Stalker (Russian: Сталкер) is a 1979 Soviet science fiction film directed by Andrei Tarkovsky and written by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, based loosely on their 1972 novel, Roadside Picnic. The film stars Alexander Kaidanovsky (in the title role), Anatoly Solonitsyn, and Nikolai Grinko, with Alisa Freindlich and Natasha Abramova.
The premise of the novel is that after an alien “Visitation,” various items of the aliens were left behind in “Zones” in six places around the world. These alien artifacts have properties not understood by humanity, as are all the strange and dangerous phenomena experienced in the Zones. Still, some people, known as “stalkers,” illegally sneak into the Zones, risking apprehension by the police who guard the dangerous areas, and hoping to take some of the items out and sell them.
In the novel, Dr. Valentine Pilman compares this leaving-behind of alien artifacts to garbage left behind after a picnic on the side of the road, hence the name of the novel. According to Pilman’s analogy, the aliens are the picnickers, we humans are like the animals living where the picnic took place, exploring all the items left behind, not understanding what they are, things that may even be dangerous to the animals.
The novel is divided into four sections (preceded by an introduction involving an interview with Pilman) of which the last is the basis of Tarkovsky’s film, and even this section of the novel is radically reworked. An alien “Visitation” is considered a possible reason for the existence of the “Zone” in the film, though it may have been caused by a meteorite hitting the Earth. Redrick “Red” Schuhart of the novel is simply known as the “Stalker.” Instead of going into the Zone with young Arthur Burbridge, who dies in the “meatgrinder” of the novel, the Stalker goes in with two middle-aged men, known as the “Writer” (Solonitsyn) and the “Professor” (Grinko), neither of whom dies in the meatgrinder. In the novel, they seek the wish-granting “Golden Sphere” (or Golden Ball, depending on the translation); in the film, the three men seek a room that grants one’s deepest desires.
The making of the film was fraught with difficulties. It was originally filmed with film stock that was unusable, so Tarkovsky had to reshoot it almost entirely with the help of new cinematographer Alexander Knyazhinsky. Stalker initially got mixed reviews, but it has since been regarded as a classic of world cinema. The British Film Institute ranked it #29 on its list of the “100 Greatest Films of All Time.”
Here is a link to quotes from the film in English translation. Here’s a link to the full movie with English subtitles. And here is a link to Antonina W. Bouis‘s English translation of Roadside Picnic.
During the credits of the film, we see a black-and-white shot of a bar (which, in the novel, is called “the Borscht”). Next, we get a shot, still in bleak black and white, of the Stalker’s home, through half-way open doors leading into his bedroom. He, his wife (Freindlich–Guta in the novel), and their daughter, “Monkey” (deformed because of the Stalker’s exposure to the Zone, and played by Abramova in the film) are all lying in the same bed.
As they’re sleeping, we hear a train going by outside, shaking up the room. The Stalker is already awake, ready to get up and sneak out, to meet with the Writer and Professor, to take them into the Zone and find the desire-granting Room. His wife wakes up soon after, noticing he’s taken her watch; she begs him not to go and risk being put in jail again.
She fears his going back to jail, this time for ten years instead of five, as he did last time (in the novel, Redrick is incarcerated for a time for having been in the Zone); but the Stalker insists that he’s “imprisoned everywhere.” This ‘imprisonment’ is what the black-and-white filming is supposed to represent: the bleakness of their everyday existence, from which the Room in the Zone is supposed to be an escape.
He won’t be dissuaded from going, and he leaves her. She falls to the floor, weeping after having cursed at him for ruining her life. What we notice here is the close relationship between the nirvana of the Room and the suffering caused by desire for that Room, the heaven of the Room and the hell that surrounds it.
As we’ll learn soon enough, heaven and hell, nirvana and samsara, are even closer together than that.
