The Director's Chair Interviews

Tarkovsky talks about "Mirror"

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Zerkalo or as it is by its English title Mirror (1975) is, the fourth of Tarkovsky's seven films, and is "central" both numerically and aesthetically to his oeuvre. By Tarkovsky's own account, his most openly autobiographical, daring, and self-revealing film. "What, in my view, is Mirror about?

It is an autobiographical film. The things that happen are real things that happened to people close to me. That is true of all the episodes in the film. But why do people complain that they cannot understand it? The facts are so simple, they can be taken by everyone as similar to the experience of their own lives. But here we come up against something that is peculiar to cinema: the further a viewer is from the content of a film, the closer he is; what people are looking for in cinema is a continuation of their lives, not a repetition. There are no entertaining moments in the film. In fact I am categorically against entertainment in cinema: it is as degrading for the author as it is for the audience.

The purpose of the Mirror, its inspiration, is that of a homily: look, learn, use the life shown here as an example. There are so many films now, and they are all so different, that very soon it will be impossible to plan for distribution to cinemas. That will be the beginning of a new phase in the development of film, which is after all the youngest art form, it is only about seventy years old[1895 is generally considered cinema's first year and the interview with Tarkovsky is from 1975]. Films will start to be handed out as cassettes, people will take them home, every viewer will find himself face to face with the film he particularly likes. And what of cinema, the mass medium, you may ask? Mass is not a criterion of quality. The same could be said about the number of people involved in the making of a film. Numbers are not the point. A small team working together is preferable to a large collective."

Why is the film called Mirror, and not The Bright, Bright Day as it was originally called?

The Bright, Bright Day was the name of the screenplay, not the film. There is no basis for giving the film that name.

Can Mirror be considered a surrealist film?

No, it certainly cannot. What is surrealist about it? I was against surrealism even when I understood something about it, and I am even more against it now that I no longer understand it all. Even the great Salvador Dali has repudiated surrealism. The movement has in fact disintegrated altogether.

What is the subject of Mirror, its idea, moral plot, development, denouement?

The writer of that question clearly considers that all those things are essential in any work of art. In reality the concept of things that 'have to be' is incompatible with art. A work of art, of whatever art form, is constructed only according to its won principles, and is based on its own, inner, dynamic stereotype. In fact I can answer like a demagogue: in Mirror there are subject and denouement, and all the other things listed in the question.

Is there symbolism in Mirror?

No! The images themselves are like symbols, but unlike accepted symbols they cannot be deciphered. the image is like a clot of life, and even the author may not be able to work out what it means, let alone the audience. Pushkin's "My sadness is radian" is not a symbol but a an image. Tolstoy's dying Ivan Ilych feels as if he is confined inside a narrow intestine pipe, and cannot get out. What he feels is what the sick mans says. As long ago as the Middle Ages Japanese writers were decrying the interpretation of symbols in art. And quite rightly! The fewer symbols the better! Symbolism is a sign of decadence.

I should like to ask you all not to be so demanding, and not to think of Mirror as a difficult film. It is no more than a straightforward, simple story. It doesn't have to be made any more understandable.

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