5 Films That Were So Evidently Influenced by Andrei Tarkovsky

All art, of course, is intellectual, but for me, all the arts, and cinema even more so, must above all be emotional and act upon the heart.” (Andrei Tarkovsky)

Andrei Tarkovsky (1932 – 1986) was a Soviet director and screenwriter known for his cinematic masterpieces, including Solaris [1972], Stalker [1979] and his debut Ivan’s Childhood [1962]. He inspired generations of film-makers, and Steven Dillon, a film historian, even went so far as to say that “much of subsequent film” was influenced by Tarkovsky’s work. Always favouring long takes, Tarkovsky belonged to a group of film-makers (for example, others are Robert Bresson (Pickpocket [1959]) and Yasujiro Ozu (Tokyo Story [1953])),that explored spirituality, the transcendental and the metaphysical on film, often focusing on morality or religion, and sometimes employing certain very vivid imagery to convey that. A list of films that were inspired by Tarkovsky’s work in some way or another will probably be never ending, but here I would like to focus on just five of them. Another thing to note is that Andrei Tarkovsky himself drew influence from such directors as Ingmar Bergman, Luis Buñuel and Akira Kurosawa, and this list is not to disparage any of the films listed, which are very good, but to simply draw similarities with Tarkovsky’s work and style.

I. Melancholia [2011] by Lars von Trier

Lars von Trier’s Melancholia is a work of beauty. Sublime and thought-provoking, Melancholia focuses on one well-to-do family that starts getting to grips with the fact that the end of the world may be near. Another planet is on the collision course with Earth and members of this family, who have a straining relationship with each other, respond differently to the news. Tarkovsky’s influence (including almost his entire filmography) can be seen or felt in almost every other shot of Lars von Trier’s 2011 work.

Melancholia is an interesting example because both Tarkovsky’s artistic style and the content of his work are imitated in Melancholia. The sci-fi element of the film, including the scientific discussions is clearly Tarkovsky’s Solaris, the panic about the apocalypse, or something close, and the wait for it, including how different members of one family respond to the news is clearly Tarkovsky’s The Sacrifice [1986], which has the same exact topic and feel. In terms of shot simulations, there are also numerous examples, including Justine (Kirsten Dunst)’s art collection and the shots of numerous books which pay tribute to Tarkovsky’s shots of books in such films as The Sacrifice and again Solaris. The scenes of nature are also all similar to the Soviet film-maker’s work. And, it is not the first time that Lars von Trier imitated the Soviet master. His films Antichrist [2009] and, to some extent, Dogville [2003], pay more than a tribute to Tarkovsky in both their visual elements and themes (von Trier is even known to focus on the same paintings as Tarkovsky did in his films). For other similarities between Lars von Trier’s work and the work of Tarkovsky see this video here.

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II. The Revenant [2015] by Alejandro González Iñárritu

Back in 2016, I shared a video on my blog titled “The Revenant” by Tarkovsky, which compared scene-by-scene Alejandro González Iñárritu’s film The Revenant, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, and Tarkovsky’s filmography. The number of similarities, including in details, nuances and camera angles, is quite astonishing. Even if The Revenant has a different story from Tarkovsky’s films, Iñárritu must have certainly relied for his artistic inspiration on how to present his film on the Soviet film-maker – and relied heavily. As seen from the video I shared in 2016, some scenes are virtually the same, including the ones showing two men walking in the woods, the burning house and the destroyed church. Emmanuel Lubezki, the film’s cinematographer, hardly had a job cut out for him, especially in terms of seeking original ideas. And, yes, we even have Tarkovsky’s “levitation” scene in The Revenant. What is missing is probably only the exact script because the artistry is already there. Interestingly, Iñárritu’s film Biutiful [2010] also shares some existential themes and presentation with Tarkovsky.

III. The Return [2003] by Andrey Zvyagintsev

Andrei Tarkovsky once said: “juxtaposing a person with an environment that is boundless, collating him with a countless number of people passing by close to him and far away, relating a person to the whole world, that is the meaning of cinema.” This quote is equally applicable to Andrey Zvyagintsev, a Russian filmmaker, who is perhaps the biggest contemporary “imitator” of Tarkovsky’s trademark themes, style and art. Much like Andrei Tarkovsky did before him, Zvyagintsev likes to present his films in a slow manner focusing on the immensity of the environment that surrounds his characters. He also favours themes of spirituality and the relationship of men to nature.

Also similar to Tarkovsky, the director uses long takes and often focuses on one particular object or imagery to convey certain philosophical or spiritual ideas. In The Return, Zvyagintsev mixes some broad, almost cosmic significance with personal events, just like Tarkovsky did before him. There are scenes of both Solaris and The Mirror in the The Return (for example, see this article for detailed similarities), and the emotional journey of the boy in The Return even mirrors the emotional journey of Ivan in Tarkovsky’s Ivan’s Childhood. Moreover, Zvyagintsev’s film The Banishment [2007] also has scenes that were influenced by both Stalker and Solaris.