He meets with the Writer near some train tracks (indeed, as his wife was weeping, we heard another train going by their home). The Writer has been drinking and chatting with a pretty young woman about how “boring” life is (i.e., black and white), and therefore there are no flying saucers, ghosts, or God to make it interesting. There isn’t even a Bermuda Triangle, according to the Writer…yet, there’s a wish-granting Room in the Zone that he’s risking going in to find?
The two men meet with the Professor in the bar. It’s fitting that they’d all meet here, with the Writer drinking in particular; for alcohol is as much an escape from pain for him as the Zone, and the Room, are an escape from pain for the Stalker, as we’ll see.
The Professor is in the sciences, physics in particular, though he alludes enigmatically to an interest in chemistry as part of his reason for seeking the Room, a reason he’d not have the other two know about until they find the place. The Writer claims he’s going there to regain his lost inspiration.
The Stalker tells them that their train has arrived, so they must go. He tells Luger, the bartender (named Ernest in the novel), to call on his wife if he doesn’t come back. Those trains we keep hearing and seeing represent that wish to go out there to find happiness…as opposed to being content with the happiness we have here, but don’t appreciate; and this is precisely what Stalker is all about.
(Though “stalker” in the novel and film has no relation to our notion of a disturbed fan or rejected lover following around a celebrity or other object of desire, one can in a way see a connection between the two uses of the word…someone obsessively chasing a desire or form of happiness that isn’t his to have.)
They drive to the entry to the Zone, dodging and hiding from the police who patrol the area on their motorbikes. Since the Zone is, for the Stalker in particular, a kind of Eden away from his miserable world, those police are like the cherubim and the flaming sword that forbid re-entry into paradise, to get at the Tree of Life (Genesis 3:24).
Now, how should one think of the ‘happiness’ as promised by the Room in the Zone? Since Stalker is a Soviet film (i.e., one approved by the Soviet government), one might think that one’s deepest desire is for the establishment of full communism: a classless society with such an abundance of commodities as pure use-values that one can obtain without need of money, and therefore no state is needed, either, to protect the interests of one class against those of the other. Police preventing entry into the Zone can thus represent capitalist encirclement–imperialism.
Now, while Tarkovsky, as his son would later insist, was no political dissident with regards to the ideology of the USSR (i.e., he didn’t leave the USSR during his last years for political reasons; and it should be noted in this regard how George Lucas once said that one had greater artistic freedom as a filmmaker there than in Hollywood, as long as one didn’t criticize the government), it would be too simplistic to reduce the meaning of wish-fulfillment and ultimate happiness to the socialist goals of the Soviet Union. No: Tarkovsky was far too spiritual for dialectical materialism.
The point is that happiness, having what one wants most deeply in one’s soul, in the true, spiritual sense, is elusive, and there is much pain that one must go through to find that deeper happiness, not just having one’s wishes granted.
And in the end, one often finds that what one truly wants is not what one thought one wanted. The Writer admits, early on, that he isn’t really seeking inspiration from the Room, and that one often doesn’t know what one does or doesn’t want. He acknowledges this unknowing before even entering the Zone.
Still, the three men risk apprehension by the police at the entry to the Zone, then risk all the booby traps in the Zone that surround the Room…all to attain a most enigmatic happiness. Such is the seductive allure of nirvana, the desire to end the desire that causes suffering.
The Stalker drives their car on a train track among the patrol guards, who shoot at them. When one has seen the filthy urban sprawl that they live in, blanketed in pollution, one can begin to understand the lengths they’ll go to in their quest for a better life.
Having gotten past the cops, the three find a railcar to go on to get into the Zone. We see in this transport the connection between the trains and the going out there to find happiness. We hear the clanking of the railcar against the tracks as the three men go forward into the Zone, thus reinforcing the thematic connection between the sound of trains and the search for happiness…out there.
