The hidden message linking Andrei Tarkovsky’s films together
“Never try to convey your idea to the audience – it is a thankless and senseless task.” – Andrei Tarkovsky
Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky is widely considered to be one of the most influential artistic voices in the history of cinema. Over a career of 25 years, Tarkovsky made seven feature films as a part of a nearly flawless filmography. It has been 34 years since he passed away but his works are still the focus of contemporary film scholarship.
For this article, we have decided to highlight three of his films to show how Tarkovsky’s artistic vision had postmodern elements in it. Although Tarkovsky’s coveted filmography is not as blatantly self-reflexive as Jean-Luc Godard’s, three of his films participate in this phenomenon. It can be argued that the apparent connection between these three works is just a tribute to one of Tarkovsky’s favourite artists but it does add a metafictional consciousness to his films. How are these Tarkovsky works linked? The simple answer is medieval Russian painter Andrei Rublev.
In 1966, Tarkovsky made a historical epic about Andrei Rublev. Set in a volatile 15th-century Russia, Tarkovsky’s masterpiece is about the iconic painter Andrei who takes a vow of silence and decides not to paint after he is exposed to the brutality of violence. The film examines the artistic essence through Rublev’s struggle to find some sort of inner peace. While speaking about the film, Tarkovsky said, “Our film about Andrei Rublev will tell of the impossibility of creating art outside of the nation’s aspirations, of the artist’s attempts to express its soul and character, and of the way that an artist’s character depends upon his historical situation. The question of the artist’s place in the life of the nation seems to us one of the most contemporary and important questions on the cusp of our future.”
Rublev became a recurring motif of a specific artistic sensibility in Tarkovsky’s later works. Solaris (1972) has an icon made by Andrei Rublev in the protagonist Kris Kelvin’s (played by Donatas Banionis) room. Such self-referential allusions usually reinforce the disconnect between the fictional nature of the film on screen and the reality that exists outside of it. They remind us that we are, indeed, watching a work of fiction. Tarkovsky’s Mirror (1975) has another example of this interesting occurrence. Mirror is a complex philosophical examination of human memory and the fundamental nature of our existence, structured in the form of non-linear flashbacks and dreams.
However, the totality of Mirror’s fictional universe is subverted in a very subtle way. In one particular scene, a poster of Tarkovsky’s 1966 film Andrei Rublev can be seen. Can it be dismissed as Tarkovsky’s attempt at an arthouse advertisement? Unlike the previous example, this one is a more complex site of a meta-fictional self-reflexivity. Art about art about art ad infinitum. These are fleeting associations but they help us understand Tarkovsky’s unique cinematic signature.