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The Mirror (1975)


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I certainly feel as though there is still much to be gained even from just the visual aspect of the film. It is one of Tarkovsky's most image heavy films, and certain sequences just stick in your head regardless of dialogue. Who could forget the barn burning? Or the ceiling collapse? People have said they sometimes watch Tarkovsky with the subtitles turned off, so as to enjoy the full scope of the picture without any intrusion. (Back to Werckmeister Harmonies - Facets burned in the subtitles, so they can't be turned off.)

Criterion generally does a top-notch job with their releases, but if you only make a pauper's wages, you'll go bankrupt trying to collect all of their "spines".

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  • 1 month later...

I'm watching Mirror again, for at least the tenth time, in about as many years. More and more I've come to see the wisdom of those who say, when it comes to Tarkovsky, it really begins and ends with Mirror. I used to think Andrei Rublev was that film, or perhaps Stalker. But as great as those films are, Mirror, I now realize, affects me the most. Tarkovsky is here tapping into the deepest of wells: childhood, the bond between mother and child, the bond one has with the land of one's birth. And he's doing so in a (mostly) nondiscursive, nontraditionally-narrated way. Images, yes. Of course. Stunning images. But ultimately it's what the images mean, and how they narrate the story, that matters most, I think; it's not simply that there are "great images." And so I can't quite agree with those people who tell first-time viewers, "Don't try to understand what the film means - just let the images wash over you." Or, at least, I would have to add, don't let your appreciation of the film stay at this level. On a first viewing, few of us can hope to take in all that there is to take in: one needs multiple viewings, and even then... But a first viewing can still be an intensely rewarding experience. Mine left me breathless. I knew - sensed - that Mirror was a masterpiece. But I also knew I'd have to watch it more or less for the rest of my life - that it was the sort of film that inspires this level of devotion. In fact, I don't know of another film, by any other director, that provokes the depth of feeling that Mirror does. Just read through some of the "fan" reviews of it on IMDB or Amazon, if you doubt this.

In one of my favorite scenes in Mirror, along with amazing images, we get to hear the following voice-over narration:

With an amazing regularity I keep seeing one and the same dream. It seems to make me return to the place, poignantly dear to my heart, where my grandfather's house used to be, in which I was born 40 years ago right on the dinner table. Each time I try to enter it, something prevents me from doing that. I see this dream again and again. And when I see those walls made of logs and the dark entrance, even in my dream I become aware that I'm only dreaming it. And the overwhelming joy is clouded by anticipation of awakening. At times something happens and I stop dreaming of the house and the pine trees of my childhood around it. Then I get depressed. And I can't wait to see this dream in which I'll be a child again and feel happy again because everything will still be ahead, everything will be possible...

I think many of us have had some variation of this same dream. I know I have.

Edited by tenpenny

For the Word of God and God wills always and in all things to accomplish the mystery of his embodiment. – Maximus the Confessor

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Has anyone discussed the way this film has led into Malick's Tree of Life? I'm sure this is mentioned to some extent in the Tree of Life thread, but I haven't had a chance to look there yet. Many have made the obvious connection between the styles of the 2 films, but I was surprised on my first viewing of Mirror just how much of Tree of Life seems to intentionally build on Mirror. Several shots (in the woods before a river; multiple shots of the 2 mothers) echo each other. There is a conversation in both films in which the narrator calls a parent to apologize in a way that seems to bridge a lifelong gap. Both films end in a similar ecstatic fashion, with big thoughts of immortality in view. And I'm sure this is only the beginning. I'd like to hear how others have benefited or learned from watching the 2 films back to back.

By the way, I thought the boom mic was somehow intentional. Can't say I understand it, but I trust Tarkovsky's visual sense so much that I assume there must be something behind that! And it wouldn't be the only strange visual moment in the film. :)

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Has anyone discussed the way this film has led into Malick's Tree of Life? I'm sure this is mentioned to some extent in the Tree of Life thread, but I haven't had a chance to look there yet. Many have made the obvious connection between the styles of the 2 films, but I was surprised on my first viewing of Mirror just how much of Tree of Life seems to intentionally build on Mirror. Several shots (in the woods before a river; multiple shots of the 2 mothers) echo each other. There is a conversation in both films in which the narrator calls a parent to apologize in a way that seems to bridge a lifelong gap. Both films end in a similar ecstatic fashion, with big thoughts of immortality in view. And I'm sure this is only the beginning. I'd like to hear how others have benefited or learned from watching the 2 films back to back.

By the way, I thought the boom mic was somehow intentional. Can't say I understand it, but I trust Tarkovsky's visual sense so much that I assume there must be something behind that! And it wouldn't be the only strange visual moment in the film. :)

I gave a conference paper back in March in Boston at SCMS in which I talked about some of the similarities. When I have a bit of time I will post some of it here.