The police won’t follow the three into the Zone because they’re scared to death of what’s inside, as the Stalker explains to the Writer, who asks him what it is that’s inside. The Stalker says nothing to answer the Writer’s question, because nothing is precisely the answer to the question–a nothingness of nirvana, Wilfred Bion‘s O, Lacan‘s Real Order, a paradox of heaven and hell, Rudolph Otto‘s notion of the numinous, a mysterium tremendum et fascinans.
As the three men are going along the track, we hear the clanking of the railcar and other twanging noises as a fitting soundtrack to the sights of industrial clutter all over the land, a reminder of the bleakness of their world. And finally, the black and white of that bleakness changes to colour, and the railcar stops.
We see mostly the green beauty of nature, with trees, bushes, and grass…but still some urban clutter to remind us that the world isn’t as perfect as it may seem. The Stalker nonetheless joyfully says that they’re “home at last,” for in spite of the dangers of the Zone, the three have arrived at his conception of happiness, hence, the change to colour. He loves how still and quiet the place is, a stillness and quiet of peace, without the hell of other people…apart from the three of them, though, of course.
To navigate the Zone and avoid its booby-traps, the Stalker will use a kind of slingshot, throwing metal nuts here and there, rather like David’s way of defeating the danger of the Philistines (this flinging of nuts from a slingshot is also done by Redrick in the novel).
They have to proceed through the Zone in a very roundabout way, to avoid the dangers therein. In the novel, there’s even a reference to minesweepers that were used by stalkers in the Zone, and how two stalkers were “killed by underground explosions.” This is the sort of thing that I mean when I refer to booby-traps in the Zone. Indeed, in keeping with the socialist interpretation of the heavenly aspect of the Zone and the Room, one might associate these mines and other booby-traps with the mines and other bombs that the imperialists left in places like Laos during the Vietnam War.
On a deeper level, we can see in the heaven/hell paradox of the Zone a symbolic association between the meteorite/aliens and humans, on the one hand, and the sons of God mating with the daughters of men, on the other (Genesis 6:1-4). The offspring from the Biblical mating were the Nephilim; in the case of the Zone, the offspring of stalkers, who have been exposed to the alien presence, are children like the deformed “Monkey”–unable to walk, but possessing telekinetic powers, as we discover at the end of the film.
The point is that, in the Zone, there is, symbolically speaking, a taboo mixture of the human and divine worlds, giving rise to the heaven/hell paradox of the place. Wishes may come true, it’s divinely beautiful in its greenery, but people die here. I discussed, in my analysis of the primeval history in Genesis, how any mixture of the human and divine worlds resulted in evil (i.e., man trying to be like God in having knowledge–expulsion from Eden; man trying to be like God in deciding when another will die–Cain’s punishment; and the mating of the sons of God with the daughters of men–the sinful world leading to the Flood).
The Stalker describes the Zone as a complex maze of death traps where “everything begins to move” when people are there. The Zone is an alien land, altered by divine, celestial beings, as it were, and when man enters it, we have that mix of divine and human that brings with it the danger of a deluge of evil.
This is why, though the three men have quickly found the building where the Room is, they cannot risk death by directly walking into it. They must follow the deliberately circuitous path directed by the Stalker. “Former traps disappear; new ones appear,” he says. Safe paths become dangerous, and vice versa: a dialectical shift between the opposites of good and evil, shifting up and down like the waves of an ocean…or a flood.
The Stalker speaks of the Zone in almost religious language, as though it’s a God-like presence that will punish you with death if you don’t behave properly. Still, he thinks that it isn’t the good or evil who either make it to the Room or perish. It’s the wretched, those who’ve lost all hope, who go thus from the lowest low up to the highest heaven. Yet even the wretched may perish if they misbehave here.
