writer wishes to recover his lost inspiration while the Professor claims pure scientific curiosity. Since the arts had been completely subordinated to service of state propaganda, it makes perfect sense that the Writer would take such a dangerous risk in order to have a taste of genuine inspiration that has been so badly thwarted by demands for ideological conformity.  The Professor’s scientific curiosity is perhaps a jab at the misplaced faith that socialist society had placed in scientism.  A Room which grants your deepest wish is already an idea that lives beyond science.  Bringing a scientific mentality to such a phenomenon is misguided at best. Their desire to reach the Room was by itself an act of faith, and by extension, Tarkovsky’s affirmation of the necessity for such leaps of faith.

Upon arriving in the Zone, the color palette switches from lifeless, desaturated browns and greys to actual color. Once they had traversed past the boundaries of allowable thought, the color and vibrancy of life was accessible to them. Despite the landscape of ruin and desolation that lay before the trio, they managed to marvel at beauty. Once again, Tarkovsky reveals his cynicism towards humanity by having the Stalker note that the beauty was the product of the absence of other people.

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The Writer’s ideological convictions are challenged as they travel deeper into the Zone. As an archetype for the artistic class, Tarkovsky lays bare the psychological schism that Marxism created amongst the creatives in one of the film’s few moments of dry levity.

Writer: My conscience wants vegetarianism to win over the world. And my subconscious is yearning for a piece of juicy meat. But what do I want?

Marxism had supplanted any notion of higher morality and placed the locus of virtue squarely within the hands of the State. Subsequently, the Writer’s desire to see vegetarianism win over was merely a metaphor for the political orthodoxy he’d been trained to uphold. He views his desire for meat as bourgeois false consciousness. Ultimately, he’s conflicted because his sense of Self had been disrupted by venturing beyond the ideological boundaries that were protected and enforced by the Zone.

When the three men reach the Room, they become suspicious of one another’s motivations. The Professor produces a nuclear bomb and threatens to detonate it because he doesn’t want the power of the Room to fall into the wrong hands. Conflict ensues and recriminations are exchanged. After some tortured confessions, the Professor disassembles the bomb and the scene grinds to a halt in a cloud of defeat and resignation. I suggest that Tarkovsky is saying something about how deeply uncomfortable and distrustful Russians were with the idea of freedom. So much so that they constructed their own ideological panopticon.

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Upon returning from the Zone, the Stalker is reunited with his wife and child. In one of the monologues delivered by Stalker’s wife, Tarkovsky is attempting to access something truly primeval within the Russian soul. Some kind of deep sadness which insists that happiness can only emerge unless there is sorrow. Yet it is a sorrow leavened ever so slightly with a tiny granule of hope. Who knows exactly from where this emanates, but it does perhaps offer an additional cultural insight into the psychological legacy of the Russian people on which Marxism so hungrily feasted.

Stalker’s Wife: You know, Mama was very opposed to it. You’ve probably already guessed, that he’s one of God’s fools. Everyone around here used to laugh at him. He was such a wretched muddler. Mama used to say: “he’s a stalker, a marked man, an eternal jailbird. Remember the kind of children stalkers have.” I didn’t even argue. I knew all about it, that he was a marked man, a jailbird. I knew about the kids. Only what could I do? I was sure I’d be happy with him. I knew there’d be a lot of sorrow, but I’d rather know bitter-sweet happiness, than a grey, uneventful life. Perhaps I invented all this later. But when he come up to me and said: “Come with me”, I went. And I’ve never regretted it. Never. There was a lot of grief, and fear, and pain, but I’ve never regretted it, nor envied anyone. It’s just fate. It’s life, it’s us. And if there were no sorrow in our lives, it wouldn’t be better, it would be worse. Because then there’d be no happiness, either. And there’d be no hope.

