Friday, July 14, 2017

Tarkovsky and Milk

Tarkovsky and Milk

In Tarkovsky’s film, Stalker, there is a domestic scene that takes place in the dwelling of the main character and his wife. The couple have been arguing about his plans to leave their domestic situation and their child to go off to explore the mysterious ‘Zone’. On the kitchen table stands a full glass of milk that somehow is knocked over during their argument. Tarkovsky spends a lot of film time watching the flood of white as it expands, covering the table and dripping to the floor. The spilling of milk here, I believe represents a break in the warmth and bond of their familial relationship.

Scenes of spilt or splattered milk also appear in the films Andre Roublev, Mirror and Nostalghia, as well as in Tarkovsky’s later, and last, film, The Sacrifice.

In The Sacrifice, a well-off extended family has come to their country house on an island in Scandinavia to celebrate the sixty-fifth birthday of the family’s paterfamilias. While the family and the maids are momentarily absent from the scene, the camera explores the spacious dining room of the house in silence. Against the wall stands a tall sideboard with shelves. Near its top shelf rests a capacious glass milk jug. As the camera scans this domestic scene, unexpectedly the silence is fractured by what sounds like a pair of jets flying low over the island. As the jets approach, the entire house begins to shake, the tall sideboard with it. As they are heard passing overhead, in a scene that is one of the great images of twentieth century filmmaking, the jug teeters and falls to the floor where it shatters, the explosion of milk covering the wooden floor.

Soon after, the family hears on a radio broadcast that something extremely disturbing and cataclysmic is about to happen in the outside world: all-out war and possibly nuclear holocaust. Looking back, the viewer can see that the scene ending in that white milky blank is suggestive of the finality of a nuclear explosion.

How fascinating that Tarkovsky uses milk for this scene, milk being a symbol of nurturing and fertility, domesticity and life. This is a perfect contrast to the idea of nuclear annihilation which is diametrically opposed to that sense of tender vitality.