Construction of the self in the films of A. Tarkovsky

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This dissertation examines the work of Andrey Tarkovsky, the Soviet film director who worked during the period between the late 50s and mid-80s of the twentieth century. Despite the meager number of his films (a total of seven) they have never failed to mesmerize and perplex audiences around the globe, generating dozens of books and articles about the author and his aesthetic. Because not much time has elapsed since Tarkovsky’s death, the burgeoning scholarship on his films is far from exhaustive and thus it is one of the goals of this dissertation to develop and articulate this director’s contribution in the development of world cinema. Existing criticism about Tarkovsky is known to be too entrenched in scrutinizing the biographical context of the director’s work. In the West, the figure of the director has drawn much attention because of his status as a dissident artist who fled the USSR escaping the harassment and persecution of the state. Much has been written about the literary, musical, and artistic influences on the director’s aesthetics. Little to no systematic work has been done, however, to describe the director’s inquiry into the human condition and its representation by means of film. With that in mind, I identify the human Self as the key concept of my analysis of Tarkovsky films. The subject of this dissertation is the way in which three films of Andrey Tarkovsky, Mirror, Solaris, and The Sacrifice, employ narrative and cinematic devices to construct the trope of the Self. In my argument, the Self operates as a composite entity that grows from three cinematic works. So in order to create a comprehensive description of it, I analyze each of the three films to determine its dominant motif based on the patterns of repetition, narrative structure, and medium-specific techniques. I find that the dominant motif in Mirror is a return to childhood, the dominant motif in Solaris is overcoming the Sphinx, and The Sacrifice yields the motif of acceptance of the witch. Drawing on these three motifs, the Self emerges as a reflexive and temporal being, whose existence is contingent on its ability to create and retrieve memories and whose temporality is disclosed through the operations of memory.

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Solaris, Mirror, Film