Tarkovsky, Mirror

A quick guide, David S. Miall

updated April 30th 2003

A division of the film into 15 sections is offered in the table below. As the film switches, confusingly for new viewers, between three different times, I have based the division on time. A few episodes are ambiguous in terms of time: these are indicated by an asterisk but located in the time within which they originate.

A brief synopsis is provided below the table: this includes some details on each section, together with 12 screen shots. The sections are linked to the numbers in the left-hand column of the table. I also provide the film credits at the end, and links to a few other web sites on Tarkovsky.

I originally made this sketch of the film to help me during preparation of my essay, "The Self in History: Wordsworth, Tarkovsky, and Autobiography," which is now available online. When I have more time, I plan on providing additional details and some interpretive comments. Meanwhile, if you have suggestions or comments, please e-mail me at: David.Miall@Ualberta.Ca (Department of English, University of Alberta).

Prewar, 1930s
Postwar, 1960s
1.     [Pre-credits sequence]
Ignat switches on TV, watches cure of stutterer
2. Maria visited by passing doctor; exterior then interior of house, barn fire    
3. hairwashing
*but dreamlike, Maria young/old in mirror
4.     phone conversation of Alexei with mother
5. printing works    
6.   Spanish Civil War, balloon ascent; -- argument of estranged husband and wife, the Spaniards --
Natalia leaves Ignat in house
7.     Ignat reads Pushkin letter; phone call from father
8.   rifle training; Sivash Marshes; war scenes;
*intercut with Asafyev on hill
Chinese border dispute
9.   reunion of children with father  
10.     returns to #6: continues marital argument
11. *scenes from house, narrator's voice (1960s) over dream of childhood    
12. scenes of prewar house and garden -- earring sale;
interpolated levitation scene;
Maria as old
13.     narrator on deathbed
14. *final scene in garden, Maria pregnant intercuts Maria as young and old    

Synopsis, with some details and 12 screen shots

Click on small picture for enlargement (the enlarged pictures are around 70 to 100K).


Film starts with sequence of treatment of stutterer (pre-credits), ends with "I can speak"


Music: J. S. Bach, Das Orgelbüchlein No. 16, "Das alte Jahr vergangen ist."


prewar (1935)

Edge of field [the house is unseen at our back], Maria sitting on wooden fence with head away from us, smoking, view of trees middle distance on left, bush centre, hill far distance; sound of train whistle in distance; man walking across field towards bush.


The road from the station lay through Ignatyevo, turning off near the farmstead where we spent our summers before the war, and then on to Tomshino through a dark oak wood. We usually recognized the family when they appeared from behind the bush. If he turns towards the house, it's Father. If not, it's not he . . .

Arrival of doctor -- conversation. After the two fall to the ground, the doctor contrasts the plants and trees to humans, who rush about and speak in platitudes. Maria mentions Ward 6, a reference to the Chekhov short story. In effect she is asking the doctor if he is sane. The doctor says, don't worry, he is immune to all that (insanity); "he [Chekhov] invented it all."

As the doctor leaves, Maria watches him go. A gust of wind blows across the wheat field, making the doctor pause halfway towards the bush.

Move towards house (poem voice over) and views of interior.

Two children and Maria get up and go outside to watch a fire. Maria walks over to well, tips bucket to take drink and wash face; sits on edge of well; man trots past her towards fire in barn (totally ablaze).



Night, interior: child in bed, sits up. Maria is washing her hair with help of husband. Uncanny effects; she goes towards a mirror and sees herself as an old woman.



Sound of tram, hand as if holding fire; phone rings, as camera pans across room of apartment in the city. Phone conversation of Alexei with his mother. Liza with whom she worked at the print shop has died.



Maria in a hurry, goes to the print works to check proofs for a mistake she may have made. Back at her desk she is joined by colleague Liza, to whom she whispers the misprint she had imagined [Shralin (to shit) for Stalin]; they share a laugh over this (first view on right); then joined by man; she will go and take a shower; Liza tells her she reminds her of Maria Timofeyevna, Captain Lebyadkin's sister [Dostoevsky's The Devils]; Liza attacks her over her husband having left her, Maria reacts with tears and some indignation (not knowing the literary reference; second view on right); she gets up and goes to have a shower. Liza follows her but fails to catch up; turning back down the corridor she utters the opening lines of Dante's Inferno, "Midway on our life's journey I found myself in a dark woods . . ."

