Seeing Mirror (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1975) last night in 35 mm simply confirmed its place as, not only my favourite Tarkovsky — in other words, my favourite film by my favourite director — but, along with Memento and Rashōmon, one of my top 3 films of all time. Quite honestly, I don’t see myself being able to put any film above it, even those previously mentioned, so, despite my non-committance, you could say Mirror is my favourite film of all time.
I don’t want to exhaust the subject, so I’ll write no more, but here’s a little excerpt from a piece I wrote a little while ago:
Tarkovsky’s Mirror (1975) — a film so ethereal and outside of time that it is difficult to pin down — poetically explores the existence of mankind and human relations, and does so by expressing a sense of eternal unity. Loosely depicting the actions of three generations of mothers, fathers, and sons, visual images, in conjunction with audible poetry (spoken in voice-over), illustrate how they are innately, perhaps spiritually, connected to each other, and, by extension, to life itself. The images shift, and yet, while moving through time, they seem to exist within each other in some kind of perennial harmony — the image of the child, the boy, and the man are, effectively, the same, despite the necessary passing of time. This, coupled with the timeless poetry and fleeting style of continuity, inspire in the viewer a sense of eternity, in spite of the fact that the film itself exists within time; such a quality may rightly be considered transcendental.
It seems that many people are getting confused by the characters — which are the same and which are different — and relationships. This is not surprising, since there are particular characters played be a multiplicity of actors, as well as a multiplicity of actors playing particular characters. Not to mention, there are multiple names — variations of names — for particular characters (Marousya=Masha=Mother; Alyosha=Aleksei), and the film seamlessly interveaves between three distinct generations, flashbacks, dreams, and even sometimes literally blends together separate generations — for example, the scene where Ignat falls into a memory, and the final scene where an elderly Marousya is walking with her young children, while the adult version of her watches from behind.
To be sure, Tarkovsky goes out of his way to make it difficult to pin down who each character is, because each of them is an image, or a reflection, of each other. The mother and Natalya, Alyosha and Ignat — these people, while separate beings, are somehow spiritually connected, and through image, through metaphor, and through reflection — even shots where the mirror reflection of one character is seen in another’s — Tarkovsky poetically interlaces them, stripping away definite aspects of the human condition, and leaving only the spirit.
Anyways, in this little section I’ll give my account of the chronology, since understanding the characters and chronology and relating that to the poetry — which comes from the voice of an adult Alyosha upon his deathbed —is, in my opinion, essential in familiarizing oneself enough to fully envelope oneself in what is below the surface: the art.
Characters defined by the Actor:
Ignat Daniltsev: 12 Year Old Ignat; 12 Year Old Aleksei/Alyosha
Filip Yankovsky: 5 Year Old Aleksei/Alyosha
Margarita Terekhova: Natalya; Marousya/Masha/Mother
Oleg Yankovskiy: Alyosha’s Father; Aleksei/Alyosha as an adult (never seen, but assumed)
Larisa Tarkovsky (Tarkovsky’s Wife): Nadezhda
Maria Vishnyakova (Tarkovsky’s Mother): Marousya/Masha/Mother (as an elderly woman)
There are 3 generations. The oldest is the Mother, and the youngest is Ignat.
Marousya (also referred to as Masha or the Mother): Mother of Aleksei/Alyosha; Mother of Marina; Mother in law of Natalya (who looks as she did at her age); Grandmother of Ignat.
Aleksei/Alyosha: Son of Marousya, Brother of Marina, Husband of Natalya, Father of Ignat.
Natalya: Wife of Alyosha, Mother of Ignat, Daughter-In-Law of Marousya
Ignat: Son of Alyosha and Natalya, Grandson of Marousya
To be sure, there are parts I may be incorrect about, especially since certain scenes, such as the dream sequences and flashbacks are quite ambiguous, and could even be erroneous given that you can’t trust a narrator when it’s a dream or memory.
The dates are mostly approximations, based on the scenes, artifacts in them (Rublev poster, artwork tracing book, journal, wartime effects, etc.), and dialogue.
1929: Marousya/Masha/Mother and Father sit by the fence at the wooden house that Alyosha’s grandfather built. He asks her whether she’d like a boy or girl. This is part of an interlaced final scene.
1935: Alyosha/Aleksei and Marina are 5 years old; Alyosha is bald; Marina is starting to grow some hair, but is mostly bald; Marousya’s husband (Alyosha and Marina’s father) leave them; A doctor (played by the great Anatoly Solonitsyn) heading to Tomshino stops by the house (first scene of film); The home next door burns down.
1942: Alyosha is being trained for war with some other young boys; Marousya, referred to as Masha, works at a Printing Press with a woman named Lisa. Marina is nowhere to be seen. Marousya and Alyosha come from Moscow, where they now live, to visit Yurievets (the area of the wooden home) and meet the daughter of a man her father knew.
1939-1944: Images of World War II are depicted.
1950: Alyosha fights in Cold War, particularly the North Korean War. Images of war are depicted; Man pretends he’s a Spanish conquistador
1955: Alyosha and Natalya marry; Ignat is born.
1967: Marousya’s co-worker from the Printing Press passes away; Alyosha and Natalya have recently broken up; Natalya is dating a writer; Ignat, age 12, and Natalya visit Alyosha in his grandfathers home in Yurievets; Ignat feels an electric shock and sense of having been there before; Ignat literally walks into a memory, visits the past, and speaks to an older lady — perhaps Alyosha’s grandmother.
1970: Alyosha, age 40, lies on his deathbed, with no cause of illness besides poor conscience, stemming from guilt, likely due to memories of war or familial hardship. Poetry recited through the film may be said to come from this point in time — from Alyosha’s perspective.