So, instead of going into the building, they will get there indirectly by first going into a dark wood where the Stalker has tossed one of his slingshot nuts. Thus we come to Part Two of the film. “Long is the way/And hard, that out of hell leads up to light.” (Milton, Paradise Lost, Book Two, lines 432-433)
The Stalker hopes, again in that quasi-religious attitude of his, that the other two men will believe (i.e., in the truth of the Zone), believe in themselves, and “become as helpless as children.” (Mark 10:14-15)
Another paradox in the film is the Stalker’s belief that it is in softness that there is life, and in death we find hardness. Strength and hardness kill, in his view; in softness and flexibility are life, rather like the notion that the meek are blessed, for they shall inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5).
The Professor, not realizing that the Stalker has been continuously guiding him and the Writer to the Room, however circuitously, but incorrectly thinking he has just been showing them something, has left his backpack and wants to go back to retrieve it. The Stalker insists that he mustn’t, for fear of the death traps, but the Professor won’t be dissuaded, because he has something in that backpack that he needs when reaching the Room.
The Stalker and Writer come to a place of rushing water that the former calls “the dry tunnel,” as a joke. Since the Professor is no longer with them, they assume correctly that he’s gone back for his backpack, and that they must go on without him. They go through the soaking wet of the “dry tunnel,” and after we see a close-up shot of rippling, shallow water with such various forms of leftover trash as used needles and pieces of paper, the two men are surprised to find the Professor on the other side, with his backpack and calmly eating and drinking from his thermos.
They’ve managed to get through an area the Stalker deemed dangerous, a watery area the Professor has navigated with no help (and the Writer has alluded to Peter almost drowning, a reference to Matthew 14:22-32); here, we see the Stalker, the most ‘religious’ of the three, being the one “of little faith,” while the Professor hasn’t needed any faith.
The three men lie down and have a rest.
Since this place is, on the one hand, a wish-fulfilling paradise, and paradoxically on the other hand, a place of death, a heavenly Hades, if you will, the appearance of a dog–whose howling we heard when the three men arrived on the railcar–is fitting. This dog is symbolic of Cerberus, guarding, as it were, the underworld of ultimate fulfillment.
We see a brief black-and-white shot of the water, close up, leading to the Stalker, who is lying prone on the ground by that water, his head on his hand in an attitude of exasperation. Meanwhile, the other two have been chatting about whatever wishes they may hope will be granted them. Inspiration for the Writer? A Nobel Prize for the Professor? The latter taunts the former about his talentless, vain writing, but the Writer, spitting on humanity, is interested only in himself. The Stalker’s exasperation must come from his secret knowledge that the granting of one’s wishes is a truly empty pursuit.
Still, taking people into the Zone is extremely important to him, as a kind of act of religious faith, as we’ll see towards the end of the film.
“Truth is born in arguments,” we hear. Indeed: dialectical thinking is the basis of all the paradoxes of Stalker.
We return to colour, with the Stalker now lying supine on the grass. He seems more at ease now. He brings as many people as he can into the Zone, wishing to bring in more…to find happiness. He agrees that one has never found a single happy person in the world, a reminder of the first of the Buddha‘s Four Noble Truths…yet the Stalker still wants to bring people here.
One seeks happiness like a dog chasing its tail, never catching it. Still, one chases after it.
When asked if he’s ever used the Room, the Stalker says that he’s happy as he is…with no smile on his face.
…and we briefly return to black and white, with the dog running up to him. His whole world is just as bleak in the Zone as it is outside. Deep down, the Stalker knows that the Room’s promises of happiness are empty, so he only brings other people here to give them that hope. He is, in essence, a kind of religious charlatan, selling bliss, and he knows it.
He’s lying on a tiny island, as it were, of land, just big enough to include his body, and he’s surrounded by shallow water. Sometimes Brahman is compared to an ocean (as I have done), with Atman compared to a drop in this ocean. But here, this water is shallow, like the shallow hope of happiness the Stalker is selling. Sometimes, nirvana is compared to an island, but his ‘island’ is so small as to be insignificant.
