The Mirror (1975)

Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky; Written by Aleksandr Misharin and Andrei Tarkovsky

A man, dying, flits back through his memories, and Tarkovsky, with easy grace, knits together a macrocosmic image of the Russian soul using the yarn of the intensely personal.  

It’s hard to imagine anyone else performing the balancing act between poetry and evanescent gesturing, as it’s such a precarious state that can be upset by the breath from an eyelid’s flutter, and while The Mirror truly is a thing of beauty, it must also be seen in the right light. 

Scenes pass into each other through the thin connective tissue of reminiscence and the veil of logic doesn’t always apply. An angry confrontation between parents can quickly become a burning house, which can quickly become a child reading Rousseau to a grandparent, which can quickly become a woman perched on a fence. They bleed into each other, like dreams do in dawn’s early light: fully formed until you reach out to feel, then disappearing as if they never existed. 

Breaking up these warmly colored recollections are harsh passages of archival footage showing children being separated from parents, men marching through mud headed for war, machines firing explosives into a night sky. Tender, safe scenes of childhood bound in the harsh external realities of the time. 

How The Mirror lands with you depends on your level of patience with one person’s experience and their import. What’s profound and moving for one person can feel banal and self-indulgent to another, and The Mirror may seem like that for some. For believers, however, it can be a shimmering translucent pearl wherein you observe the formative memories of someone who has great affection for the people in them.  

The Mirror suggests a linearity to life that’s only revealed at the end of it all, as if the premonition of life’s end suddenly jerks all its messiness into line; That life can be arranged along that white horizon is perhaps a foolhardy wish for simplicity in a world that has none, and while it’s never as crass to suggest a Rosebud moment, The Mirror does hint at a kernel of meaning, however slight.

In a body of work that deals with life’s opaque questions, the perniciousness of memories, and men who are destroyed by them, Tarkovsky’s The Mirror is a soft spot to land, as it offers the rich humanity found in life’s small moments, and how they endure in the crushing tide of contemporary life. 

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