Three men go on an odyssey into the Zone, a quarantined region of hidden dangers and strange physical effects. Deep within the Zone is a room that is said to grant the innermost desire of those who can reach it. The Writer is looking for the lost inspiration he had as a younger man, the Professor seeks scientific knowledge, the titular Stalker is their guide and the only one who truly knows the Zone's secrets.
Trying to sum up Stalker is a fruitless exercise, the plot is hopelessly multilayered and in any case is really only secondary to the philosophical conversations that the characters share as they brave the Zone together. At one point the Writer is trying to explain the creative process as like trying to dig up an idea but the closer you get the more it changes to become something different. This is an apt metaphor for both the journey into the Zone and the trip that the Stalker takes the audience.
Filmed in the USSR in 1979, Stalker is perhaps the most Russian thing I have ever seen. Grim and somewhat colorless, it makes Paper Solder look like Cars, but the result is a very watchable (if rather long) story. One could claim that Stalker is a boring film - certainly not very much actually happens, there is little action and none of the Zone's supposedly terrifying effects actually appear on camera. But there are many compensations.
For one thing, the film is beautiful. Shot in glorious 4x3 full frame in long takes with a barely moving camera, Stalker looks glorious. There are many films of which it is said that every frame could be a painting, this is the first where I actually believe it.
Despite being a gritty film set in a decaying environment, Stalker seems to deliberately heighten the feeling of unreality with some of the artistic choices. The film adopts the Wizard of Oz conceit of showing the real world in monochrome then switching to color when the protagonists enter the zone, the sound effects are occasionally jarring, and the dialog between the characters is often stagey and consciously self-referential. But this somehow drew me into the world of the film rather than annoy me as it normally would.
I do not feel qualified to judge Stalker on its merits. I could fill pages with various theories on what it all means but I know it would all seem like gibberish to those who haven't seen the film and childlike idiocy to those who have. So I will just say that I recommend Stalker as an experience.
I watched a new restoration of Stalker (watch the trailer) but the whole film is available on youtube as well. If you are interested in watching Stalker for yourself, I would recommend getting it in the highest resolution you can find - it really is that kind of film even if nothing particularly visual happens.