Mirror ★★★★★

Mirror is perfect cinematic poetry. It's like flicking through a book and absorbing carefully selected tatters of knowledge. It's a surprisingly unpretentious film [it isn't meant to mean anything] and yet it's impossible to write about it without seeming pretentious. The instinctive, most natural way to describe Mirror would be to just list single words (perhaps this is the only way) - television, stammering, therapy, shadows, motherhood, memory, fire, fences, bushes, plants, nature, wind, tears, corridors, trees, water, noises, death, life, pictures, love, war, snow, hair, books, logs, chairs, smiles, glass, birds, warmth, cold, flying. Perhaps it is destined to be analysed this way. It is, after all, about a bunch of single moments that collectively form a life.

Mirror means nothing and yet it is everything. It is about the power of memory as given to us by the universe (or God, for the more religious folks). This is no real world in Mirror, just a series of memories and dreams; fragments. There is no thought nor intellect, just emotional power and life perfectly distilled. Like our own mental associations, nothing logically connects and the film cuts on emotion, not chronology. This is a journey through memory and hence a journey through time. Exploring the past is just an exploration of our own regret. But of course, like all travel, you eventually get nowhere. Regret is no use in this world, but that doesn't make it worth avoiding. As we age, we accumulate more regret and yet age also doesn't matter - everyone is ageless in our memories. Time is an anomaly that distorts how we see things, it's a concept useless in braving our own mental journeys. The stock footage in Mirror, showing other lives, other conflicts, other achievements, keeps life in perspective. The burden of history shapes how we see the world and yet our memories are still our memories, however much we re-adjust them around their ever-expanding context.

Listing what Mirror is equivalent to is an impossible task. It's like watching a life, or like intruding on the most personal moments, or like a poem, or a memory entirely. Is it Tarkovsky's dream? Everybody is an actor in our dreams. Mirror feels like Tarkovsky passing on his soul, transferring memories (created or otherwise) from his mind to his fictional characters to us. It feels like dying thoughts or a final dream. This feeling reduces the viewer to a child, curiously exploring memory with a child's point of view (or maybe we're still the dying man, wishing to be a child again and poking curiously at memories as one last goodbye). Nothing else quite captures the fleeting moments that define us. Their image is nothing, and we repeat different lives over and over again to regain their feeling. There is colour, washed away through memory. There is ethereal nothingness, gliding through empty rooms until all human presence is erased. There is water, falling through a crashing house. This is reality, bending in on itself to accommodate a lifetime's worth of experiences, memories, and dreams. It's just beautiful. 

Through life (and Mirror), maternal love threads through everything. Maybe it is everything. Mirror isn't just about our memory, it's about a collective memory built upon shared moments from family, from each other, passed on as stories. There's a separation between physical and mental forms in memory, and the concept of "mother" is a mental one, not a physical one. Our connections to our mothers comes not from their existence but our deep-rooted, emotional bonds which are borne entirely within our minds. How we see the manifestation of "mother" in Mirror is similarly spiritual. No wonder important memories often revert to those around maternal bonds. 

Before the child screams, before the swelling, triumphant music, before those final few wanderings in nature, before the mother sighs and turns her head away from the camera, just before then, she is asked the film's final line: "would you rather have a boy or a girl?" No wonder she turns and the camera sprawls off into nature. That is the ultimate question, I suppose. The answer, or if there is one, or if it has caveats, might determine exactly how life unspools and how much love one has. To know if you are wanted, loved, cared for - maybe that's all our memories are good for?

Looking at movies like Mirror makes me re-consider my own life, my own memories. The time I was proud because I walked home from school all by myself. The time I naïvely tried to run away from home but was stopped before I did. The time I had my first epileptic fit and my mum stayed by my side all night at the hospital. The time when I left for university and awkwardly hugged my mum for the first time in years. All the times I got on a coach/train and said goodbye to family or friends. It's a swirling, messy pool and few films can conjure it up.

Mirror has no message, it just exists as it does. Maybe this is all reality is, and maybe that's enough. The final shot of Mirror shows love, maternity, everything - it's a mother, walking us through life.


Shoutout to Pedro, who watched Mirror with me the first time I saw it and who despised it. Imagining you scowling as I wrote yet another pretentious review of Mirror made me laugh. Also shoutout to Dylan, soon to watch his first Tarkovsky film (Stalker) upon my recommendation. Both of you helped me create some of my happiest memories.

Andrei Tarkovsky Ranked