As for the boom mike in the opening scene, it is there because the opening is supposed to be from Soviet television. It is most definitely intentional.

"A director must live with the fact that his work will be called to judgment by someone who has never seen a film of Murnau's." - François Truffaut

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  • 6 years later...

Is anybody out there? It's hard to find someone to talk to about The Mirror!! Even in central London!! 

i've just finished re-re-watching it. It's the kind of thing where you think of a thousand things to say while it's happening and then they slip through your fingers like dreams do when you've just woken up. Without Freud this film might never have been made. There's a clue to this in what the largely invisible hero says about dreams towards the end. 

I'm going to say slightly more about that. We never completely remember our dreams because we experience them while unconscious. But we half-remember them during the time just after we wake up. And sometimes these half-memories of dreams stick, so we recall the content of the dream much later. It's this material that we may bring to psychotherapy, if we are having it. In my case this half-awake, half-dream-remembering state was the time when, as a child, I would actually see visions. This stopped when I got to about 5. 

The whole of Mirror is in this half-awake, half-remembering, half-dream state. If we understand that, then we will be able to open ourselves to what is happening to us when we watch Mirror. What happens while watching this film is the same thing that happens when watching any film, but just ten times more intense. Waking up from it - in the way we all have to wake up from any cinematic experience (they all linger for a time outside the picture house like a dream). But in this case the experience is so intimate, such a touching of the life depicted, that it is tantamount to a fugue state. 

This is because Tarkovsky understand the nature of film better than any other filmmaker. 

The Mirror is - I'm completely convinced about this - an allusion to Hamlet. I'm convinced of this because of Tarkovsky's towering ambition and achievement: who else would he giev this place to? He fills the experience with allusions to the Old Masters, to Chekov, to JS Bach,.

I'm also convinced of this because the actual place where Hamlet talks about holding the mirror up to nature is when he's DIRECTING the cast of The Mousetrap near the start of Act 3.

The Mousetrap is Hamlet's way of catching the conscience of a usurping, fake king. Conscience gets a mention in the The Mirror, as do plenty of fake kings.

The Mirror is Tarkovsky's Mousetrap. It is a play within a play within a play within a play, an infinite regression of mirrors. This is because we, all of us participate in the journey backward into - and forward towards - the meaning of the human condition. The clue to this is at the very end where the heroine just for a split second catches our eye, just for a tiny moment, as if to say "Hello! You do realise that this is more than a film, that I am in you, and you are in me, that we are doing this together, that this thing that is happening is more important than there are words to describe."

Tarkovsky, in his own mind, is Hamlet directing the Mousetrap. He knows he will be thought mad. He may also have a sense that he is doomed. Googling this brings up something about the fact  that Tarkovsky was very complimentary about Hamlet in his diaries, and thought The Mousetrap a thing of genius. 

The full text of Hamlet's words as a Director is as follows. By casting Hamlet as a director of plays, Shakespeare may, of course, be making fun of himself for the benefit of a certain "in crowd" within the audience. If this is true, this may be the closest we will get to Shakespeare's own voice. 

"Suit the action to the word, the
word to the action; with this special o'erstep not
the modesty of nature: for any thing so overdone is
from the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the
first and now, was and is, to hold, as 'twere, the
mirror up to nature; to show virtue her own feature,
scorn her own image, and the very age and body of
the time his form and pressure. "

The very age and body of the time is show in all its form and in all its terrible pressure. Perhaps the heroine is carrying the weight of Virtue itself. All the other characters are an enrichment of this.  

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Hi Ian, thanks for your post. Although in no way required, I thought I'd mention that you are welcome to post an introduction in the "About You" forum should you care to let people here know a little about you and the genesis of your interests.

There are quite a few Tarkovsky fans on this board, though as you've no doubt noticed, participation in this thread (and in general) has dwindled somewhat in the last few years.

I appreciate the connections you've made to Hamlet. Thanks for that.

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Ken hi there thanks for your encouraging response. There's also a resonance for me between young Hamlet's painful confrontation with his own humanity, and the boy's long stare into the mirror towards the end of the movie.

Look at how Irish poet Seamus Heaney recalls Hamlet in "Trial Pieces", written in 1975,  the same year The Mirror was released, and at the height of the Northern Ireland Troubles: 

 

I am Hamlet the Dane, 

skull-handler, parablist, 

smeller of rot

 

In the state, infused

with its poisons, 

pinioned by ghosts

and affections...

 

There could be almost no better summing up of the operatic forward thrust of The Mirror than this: one kind of poetry echoing another, for that is what Tarkovsky's work surely is. 

 

 

 

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