Tarkovsky’s (Un)Realized Films

Raisa Solovyov, Brigham Young University

Andrei Tarkovsky made several different lists in his journal of novels he wanted to adapt. The vast majority went unrealized. He discusses his current literary film adaptation projects in his journal, but they never appear on his list of desired projects to film. He wrote, “I somehow think that it’s better to screen inferior literature, which nonetheless contains the seed of something real—which can be developed in the film and grow into something great as a result of going through your hands.” Tarkovsky chose to film novels that he could infuse with the themes, characters, even dialogue of the literature he really wanted to film. By comparing the original piece of writing with Tarkovsky’s film version it is possible to identify what thematic, plot, and character elements Tarkovsky added. The question then arises from where did Tarkovsky draw his added material? We believe that much of it came from the literature Tarkovsky was never able to film—his unrealized films.

We are using the theory of two critics in our analysis of Tarkovsky’s adaptations. Robert Stam’s ideas on adaptation as intertextual dialogism say that an adaptation will have identifiable elements of other texts. Yurii Lottman’s idea about canonized versus uncanonized texts holds that where an adaptation of a canonized text would be less free, an uncanonized text can be adapted in any way the adaptor wishes.

Tarkovsky’s films Solaris (1975) and Stalker (1979) are the two science fiction adaptations we examine in this research. Two of his three adaptations were science fiction, a genre that gave him more freedom to manipulate the story, unencumbered by boundaries of convention or canonization. We will compare the source text with Tarkovsky’s version and try to identify the elements Tarkovsky drew from the works of Dostoevsky while adapting. We recognize that Tarkovsky used other literary sources besides Dostoevsky, but are limiting our study to this one influence in his work. Themes in Tarkovsky’s films such as misplaced trust and fanaticism in science, misuses and limitations of freedom, multiple parallel realities, and religious references such as the story of Lazarus are all expounded on by Dostoevsky but absent from Lem’s Solaris and the Strugatsky brothers’ “Roadside Picnic.” We also look at how the hero archetype in Tarkovsky’s films compare with Dostoevsky’s holy fool and other hero types.

Finally, we look at how direct dialogue and plot events from Dostoevsky appear in these two adaptations.