It's taking me a few days to write a review of this movie. It's quite unlike anything else I've seen; as a depiction of solitude in a wasted world, it's similar to Luc Besson's Le Dernier Combat; I've heard its use of Sepia for the 'real world' and color for the Zone compared to the Wizard of Oz; its themes of spirituality, emptiness and despair, and martyrdom are all universal, but I've never seen them tackled in quite this way before. Tarkovsky is obviously a master of technical film. His compositions are more profoundly deep than most film, using depth of field in such a way to keep most of a scene in focus and give it an almost surreal, enveloping quality. The sound design is lush; the Zone crackles with life, from babbling streams to the ceaseless chatter of wildlife to the bizarre acoustics of bunkers and pipelines. Tarkovsky fills his landscapes with the rusted detritus of civilization; between buses, tanks, sub-machine guns, images of the Christ, chinaware, and telephones that are still hooked up to the network, Tarkovsky elicits a degree of futility that both echoes the feelings of the main characters and forces us to consider our society in a broader context. In the proper Russian tradition, the main characters are deeply conflicted, wracked with spiritual crises (well, except one); the depth of field echoes the great depth that Tarkovsky explores the themes, in man-vs-self, man-vs-man, and man-vs-nature, frequently all at once.
There are so many unanswered questions here - what do the changes in color mean? What is the significance of the telephone, the bird, the repeated juxtaposition of desert and water (life)? You know what? I'm going to break open the Netflix envelope and watch it again.