Roadside Picnic is a novella by Russian sci-fi writers Arkady and Boris Strugatsky and was adapted for the screen as Stalker. The movie and the book are very different but there are enough similarities to make it recognisable as the same theme.
The story centres on 'The Zone', an area made uninhabitable since an alien visitation destroyed it. It is illegal to enter 'The Zone' without the appropriate authorisation and protective clothing, but people do. These people are known as Stalkers, and they make their money from the items that they bring out of 'The Zone'. Successful Stalkers become legendary as many don't make it out alive, and if they do then some are not always in one piece. The one thing that they all wish to obtain is the 'golden ball' for it is said that it will grant your innermost wish.
The novella follows a Stalker called Redrick Schuhart, who is known as 'Red' by his peers. It is well known that the wives of stalkers bear deformed children, and Red's daughter is no exception. Nicknamed 'Monkey' there is mention of golden silken hair on her body but, as the story progresses Monkey's hair darkens and her face becomes sunken, and she becomes disassociated from her family.
The title of the story relates to the alien visitation, which is likened to a roadside picnic. When we have a picnic we disturb the area that is home to the various creatures living there - insects and birds etc. We eat our food, play some games, leave our rubbish and then drive off without giving a second thought to the place again.
In the movie (directed by Andrei Tarkovsky) it is many years since the alien visitation and a stalker is taking two men into The Zone to find a room that will grant their wishes. This is an extremely beautiful and atmospheric movie to watch. Some of the scenes are like watching a painting. The music is gorgeous and captures the feel of the location perfectly.
More philosophical than the book, it asks the question: What really is our heart's desire? You might know what your dearest wish is but your innermost desire might be something in your subconscious ie you might wish for peace on Earth but subconsciously you might desire your brother dead............when the Stalker and the two men find the room this question plagues their consciences.
Stalker is a movie that you can watch on many levels. I love watching it just for the visual images, I like to watch it without any subtitles so that I can soak in the sound of the Russian language, and I watch it just to enjoy the soundtrack. This is certainly a beautiful piece of movie making.