Mirror (1975)
May 26, 2024 11:33 PM - Subscribe

A dying man in his forties remembers his past. His childhood, his mother, the war, personal moments and things that tell of the recent history of all the Russian nation.

Using a nonlinear structure interlaced with dreams and flashbacks, director Andrei Tarkovsky creates a stream-of-consciousness meditation on war, memory and time that draws heavily on events from his own life. Tarkovsky's film alter ego is Alexei (Ignat Daniltsev), a dying man in his 40s whose commonplace interactions with his wife (Margarita Terekhova) and children summon up a host of memories, ranging from his parents' divorce to his time on the battlefields of World War II.

MaryAnn Johanson: Tarkovsky’s autobiographical — and deeply, sometimes abstrusely impressionistic — journey through one man’s life, from his carefree childhood “before the war” in an idyllic countryside through the upheaval of the war itself and into the present day, which is fraught with interpersonal conflict, such as arguments with his wife. The man is only barely glimpsed a few times, but we are meant to understand that as he lies dying from an unnamed illness, he is remembering his life… with all the lucidity that one might expect from such a state: that is, very little. What’s real and what isn’t, what’s past and what’s present is difficult to untangle: the same actress (Margarita Terekhova) plays both his wife and the younger version of his mother, for instance. Apparently this is the Tarkovsky film that Russians today like best of his — perhaps it reflects a certain Russian-ness that is hard for me to identify with. But Mirror is often seductively beautiful to look at: a brief image of a woman washing her hair is one of the most unexpectedly gorgeous things I’ve ever seen onscreen.

Kate Muir: Mirror was originally rejected by the authorities in 1974 for being “incomprehensible”, but since then its reputation has rightly grown. The film is perhaps Tarkovsky’s most autobiographical; his father, Arseny, recites his own poetry, and his relatives have parts, as well as the compelling Margarita Terekhova, who somewhat disturbingly plays Alexei’s mother and wife.
With its exquisite images, the film is an intellectual’s Inside Out, more about building mood (as well as a personal history of Russia from the Thirties to the Seventies) than about plot. There are strange sights: a stammering teenager cured by a hypnotist; a country childhood; a burning barn; a Stalinist printing error; a broken marriage, all variously shown in sepia, colour or black and white. Mirror is a film you allow to wash over you, stirring thoughts with its lyrical memories.

Swapnil Dhruv Bose: Alexei’s world, or at least the one he lets us observe, is purely solipsistic. He cannot get out of his own head, struggling with childhood fears and unwanted memories of war. Despite it all, he wants to return to those days because it would give him a chance to redo everything. The desperate hope of a living corpse: “I can’t wait to see this dream in which I’ll be a child again and feel happy again because everything will be ahead, everything will be possible.”

It is tragic that the possibilities he envisions are impossible, unable to reverse the cosmic tyranny of entropy. Like Tarkovsky (the invisible filmmaker), Alexei is also largely missing from his own world. Due to his mysterious illness, he is restricted to a room full of mirrors but none of them can present his reflection. This is the central conflict of the film: can cinema mirror reality? In Mirror’s case, it definitely can and it does so in a subjective manner – offering varying revelations to different people like a beautiful Rorschach test.

posted by Carillon (5 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
This was a huge miss for me. To the degree that I found it hard to find reviews of this because I pretty vehemently disagree with positive takes. This movie felt hostile to me, and I would have loved to watch a meditation on war, memory, and time, but instead found something that actively worked against itself. I went into reading these reviews too hoping to find something that helped it click, and couldn't find it. What a waste.
posted by Carillon at 11:38 PM on May 26

Yeah, for a non-Russian this movie is beautiful but totally incoherent.
An oddity I found on YouTube a few years ago is this unofficial trailer using Arvo Pärt's Speigel im Speigel as the soundtrack - I found it intensely moving (although what Estonian Pärt would make of his music being used for such a Russian movie is unclear to me)
posted by thatwhichfalls at 8:09 AM on May 27 [1 favorite]

Oh jeez, this is one of my favorites. I've watched it a few times and each time, for the length of the film, my mind starts working the way this film works. Each image and thought follows the next in a way that's surprising, but also has a great flow. Watching this movie is like floating down a river and watching the scenery change. There's no cause and effect relationship between the scenes in the film; you just happen to see them all because they're along the same river. It moves like a train of thought -- in particular a somewhat wistful, sad one. Sometimes the things you remember over and over are the things from your life that don't make any sense. I wouldn't watch this film because I wanted to see something entertaining, but I would recommend watching it when you're in a transition in your life and you've been thinking your own thoughts too much and want to get out of your head. At a time like that, this movie is a huge relief for me. Also consider watching Sans Soleil.
posted by Rinku at 8:55 AM on May 27 [2 favorites]

I watched this ages ago while high out of my skull. I couldn't tell you anything about it, but it was an amazing experience.

Actually, it's interesting to read what it's actually about all these years later, so thanks for reminding me.
posted by Alex404 at 1:16 PM on May 27 [1 favorite]

Endless fast cuts...no single cut longer than ten seconds...
posted by Jessica Savitch's Coke Spoon at 6:25 AM on June 1

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