IV. The Tree of Life [2011] by Terrence Malick 

Many people linked Malick’s The Tree of Life to Tarkovsky’s filmography, and, especially to Tarkovsky’s film The Mirror [1975] and for a good reason. Frankly, in The Tree of Life, Malick is channelling Tarkovsky like there is no tomorrow. Because of the film’s religious and spiritual themes, which are shown through the prism of nature and one family, The Tree of Life could have been a sequel or a prequel to a number of Tarkovsky’s films. Many of Tarkovsky’s cinematic trademarks, including the non-linear narrative and the peculiar presentation of nostalgia for the past, are present in Malick’s 2011 film and many shots also reminisce the long takes of the Soviet master. There is something of Tarkovsky’s Ivan’s Childhood in The Tree of Life too, especially when the camera centres on the boys of the family. More interestingly, as Paul Schrader also did in First Reformed [2018], Malick took Tarkovsky’s signature levitation scene from The Mirror and made the character of Jessica Chastain also levitate in the film. In fact, many scenes in The Tree of Life that show Jessica Chastain remind of the scenes with Margarita Terekhova in The Mirror.

V. Kaili Blues [2015] by Bi Gan

In this film by a young Chinese director, Chen Sheng is an ex-convict who is working as a doctor in one rural village. When his brother’s son mysteriously disappears, Chen decides to seek him out and return the boy from, what he believes is, a forced servitude. Metaphysical and philosophical, Bi Gan’s work reminds strongly of Tarkovsky’s work. Bi Gan is a big fan of the Soviet film-maker and his inclusion of poetry, the theme of time dissolution, his long shots of a rural village in his film and dreamy pondering of existence in the story are all similar to Tarkovsky.

Other notable film-makers that imitated Andrei Tarkovsky also include Greek director Theodoros Angelopoulos (Eternity and a Day [1998]), Russian director Alexander Sokurov (Russian Ark [2002]), Hungarian film-maker Bela Tarr (Sátántangó [1994]), American director Gus Van Sant (Gerry [2002]), Argentinian film-maker Lucrecia Martel (La Ciénaga [2001], Zama [2017]) and British director Christopher Nolan (Interstellar [2014]).

13 thoughts on “5 Films That Were So Evidently Influenced by Andrei Tarkovsky

  1. I’m not familiar w/ Andrei Tarkovsky’s work but seeing the collection of the films here, they definitely share some similarities. I like some of Malick’s work but I don’t think I ‘get’ Lars von Trier.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Very insightful, db. It’s a pleasure to read about the references to Tarkovsky you’ve discovered in these films. You’ve clearly been studying this for a long time and I can see why. An important director, who has clearly had a huge impact. What’s your favorite Tarkovsky film?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! I can’t say I studied it exactly, perhaps just an accumulation of thoughts over the years 🙂 My favourites are Solaris and Ivan’s Childhood, which may not necessarily be his best. I can’t really say which one is my favourite from the two, maybe because their content and aims are so different. Do you have a favourite Tarkovsky film?

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  3. Great post 🙂 I love Melancholia and The Tree of Life 🙂 Been a while since I have seen 3 and 5 though 🙂 I had a feeling based on the way that Andrei Tarkovsky approaches things that Lars Von Trier and Terence Malick would be influenced by him in some ways 🙂 Anyway, keep up the great work as always 🙂

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  4. Brilliant post! Really enjoyed reading your insightful analysis. I am not a massive expert on Tarkovsky’s work, but I have watched SOLARIS recently and found it a hypnotic experience. Certainly influenced many science fiction films and other filmmakers!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Good selections. The Tree of Life is perhaps the closest to Tarkovsky. Some of Paul Thomas Anderson’s movies too. Yorgos Lanthimos was clearly influenced by Tarkovsky, specifically Killing of a Sacred Deer. What do you think?

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    1. Yes, definitely, I see the similarities. The thing with Yorgos Lanthimos, though, is that he has such distinctive cinematic “trademarks” now, including the way his actors behave in front of the camera, that it becomes a little hard to compare him to others (or his film elements don’t appear so evidently “borrowed” as some other directors’ work ). He is one of few directors, other is also Aronofsky, whom I prefer in their most experimental and small-budget- production “modes”.

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      1. I understand what you are saying. For example, my least favorite Lanthimos movie is The Favourite (too mainstream?). Paul Verhoeven is another one — I prefer his early Dutch movies to his Hollywood productions.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Yes, I also prefer Lanthimos’ other films to The Favourite, and that’s interesting what you say about Verhoeven. Unfortunately, I don’t think I’ve seen his Dutch films to compare.

          I am also a bit concerned that Lanthimos is going so “mainstream” now. I mean his next film adaptation of Poor Things appears to be another big production although there will be plenty of space for Lanthimos’s ideas and styles since we have a Frankenstein theme there and humour and allegory, but still a Victorian (period) setting…and Emma Stone. I don’t want to sound so negative, but I also don’t think that Stone is well suited to his kind of work.

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