Mirror (1974)

Andrei Tarkovsky

The Artistís Dilemma

In the scene where Ignat has taken the art book, and we watch just the hand slowly turning the pages. The India paper inserts, which keep trying to crumple between every turned page, seem to present a dilemma for the neurotic bookturner or artist. Do I stop and try to smooth the pages out (more takes, more cuts, more time), or do I just let them be crumpled and move on?

In the printing press scene, Masha is paralyzed with the fear she has made a mistake in the newest issue of the newspaper where she works. Here, the artistís insecurity is dramatized on a grand scale with big machines, big paper, and the work of many other people all in the balance (the bellmaking scene in Andrei Rublev). It is interesting to note how Masha obssesses over her imagined error and seems unaffected by her co-workerís pointing out that the paper is already being printed, so it would be too late to change anything anyway. This echoes the preoccupied indifference we saw in the burning barn scene as she just stands there watching.

Wake Me Up Before You Go Go

At the beginning of the printing press scene, Masha runs down the street, and it begins to rain. She runs through the rain into the building where she is checked by the security guard. Weíre inside now and out of the rain. But wait, now she has to go back outside and run through the rain again. Is this just the layout of these damn Soviet-era printing complexes? Or is this sequence designed to jump start thought by sidestepping our sleepy expectations. Weíre never out of the rain. The artistís work is never done.

People Are Who They Are

When Masha gets chewed out by Liza in the printing press scene for refusing to deal with reality, for running away from her problems. What does she do? She runs away, out of the room, down the long corridor, even outrunning the camera. She escapes to a day dreamy shower. And we almost get to see a plump breast. People are who they are, and the cycle continues.

Then during the scene where Ignatís mother and father discuss which one of them the boy will stay with, we flash back to the same argument from a few years earlier, which shows that people have the same arguments over and over again. Little is truly ever resolved, at least, in these post-marital aftermaths.

Anxiety, Tension, Conflict, Reconciliation, Next

The grenade scene is as tight as it gets. Everything in it works together to build toward one singular tension. From the moment the kid starts disobeying the drill sergeant, you begin to know this can only end badly. The steadiness of the camera as it zeroes in amidst the wild commotion of the kids in the background alerts us (perhaps operating on our subconscious, which is Tarkovskyís way) that we are headed for something. The endpoint itself, of course, is perhaps the epitome of tension, a hand-grenade with the pin out.

[spoiler] And when the drill sergeant sacrifices himself by jumping on grenade, we see his little blue plastic under cap which covers his war wound, semi-translucent almost like a halo, perhaps symbolizing his selfless gesture. Echoing Stalingradóheroism, his scar, a nationís scar. And the next shot has the sergeant with his military cap back on. The Ďhaloí is once again concealed. How long is a hero a hero? When does he become himself again? [/spoiler]


In the scene with the Spaniards, Alexi and M (Iím just as confused as you are) are have their post-divorce argument in one room, while their guests entertain themselves in another. Here, Tarkovsky unleashes a brilliant technique wherein the implicit emotional content in one room, Alexi and Mís marriage, is explicitly acted out, by someone else, in another, separate room.

The Spaniardís passion as he performs his bullfighting routine is the lovemaking which Alexi and M used to know. The bullfighter is seen off by the entire city, father and son not knowing if they will ever see one and other again. Meanwhile, Alexi, Ignat and M find themselves now in almost exactly the same predicament. The juxtaposition of the deeply nostalgic video footage with its historical load creates a sense of gravitas, which is both pleasing, and unbearable. The scene then moves to conflict with the father slapping his daughter for his perceived mocking of him. But it could have been Alexi slapping M, probably for that same smirk she is now makes again in that fogged up old mirror. We can tell by her face and eyes the Spaniardís wife is reminded of the many times the girlís father has done the same to her. People are who they are. Then there is another attempt at reconciliation, this time M consoling the Spaniardís wife, both physically and thematically bridging the two scenes.

Masha had been chastised for being self-centered and trying to emotionally co-infect her husband. But here, we have every indication the Spaniardís wife is a loyal and selfless wife, and yet, look what it gets her. To the question of how a wife should be, how much to give or to take, the answer is there is no good answer. Cut to the historical footage of families parting with their children, which visually recaps the deep sense of anxiety and loss in the bullfighterís story and in all of their lives, Spanish or otherwise.

Shining Power

Ignat has the same sort of premonitory fifth sense of the young boy in The Shining. A weird little kid caught in the middle of a bad marriage. Sort of an autistic savant. No word yet whether Kubrick was influenced by Mirror, although how could he not?

We Should See The Beauty In Everyday Occurrences

Yes, well, sort of. But donít be fooled by Tarkovskyís skill. Itís not easy. He just makes it seem that way. Watching his films one might think he could point the camera just anywhere and find beauty unlimited. But this is not the reality. What he does is couch everyday images in a surreal, perfectly crafted and sublimely articulated context. In fact, Tarkovskyís world is hardly any more Ďeverydayí than Terminator 3. When was the last time your barn burned down in the pouring rain? The last time you ran through the rain to the printing press in 1930, panting down hallways, past the security guard, past the big machines, the huge rolls of paper, and then relented to the cooler heads of your co-workers, whose main concern was that you take a shower? Thatís what I thought. And Iím sure you havenít forgotten the time you talked to your dead relative on the other side of the wall or watched your drill instructor jump on a hand-grenade? When my father was dying at the hospital, and he was holding that little bird, I couldnít believe it. The nurse almost tried to take it away even. Something about hospital policies.

Even the most mundane and seemingly natural elements cease to be the moment they go onto film (mini DV). The wind double sweeping across the field in the opening fence breaking scene. The fence. Breaking. Happens all the time. Maybe in your life. In which case, you should probably buy a film camera. Tarkovskyís genius is the very fact that he has made you think these are every day occurrences. He shows you sublime, transcendent and utterly stylized beauty, which is derived from, but not comprised of, the every day.

More Mirror      Movies      Home