Stalker (Russian: Сталкер; IPA: [ˈstɑlkʲɪr]) is a 1979 science fiction art film directed by Andrei Tarkovsky, with a screenplay written by Boris and Arkady Strugatsky, loosely based on theirnovel Roadside Picnic. It depicts an expedition led by the Stalker to bring his two clients to a site known as the Zone, which has the supposed potential to fulfill a person's innermost desires.
The title of the film, which is the same in Russian and English, is derived from the English word to stalk in the long-standing meaning of approaching furtively, much like a hunter. In the film a stalker is a professional guide to the zone, someone who crosses the border into the forbidden zone with a specific goal.The word was coined by the Strugatsky brothers for their novel "Roadside Picnic" (1972), as an allusion to Rudyard Kipling's character Stalky from the "Stalky & Co." stories. Сталки (stálki) was well remembered by the Strugatskys from their childhood, when they read the stories in their Russian translation. In the "Roadside Picnic", сталкер was a common nickname for men engaged in the illegal trade of prospecting for and smuggling of alien artifacts from the mysterious and dangerous "Zone".
The Stalker (Alexander Kaidanovsky) works as a guide who leads people through "the Zone", an area where the normal laws of physics no longer apply – to encounter "the Room", said to grant the wishes of anyone who steps inside. In his home with his wife and daughter, the Stalker's wife (Alisa Freindlich) begs him not to go into the Zone but he ignores her pleas.
The Stalker meets "the Writer" (Anatoly Solonitsyn) and "the Professor" (Nikolai Grinko), his next clients for a trip into the Zone. The three of them evade a military blockade that guards the Zone, attracting gunfire from the guards as they go, and then ride into the heart of the Zone on a railway work car.
The Stalker tells his clients they must do exactly as he says to survive the dangers that lie ahead, which are invisible. The Stalker tests for 'traps' by throwing metal nuts tied to strips of cloth ahead of them. The Writer is skeptical that there is any real danger, whilst the Professor generally follows the Stalker's advice.
As they travel the three men discuss their reasons for wanting to visit the Room. The Writer expresses concern that he is losing his inspiration while the Professor hopes to win a Nobel prize. The Stalker insists that he has no motive beyond aiding the desperate. At times he refers to a previous Stalker named "Porcupine" who led his brother to his death in the Zone, visited the Room, gained a lot of money, and then hanged himself. It appears the Room fulfills all of the wishes of the visitor, the problem being that these might not be consciously expressed wishes, but the true unconscious ones. When the Writer later confronts the Stalker about his knowledge of the Zone and the Room he replies that it all comes from Porcupine.
After traveling through subterranean tunnels the three men reach their destination, which lies inside a decayed industrial building. In a small antechamber a phone begins to ring. The Writer answers and speaks into the phone, stating that "this is not the clinic," before hanging up. The surprised Professor decides to use the phone to ring a colleague. In the ensuing conversation he reveals his true intention. He has brought a nuclear weapon with him and intends to destroy the Room for fear it might be used by evil men. The three fight verbally and physically in a larger antechamber just outside their goal. As they recover from their exertions Writer has a timely revelation about the room's true nature. He explains that despite the man's conscious motives, the room fulfilled Porcupine's secret desire for his brother's death, and that Porcupine's suicide was inspired by the resulting guilt. He further reasons that the Room is useless to the ambitious and is only dangerous to those who seek it. With his earlier fears thus assuaged the Professor gives up on his plan. Instead he disassembles his bomb and scatters its pieces. The men sit before the doorway and never enter. Rain begins to fall into the Room through its ruined ceiling, then gradually fades away.
The Stalker, the Writer, and the Professor are shown to be back in the bar and are met by the Stalker's wife and daughter. A black dog that followed the three men through the Zone is now in the bar with them. When his wife asks where he got it the Stalker declares it became attached to him and he could not leave it behind. As the Stalker departs the bar with his family and dog we see that his daughter, nicknamed "Monkey", is crippled and cannot walk unaided.
Later, when the Stalker's wife tells him she would like to visit the Room, he expresses doubts about the Zone; claiming that he fears her dreams will not be fulfilled. As the Stalker sleeps his wife contemplates their relationship in a monologue delivered directly to the camera. She declares she knew full well life with him would be hard, that he would be unreliable and their children could be deformed, but concludes she is better off with him despite their many griefs. Monkey sits alone in the kitchen. She recites a love poem by Fyodor Tyutchev and lays her head on the table. She then appears to psychokinetically push three drinking glasses across it, one after the other, with the last one - the only one which was empty - falling to the floor. It does not break. After the third glass falls a train passes by causing the entire apartment to shake, just as it did in the film's opening scene.
- Alisa Freindlich as the Stalker's Wife
- Alexander Kaidanovsky as the Stalker
- Anatoli Solonitsyn as the Writer
- Nikolai Grinko as the Professor