three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
58-May-June-2012
By: 
Geoff Dyer
user_rating: 
0

737341.pngAn eclectic British essayist, critic, and novelist, Geoff Dyer wrote Out of Sheer Rage (1999), a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist. Zona is Dyer’s seventh nonfiction work. Reviewed: Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi (4 of 5 Stars July/Aug 2009).

The Topic: Dyer analyzes a little known science fiction film that has fascinated him since its 1979 release. Stalker, a work by Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky, follows three characters—Writer, Professor, and their leader, Stalker (often thought to represent Tarkovsky)—through a postapocalyptic region known as the Zone, with the goal of reaching the Zone’s core. This core is the enigmatic "Room," a place where dreams come true, perhaps, but where it is eerily rumored to hold not what you think you wish for but "what you most deeply wish for." Dyer’s intellectual, oddball wit, his withering criticism of other movies, and his discursive autobiographical material (often in footnote form) accompany this sharp film analysis.
Pantheon. 240 pages. $24. ISBN: 9780307377388

Globe and Mail (Canada) 4 of 5 Stars
"Part appreciation, part meditation, part memoir, part narrative and all riff. … Zona, in the end, is a testament to art’s power to impress itself on life, to shift and occasionally permanently shape one’s sensibility." James Adams

Onion AV Club 4 of 5 Stars
"Every scene’s been so smartly described that no matter how long it’s been since readers have seen the film, it comes back in vivid detail. … Dyer has to make his own circuitous path, [which] lets him build to climactic musings on faith and desire as serious as the movie he’s exploring." Vadim Rizov

Los Angeles Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"But ultimately, testifying to the greatness of an underappreciated work of art is the core purpose of criticism, and Dyer has delivered a loving example that’s executed with as much care and craft as he finds in his subject. … It’s Dyer’s emotional tie to Writer’s journey and the wish fulfillment of that vocation that stay with you the longest after the lights finally come up." Chris Barton

NY Times Book Review 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Dyer’s evocation of Stalker is vivid; his reading is acute and sometimes brilliant. … Zona is extremely clever—and that’s one thing Tarkovsky never was." J. Hoberman

San Francisco Chronicle 3.5 of 5 Stars
"An unclassifiable little gem. … Early on, you realize that, yes, Dyer is actually going to walk you through the entire movie, sometimes shot by shot, retelling the story while digressing, often in footnotes, on whatever pops to mind: recollections of his father’s miserliness, Flaubert’s project for ‘a book about nothing’ (ahem!), group sex, Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, experiments with LSD, the music of Björk and the Lids." J. M. Tyree

Critical Summary

Only a writer of the most audacious sort would pen an entire book about a movie that most people have neither heard of nor seen—and make it a success, with smatterings of brilliance, even. Of course, Dyer makes himself the true subject of Zona, so fans of his work who are unfamiliar with Stalker will still find much of interest. Indeed, Dyer’s trademark mental meanderings and personal stories have provided him a cult following; as the Globe and Mail put it, "He is, in short, a brand." A few critics wished for more "stills" from Stalker to provide better background for readers, and others disagreed with Dyer’s critiques of several European film masters. Still, Zona is a worthy look at a film—and an author’s musings.