The Writer acknowledges the emptiness of his desire to gain inspiration from the Room. After all, the whole point of being a writer, for him at least, is to prove his worth, as such to himself and to others. This need to prove himself is fueled by his own self-doubt. If the Room grants him his wish of genius, he has no more need to prove himself; then, what need has he anymore to write?
What we can see here, therefore, is a kind of ouroboros of wish-fulfillment. I’ve discussed, in many other articles, my use of the serpent biting its tail as a symbol of the dialectical relationship between opposites. The ouroboros, coiled in a circle. represents for me a circular continuum; extreme opposites meet and phase into each other where the head bites the tail, and every point in between has its correspondence on every intermediate point on the serpent’s coiled body.
So, for the Writer to achieve his wish of inspiration is to lose his whole motivation and meaning for writing. The talent of writing kills the writer. The Stalker knows, deep down, that the granting of wishes, the giving of happiness, kills it; therefore, he’ll never use the Room. The Professor knows of the potential danger of misuse of the wish-granting of the heaven-hell Room, so he has special plans for it, which necessitate his bringing along of his backpack.
One can conceive of an ouroboros of the Zone, too. When the three men arrive, having come from the black-and-white bleakness of their ordinary world and the danger of being shot by the patrol guards, we come upon a colourful world of beautiful trees, grass, and bushes. What’s more, the Room has been discovered to be quite close.
They can’t go in directly, so they’ve had to travel from the heavenly biting head, as it were, of the ouroboros of the Zone, down the coiled length of its body in the direction of its bitten tail, where the deadly meatgrinder is, just before the Room. As can be expected, this move along the coiled length of the serpent’s body, so to speak, has meant an experience of less and less bliss, more and more pain. The Stalker has to guide them through the increasing intensity of danger. Hence, these black-and-white moments, indicating a decrease in heavenly bliss; hence also the increasing lack of civility in the men’s discussions.
We see a shot of what looks like a stretch of muddy land, yet it moves in waves…at once like that Brahman-ocean metaphor I discussed above, yet also like a field of diarrhea. Such is the heaven/hell paradox of the Zone.
We hear a voiceover recitation of Revelation 6:12-17 begin as the Stalker, still lying on his little island, stares in front of himself in a wide-eyed daze. The film switches to black and white again, with a slowly moving close-up shot of the shallow water with random pieces of trash in it: a needle, coins, a picture of a saint, a gun, etc., and muddy tiles on the bottom. The shot ends with the Stalker’s hand.
With what is heard and seen, we again have juxtapositions of the holy and the horrifying: a description of the terror of Armageddon from the Bible, and the oceanic Brahman of water, but shallow water with things that hurt (the needle and gun); a holy man’s picture, but that which, if we love it too much, is the root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:10).
We return to colour, with a shot of the dog. The Stalker rises from his resting place, and he contemplates the two disciples going to Emmaus and seeing the risen Christ (Luke 24:13-18). This narrative, of course, brings us from the despair of the disciples, over Christ‘s crucifixion, to the joyful realization of His resurrection…only the Stalker stops his recitation just before that moment of realization. Instead, as the Stalker discusses music, we see a shot of a beautiful lake, surrounded by trees. Renewed hope and joy can come in surprising forms.
Recall the presence of the dog…for the next scene shows the entrance to a tunnel leading ultimately to the Room. This is the place of death, a kind of Hades, that one has to go through before reaching the heaven of the Zone. This is the bitten tail of the ouroboros that I mentioned above. It’s a harrowing of hell, the meatgrinder one must risk death going through if one is to reach the nirvana known as the Room, the serpent’s biting head.
In the novel, Redrick simply plans, from the beginning, to sacrifice Arthur to the meatgrinder, so the former can gain access to the Golden Ball. In the film, the Stalker has all three men draw straws to see who will go first into the meatgrinder and risk death. The Writer is the unlucky one.