The resolution of the film reveals the Stalker’s daughter moving three glasses using what is apparently telekinetic power as a snatch of “Ode to Joy” surfaces. It’s enigmatic, but I believe this is the glimmer of hope that Tarkovsky is offering. Monkey represents a new generation which possesses abilities that were unimaginable to their forebears: the ability to cultivate and express joy. An ability so powerful it can only be represented as a paranormal psychic power.

Aesthetically, the film leverages the decrepit and dilapidated architecture of the USSR to create a post-apocalyptic vibe that’s easily among the bleakest natural settings committed to film.  The Zone was inspired by the 1957 Chelyabinsk incident which was both the first major nuclear accident prior to Chernobyl and third largest in history. Ever dedicated to the purity of his vision, Tarkovsky filmed the Zone at an abandoned Estonian power plant which quite possibly hastened his own demise along with two other members of the film crew resulting from exposure to toxic chemicals.

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I suspect that a large part of the allure of Tarkovsky and Stalker in particular is that it represents a manifestation of the great Holy Grail sought by artists across the world throughout the ages: a pure artistic expression unsullied by the taint of capitalistic profit seeking. Stalker is very much a film made with painstaking attention to the most minute details. Almost nothing that makes it into the frame seems left to chance. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a film that people will actually want to watch.

Stalker is a film which elicits admiration more than enjoyment. As much as I am tempted to get lost in the labyrinth of symbolic possibility that so enraptures the cinephiles, I see this as a pretty explicit manifestation of the Russian pysche’s very fragile grasp at humanity desperately laboring under the weight of emotional and physical devastation wrought by 60 years of iron fisted subjugation and state enforced social engineering. Since this is a work of art which leans very heavily on symbolism, people will extract a meaning from it which confirms their own bias and disposition. Predictably, the progressive media in America has heaped praise on it because they see it as antidote to Trumpism and a rallying cry for socialism itself. The fact that a film that’s this unremittingly dreary and downcast is perceived as some kind of rallying cry for socialism just goes to show how deeply this ideology warps the psyche and possesses the will of the individual.  If anything, Stalker should be taken as a dire warning of the inhospitable future that awaits should we allow this ideology to hollow out what remains of our souls.

Stalker is indeed a work of Serious Art® and I completely understand the cult of devotion it has inspired. Like all good works of high modernism, it contains the possibility of extracting multitudes of meaning. However, I genuinely don’t think Tarkovsky intended this film to be another occasion for endless academic navel gazing or a self-centered circle jerk for the intelligentsia. Tarkovsky was making an earnest attempt to tell the truth of the Russian experience by using a SF premise as a metaphysical allegory. John Semley’s dumb Salon piece praises the film for all the wrong reasons. Yes, the plodding pace feels radical in contrast to the engineered dopamine rushes we get from contemporary cinema, but it’s because the film conveys a deep sense of despair. Being boring is not an aesthetic virtue that is inherently good. Good art encompasses the entirety of the human experience, but most importantly, it has intention and should actually connect with its audience. Would Stalker have been funded on the free market? Probably not. Grim meditations on the human experience don’t make for big ticket sales. Especially if they’re the product of life under socialist rule. I’m deeply sympathetic to artistic expression which challenges norms and defies expectations. Most people do not share this belief, and as a result, won’t bother watching Stalker. And that’s fine. No one is required to consume art which evokes boredom and despair. In the end, that is perhaps that is the true legacy of the film. Just as millions died chasing the abstraction that Marxism represented, few will heed the subtle warning buried under Tarkovsky’s abstractions.

Stalker: Are you awake? You were talking recently about the meaning… of our… life… unselfishness of art… Let’s take music… It’s really least of all connected; to say the truth, if it is connected at all, then in an idealess way, mechanically, with an empty sound… Without… without associations… Nonetheless the music miraculously penetrates into the very soul! What is resonating in us in answer to the harmonized noise? And turns it for us into the source of great delight… And unites us, and shakes us? What is its purpose? And, above all, for whom? You will say: for nothing, and… and for nobody, just so. Unselfish. Though it’s not so… perhaps… For everything, in the end, has its own meaning… Both the meaning and the cause…

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