The Mirror Not Easily Seen Through by Hui-Han Chen

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To interpret Andrei Tarkovsky’s Mirror (1975) without focusing on its literary symbols and metaphors is indeed a challenge with its poetic cinematic representation. Robert Bird’s Andrei Tarkovsky: Elements of Cinema (2008) divides his analysis of Tarkovsky’s works into four main topics: earth, fire, water, and air. All these four elements are interpreted in a similar way to literary criticism, which searches for the underlying meaning of a word, a sentence, and a sequence. However, Tarkovsky himself does not prefer this tendency of analysis by writing that:

Of late I have frequently found myself addressing audiences, and I have noticed that whenever I declare that there are no symbols or metaphors in my films, those present express incredulity. They persist in asking again and again, for instance, what rain signifies in my films; why does it figure in film after film; and why the repeated images of wind, fire, water? I really don’t know how to deal with such questions. (1987: 212)

Tarkovsky’s Mirror has been widely regarded as his most enigmatic film, due to its non-linear storyline and the combination of newsreel footage with fictional filmic sequences, and his most autobiographical work, with the film based on true incidents which took place in Tarkovsky’s life. Stuart Minnis (2008: 242) points out that major scholarly works on Tarkovsky all centres around this autobiographical feature, and he identifies the gap between the auteur criticism and Tarkovsky’s disapproval of deciphering the hidden meaning in his films. Even with Tarkovsky’s outspoken disapproval, academic studies that search for symbols and autobiographical features of Mirror still remained prevalent until Deleuze’s groundbreaking film theory of the ‘time-image’ is discussed. Adopting Deleuzian approach to the complex temporal narrative of Mirror seems to be a more productive exploration into Tarkovsky’s mise-en-scène of time-pressure. For Tarkovsky, time should flow and be perceivable not only in the frames but also beyond the frames, and it is rhythm, instead of sequential editing or montage, that faithfully presents time. In this sense, Tarkovsky believes that:

The film then becomes something beyond its ostensible existence as an exposed and edited roll of film, a story, a plot. Once in contact with the individual who sees it, it separates from its author, starts to live its own life, undergoes changes of form and meaning. (1987: 118)

However, we cannot deny the discourse of autobiography, because it is informative to discover the hidden meaning of Tarkovsky’s visual motifs. As Bergson believes that “without this preliminary effort to recompose a philosophy out of what is other than itself, and to link it up to the conditions which surrounded it, we should perhaps never succeed in grasping what it actually is” (1946: 88). Now the question is whether this type of study is able to explore the spectatorial intuition. What if the audience’s uncertainty about Mirror results from the indecisive and inexpressible intuitional sense of coinciding with particular punctum, which cannot be fully elucidated through the intellectual decipherment recomposing pieces of relative knowledge?

Works Cited

Bergson, Henri (1946) The Creative Minds: An Introduction to Metaphysics, Translated by Mabelle L. Andison, New York: Dover Publication, 2007.
Bird, Robert (2008) Andrei Tarkovsky: Elements of Cinema, London: Reaktion Books.
Minnis, Stuart (2008) “Roughened Form of Time, Space, and Character in Andrei Tarkovsky’s Mirror”, Quarterly Review of Film and Video, 25 (3), pp. 241-250, Online:
Tarkovsky, Andrei (1987) Sculpting in Time: Reflections on the Cinema, Translated by Kitty Hunter-Blair, Austin: University of Texas Press.


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