Like Arthur, the Writer is the Christ figure who must suffer so the others get the benefits of the Room. Unlike Arthur, though, the Writer won’t die; he’ll just have to endure the stress of thinking he could die. He’ll have to go through this dark, filthy, polluted tunnel that curves like the inside of the coiled ouroboros. The Writer, before drawing straws, says he doesn’t think he should go in first, rather like Jesus, praying in Gethsemane, hoping God would let this cup pass from him (Matthew 26:39).
The Writer goes through the tunnel, the Stalker and Professor following from far behind. The Writer reaches a door, through which he must go. Before opening the door, though, he takes a pistol out of his coat pocket; the Stalker forbids him to use it, for it would seal their doom. Christ, during His Passion, of which the Writer’s current ordeal is the representation, never used a weapon–neither must the Writer.
He opens the door, goes into a passageway flooded with water, and must descend stairs to get chest deep in it to reach the other side. Of course, the other two must follow. The gun must be left in the water.
The Writer has gone ahead into an area with wavy hills of sand on the floor, reminding us of that stretch of muddy land outside that undulated. The Stalker warns the Writer to go no further. Those waves of sand again remind us of the oceanic nature of the Absolute, which is both heaven and hell. The Writer is lying on his side in a puddle, in exasperation, as the Stalker was before.
The Writer gets up, then speaks of this place as someone’s “idiotic invention.” The Zone, like religion, is just an invention to him. He’s furious with the Stalker, believing he cheated him into taking the wrong straw.
The Stalker is amazed at the Writer’s good luck in having survived, since so many have died in the meatgrinder. The Writer’s survival, allowing the other two to get through alive, is thus symbolic of Christ’s redemptive sacrifice and resurrection. Later, we will even see the Writer put on his head a wreath of branches like the crown of thorns.
Finally, they’re in the Room. What’s fascinating about the shot Tarkovsky takes of the Room is that we see it from outside, from the entranceway, just like his opening shot of the Stalker’s home, with the doorway leading into the bedroom. A similar shot has been given of the way in the bar. The implication is that these similarities show that the way to true happiness is not somewhere out there, a place we have to find, but right here at home, if only we had the eyes to see it. The problems is that we are, so to speak, colourblind–hence, the black-and-white shots.
A telephone rings in the Room. The call is from a clinic, the Professor’s place of work, and he phones back to talk to the caller, a colleague he has contempt for. The Professor proudly admits to what the caller knows that he intends to do to the Room. In a sense, the Professor is having his deepest, secret wish come true right here, for he has found the courage to tell the caller that he is defying the wishes of the institution of his employment, from which he expects to be fired.
…and what does the Professor want to do, and why does he need that backpack so badly? In it, he’s been carrying a bomb he’s meant to use to destroy the Room, so no one can misuse it to grant wishes of power, or to do other forms of evil.
The Stalker struggles with the Professor to take the bomb away and to prevent him from destroying the Room, but the Writer stops the Stalker, still mad at him for cheating him into making him go first into the meatgrinder. In any case, the Professor will change his mind, take his bomb apart, and toss the pieces into a large puddle. What we truly want is often a surprise to us, for we don’t really know what it is.
The three men look out at a large opening where a wall would have been, as if this were the entrance to the Room. We never see what’s on the other side, as if to preserve the mystery of the Room; but I don’t think that this opening leads there, however much it is implied that it does. The light coming out from it suggests that it’s the way back outside, rather than the way into the Room. (When we saw the building earlier from the outside, when the three men had just arrived and the Writer was approaching it, we saw a huge hole in it, a wall removed, and a door to a small room to the right; what we see now corresponds perfectly to this earlier sight.)
I believe the little room with the telephone and a glowing ball of a ceiling light (corresponding to the novel’s Golden Sphere?) is the actual Room, though Tarkovsky may have been teasing us with ambiguity as to which area was the real Room (i.e., which way is the real way to heaven?). The men have just stepped out of the Room for a moment, having not yet decided on what their wishes will be; then they’ll go back in.
