A Russian man named Andrei is in Tuscany. Not the beautiful sunny Tuscany we’re used to seeing, but a foggy and rainy one. He is holding a candle, attempting to carry it from one end of a drained pool to the other. In an astounding nine minute long lateral tracking shot, we see his struggle. He doesn’t get too far in his first attempt, and slowly walks back to the beginning of the pool, going to start again. He starts once more. He makes it a little further, attempting to shield the lit candle from the wind. He fails once again, although he’s made it a bit farther. On this third attempt, Andrei is devoting everything he has to keeping this candle lit. On his face is a look of intense concentration, shielding the candle with his coat and acting as if his life depends on this moment. Finally he makes it. He approaches the other side of the pool, and with every step closer, he struggles more. His legs become weak, sweat is on his brow. He carefully sets this lit candle down onto the side of the pool, and promptly dies. This is the final scene of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Nostalghia. What does this mean? What could it possibly symbolize about our character and his journey? Well, probably nothing if you’re to take the words of the film’s director into account.
Andrei Tarkovsky is widely considered to be one of the greatest filmmakers to ever live. He was hailed by Swedish film maestro Ingmar Bergman as “the most important director of our time.” His movies are rife with incredible imagery and beautiful storytelling. However, one unique characteristic that separates Tarkovsky from most storytellers is his aversion to symbols and symbolism in his films. Tarkovsky disliked the idea and believed it could ruin the composition of a scene and create a distraction for the audience. This is, by all means, a pretty unusual viewpoint. Symbolism has been an incredibly important part of almost all art since words were first put down to tell a story. So why did Tarkovsky think it was so harmful, and how does it relate to his own work and perhaps other films?