By: Jacob Hales
Have you ever thought about your life? Why things happen the way they do? What is your purpose? Andrei Tarkovsky asked these same questions. But, who is Andrei Tarkovsky? What does he have to do with these questions of existentialism?
Tarkovsky was born on April 4th, 1932, in a small town called Zavrazhye, 500 kilometers east of Moscow. His father was a famed soviet poet, and his mother had a degree in literature. He was a poor student and became a prospector after graduating high school. But, after a research study in the taiga, he began studying film.
Tarkovsky applied to the State Institute of Cinematography and was admitted into the film-directing program. He produced numerous short stories during his time at the institute, but his most famous was the short film The Steamroller and the Violin, a story about a young boy who practices the violin daily to fulfill his parents’ ambition and befriends a road worker after being bullied. This was not Tarkovsky’s first project at the institute, but it is probably his best.
Tarkovsky went on to direct seven feature films, all of which you probably haven’t heard of: Ivan’s Childhood, Andrei Rublev, Solaris, Mirror, Stalker, Nostalghia, and The Sacrifice. Sure, these aren’t exactly The Notebook, but these films are some of the best you will ever see.
Andrei Tarkovsky was a mastermind of cinema, he took everyday questions about life and transfused them into his films. All of his work revolved around the central question: what is the purpose of life? But his films were also a means of expressing his personal thoughts and reflections. His works are instantly recognizable through their incredible spellbinding imagery. His art is so pure and unlike any other cinematographer, it’s as if he created a new element. Disregarding the methods of other directors, he strived to be unique by creating images never thought of before.
“If you ask me what influence I have received from artists like Bresson, Antonioni, Bergman, Kurosawa, Mizoguchi, I must say none. I have no desire to imitate any of them. Since the main goal of any art is to find a personal means of expression. A language which to express what’s inside of you.” – Andrei Tarkovsky
To Tarkovsky, the image was what was most important. Rather than telling a story with dialogue, he preferred to tell it all with camera movement, colors, actor(s), and special effects. He believed that images could express emotion far better than dialouge ever could. If he saw an image that somewhat replicated a scene shot by another director, he would change it and make it his own. He did this on multiple occasions for all of his films.
Tarkovsky died from terminal lung cancer a few weeks after his final film, The Sacrifice (1986). All 7 of his feature films received awards and some consider his movie, Mirror (1973), to be the greatest film of all time. All of his films are available online and can easily be watched with subtitles.
Hopefully this article shed some light on a man who believed in the true power of the cinematic artform. A man who questioned life and embraced his own thoughts of existentialism. A man who created some of the world’s greatest films. A man who knew the capabilities of his thoughts and ideas. A man who truly believed in himself as an artist.
In a 1984 documentary, Andrei Tarkovsky: A Poet in the Cinema, Tarkovsky was asked to define the meaning of art, he responded with: “Before defining art, or any concept, we must answer a far broader question: What’s the meaning of man’s life on Earth? Maybe we are here to enhance ourselves spiritually. If our life tends to this spiritual enrichment, then art is a means to get there. This, of course, is in accordance with my definition of life. Art should help man in this process. Some say that art helps man to know the world like any other intellectual activity. I don’t believe in this possibility of knowing, I am almost an Agnostic. Knowledge distracts us from our main purpose in life. The more we know, the less we know: getting deeper, our horizon becomes narrower. Art enriches man’s own spiritual capabilities and he can then rise above himself to use what we call ‘free will’.