The little room has a telephone, electricity, even sleeping pills…all odd things to find in one of so many abandoned buildings of junk and filth, if this isn’t the wish-granting Room. Still, what we want is so often not what we really want, hence the ambiguity as to which place is the real Room.
And in spite of how ambiguous this Room is in terms of its wish-fulfilling properties, and its paradoxical heaven/hell status, the Stalker still wants his Room to continue existing, not just so he can continue making money taking people here, but because he sees in it the importance of maintaining a sense of hope in life, a faith in some kind of religious feeling. He is, as the Writer observes, “one of God’s fools.”
When the Stalker talks about making one’s wish, now that the time has finally come, he is nervous and dripping with sweat, as though getting one’s wish is a terrifying thing. Heaven is hell.
So what the men end up doing is sitting outside between the Room and the open space, in quiet contemplation, instead of making wishes. All this effort…for nothing.
Yet, the Stalker mentions again, as he did when they’d first arrived in the Zone, how still the place is.
They return to the bar, and we return to black and white. The Stalker’s wife is there, with Monkey. We see the two of them outside, through the window of a door, in a shot reminding us of those of the Room, of the way in the bar, and of the way into the Stalker’s home’s bedroom. The place of our wishes is here with us, with family and friends, all in its dull black and white, with all of its troubles and miseries.
The dog has come with them, further demonstrating the unity of the Zone and what’s outside it. When the Stalker goes home with his family and the dog, we return to colour, with the Stalker carrying Monkey on his shoulders.
Back in his home, the Stalker, not feeling well, is complaining of the lack of respect and appreciation the Writer and Professor have for the Zone and Room, like a religious person complaining of atheists. Fittingly, we see black and white again, to reflect his own lack of appreciation for all that he has, in his own home. He ends up back in bed, as he was at the beginning of the film, which has thus come full circle.
His wife, in a monologue that breaks the fourth wall, speaks of never once regretting marrying him, in contrast to her cursing of him at the film’s beginning. She, too, calls him “one of God’s fools.”
She concludes that, in spite of all the sorrows she’s had with the Stalker, she has no regrets because, as the film has pointed out so many times with all of its symbolism, without pain, there’s no happiness or hope, either.
…and who is her hope, and his hope? Monkey, of course!
And this is how the film ends, in colour, with Monkey seen reading a book. A golden shawl is wrapped around her head and draped on her shoulders, presumably to hide her deformities. She is mute throughout the film. We hear the Stalker’s wife, in voiceover, reciting a poem as the child, having put the book down, sits there staring into space.
The film ends with her using telekinesis to move two glasses across a table, making one of them fall off of it. Here we see the true meaning of wish-fulfillment: using one’s mind to make happen what one wishes to happen. As a deformed child of the Stalker, and therefore of the Zone, Monkey is clearly his wish-fulfillment personified, even if he doesn’t realize it. As the offspring resulting from the symbolic mating of one of the sons of God and the daughters of men, she isn’t literally one of the Nephilim, but she is a giant hope for her parents.
The fulfillment of wishes, the finding of happiness, isn’t supposed to be selfish–it’s to be shared with others. This is why we see colour now in the Stalker’s home: his happiness is here because his wife and daughter are here. They are his happiness. Happiness is a collective one, not an individual one…which is actually the goal of socialism, incidentally.
A similar conclusion is made in the novel when Redrick shouts out, in imitation of Arthur, who has first shouted it before being killed by the meatgrinder: “HAPPINESS FOR EVERYBODY, FREE, AND NO ONE WILL GO AWAY UNSATISFIED!”
Nonetheless, we hear the rattling of that train again, the wish to find happiness out there. The temptation to go astray is ever present. As the camera does a closeup on Monkey, though, with her head lying on its side on the table, her like a reclining Buddha, we hear a chorus singing Beethoven’s Ode to Joy.