There are cultural theorists who believe that the last decade of the 20th century was actually the 1980s, and also that the 20th century began in 1917, with the end of the First World War and the establishment of the world's first socialist state, the Soviet Union. The 19th century was, according to this view, long, as it began in 1789 with the French Revolution. The 20th century was short and defined by the global competition of which economic system would become, to use the words of the cultural theorist Susan Buck-Morss, “the legitimate heir” of the 19th century: The workers or the bosses, socialism or capitalism. The winner was announced in 1989 by the fall of the Berlin wall.
10 years before that world-changing event, the most poetic director in the history of cinema, Andrei Tarkovsky, a Russian, made Stalker. Though it concerned an area near a remote industrial town in USSR that was hit by a mysterious object from outer space and transformed into something with a consciousness, an alien thing that also thinks what humans are thinking and not thinking, and, like those space creatures in The Arrival, can think outside of the movement of time, Stalker is in truth about the beginning of the end of the Soviet Union—and therefore, the end of the 20th century and the socialist experiment.
It is not a coincidence that the country with the world's first successful space program, the USSR, is, in this movie, hit by something strange from space. Nor is it coincidental that this object mutates humans into post-humans in a disaster Eden. This is Freudian anxiety surfacing on the screen. The film sees the future because anxiety is not like hope (the anticipation that something good might happen in the future), or despair (the feeling that arises when something bad has happened); anxiety is when you feel a bad event that's happened not in the past but in the future. Anxiety is, like Stalker, science fictional. And Stalker in 1979, the first year of the last decade of the 20th century, sees Kosmos 1402, a satellite with a nuclear reactor that was launched in 1982 but malfunctioned and reentered the Earth's atmosphere 1983, and the Chernobyl catastrophe in 1986.
Several of the people who worked on this film died of cancer, including the director, in the last decade of the short century. Stalker plays from June 1 to June 4 at the Northwest Film Forum. (I will introduce the last screening, June 4.)