Magically you will be removed of your stutter. Magically you will be able to speak plainly. Magically you will be able to speak every word, every letter, with utter truth. You are no longer human, you can now speak your mind with pure conviction. So then, tell us your life with this utter truth, through memories which will undoubtedly lie to you. No, maybe not lie, maybe they are nothing but the truth now, they are objectively the only truth now, the only meaning, and nobody, no scientist nor god, can change that.
A mind nor a mouth can never speak plainly. “Plainly” will never be seen as “truth” in our vocabulary. There will always be stuttering.
Tarkovsky’s Mirror though knows this. A somehow near perfect, agonizing and confusing bottled-up collage of memory, of nostalgia, of sticking images or of phrases that have become riddles from lost context, of already explored mysteries that can’t be put back together, of possible fantasized dramatizations, and of the unexplainable deja vu, memories that instinctively help us understand the present and our developing beliefs. A man wanders into a mother’s territory, yapping to her about how we do not trust nature enough. A boy in the army acts upon his memory and is shunned for it through the current’s overruling. Some of Tarkovsky’s strongest use of atmosphere resides here, and not just with its chaotic structure between different pasts and newsreel footages, but in the evocation he’s able to extract from even the simplest of natural occurrences that then become intense, things that flee so quickly yet you’re never sure what made them needy enough to want to hold onto in the first place. Something as meaningless as drying water can poetically feel just as limited as a coming death in this world, where the confusion of these parallel feelings for the inevitable is what rattles the screen up with personality and success upon its audience. The endless existential grime lingering behind the film’s historical context also makes Mirror no less puzzling yet ironically comforting, exchanging similarities between characters and real life events that in a way bind us together as if we were one repeated experience happening in ordered harmony. Memories are what cause us to make sense of life, they are the closest things in allowing us to seem destined by nature, whether that destiny remains undefined in our heads.
Theories are wonderful though, and if I had to put a pin on the main gist of the many ones scattered within Mirror, based on Tarkovsky’s own statements throughout his career, it’d be that this is by a long-shot the most laborious way of saying “sorry, Mom” ever conceived. The movie is clearly interested in attributable lineage of genetic personalities, particularly pertaining to Tarkovsky’s own ego and sensationalism he must have ran conflicting towards others in his own life, something he sees was passed onto him by his own mother; this blame then reveals a secondary layer of recollection though where Tarkovsky’s guilt towards how he has been interpreting memories of his mother becomes a newer appreciation for what she did otherwise, inspiring grief and desperation though for not loving or respecting her as much as he may have back then, resulting in today. The scene where a woman complains about how she wished for a girl, not a boy, to another (allegedly Tarkovsky’s) mother could help explain this. Yet, it’s further obvious that that, if even remotely true, simply can’t be all to the movie when looking at how it attempts to coincide these emotions with the scale of Russia’s own historical context from the war Tarkovsky lived through as a child. The collectiveness of these coinciding incidents lead me to believe there must be some connection between our helmed accomplishments and ruthless catastrophes that are bounded by this similar effect distorted memories can have on them. Maybe memory transcends strict time in this regard, tampering future with its bothering of past, restructuring sequence constantly just as the film has done to itself. Reality functions more like a mirror than it does an unstoppable continuum.
Evidently, this is the most beautiful mess cinema has ever gifted us with. Literally! Tarkovsky would bring last minute add-ons or changes to the script day to day during production, causing scheduling turmoil and a lack of confidence for his project; the post-production crew could barely assemble the movie together during the editing stage cause even they didn’t know what the f**k was happening with these scenes that were so sporadically coined up by Tarkovsky on the spot from its incomplete script. The content of this project is partially mended by whatever memories spawned from the director during set dramas. Mirror is maybe the most infuriating, demanding movie ever made, yet that’s why so many of us seem to love it; this film moves in feelings for a past that it itself can’t even keep up with, therefore abolishing relevant, controlled logic or chronology unlike any piece of art I’ve consumed before. Yet, that’s exactly what scrolling through nostalgia is, nostalgia that then counteracts regret for what it has only led to in the present one’s relationships and own character, hoping for forgiveness in remembrance and acknowledgement of what it was before according to recollection.
Damn, that last sentence would’ve made for quite a good transition into Tarkovsky’s 1983 feature if only he hadn’t made Stalker (1979) right after this. How dare he make so many masterpieces inconvenient to my reviewing.
“Mirror” is now available to purchase from The Criterion Collection.