Sudden cut to fire burning at middle distance in field, woods behind.



Quarrel between Natalia and husband.

Cut to Ignat, listening to Spanish tenants. Bullfight; Spanish Civil War, scenes of children being evacuated; balloon ascent, man dangling below on rope, with larger balloon (that was to ascend to stratosphere: 1950s); the music is Pergolesi, Stabat Mater, No 12: Quando corpus morietur fac ut animae donetur paradisi gloria. (While my body here decays, may my soul Thy goodness praise, safe in Paradise with Thee!); ticker tape parade down a street.

Cut to print in art book of Leonardo da Vinci (Ignat leafing through it).

Ignat watches Natalia preparing to leave; she drops her purse ( -- music ceases); Ignat helping her over purse, his sudden sense of deja vu as he picks up a coin.



As Natalia leaves, cut back to apartment: its appearance now as if dilapidated; after Natalia closes the door, Ignat suddenly find two strange women in next room; woman instructs him to fetch notebook from shelf. This woman is modelled after a well-known photograph of the poet Anna Akhmatova (1898-1966); the photograph of a woman on a wall close to bookshelves is of the poet Marina Tsvetayeva (1892-1941). Ignat reads aloud (Pushkin letter to Chaadayev, Oct 19, 1836), on predestination of Russia, absorbing Tatar's invasion, which saved Christian civilization in the west. The women disappear when he goes to answer the door.

Then the phone goes; conversation with father, who tells him that during the war he was in love with a redhead with chapped lips.



Cut to picture of redhead, walking in snow, Alexei as boy looking after her (fade in Purcell: from The Indian Queen, Act IV, "They tell us that your mighty powers"); then scene with rifle and military instructor at firing range; drill routine, about-turn that one boy, Asafyev, consistently violates; his parents died in Leningrad blockade; grenade (blank) throwing incident, instructor throws himself down in front of it, we hear his heart beat.

Brief footage of soldiers at edge of lake, a wooden pier, carrying down weapons, they react as firing heard; then cut back to firing range, Asafyev leaving; then cut to more war footage, marshes (Lake Sivash in Crimea), soldiers crossing them to left; voice over poem halfway through scene:

There is no death.
We're all immortal.
All is immortal.
Fear not death at seventeen,
Nor at seventy . . .

Brief war scenes: Russian tanks (liberation of Prague), dead soldiers, artillery firing; atomic bomb exploding at Bikini Atoll in 1946; cut back to face of Asafyev on hill (as though he also sees these scenes); then turns his back to us, moves towards tree, bird comes to perch on his hat; cut to Chinese scenes, the masses all the same, statues of Mao; on border: Russian soldiers hold back Chinese waving red books (Damansky Island incident, 1969); an enormous crowd with flags (ideological conformity).



Maria working on floor, begins to cut wood; husband appears, asks where are children; cut to children quarreling in garden; they are called in; leave expensive art book outside, run into house; father in uniform holding children, music (Bach: Matthew Passion, Recitative: "Und siehe da! Der Vorhang im Tempel..."); then cut to picture: "Genevra de Benci" by Leonardo da Vinci (c. 1470) -- looks rather like Maria. (The portrait is of a young woman recently recovered from an illness who had been jilted by her lover.)



Cut back to discussion (#6) of husband and Natalia over Ignat; whether he should live with father; whether Natalia should remarry with an unknown writer called Dostevsky; Ignat has started a fire outside.



Cut to edge of woods outside prewar house, then to interior of house; younger child on mat, Maria walks across room; voice over during this of husband:

I keep having the same dream. It seems to be forcing me to return to the bittersweet site of my grandfather's house, where I was born on the table forty years ago. Something always prevents me from entering. I keep having this dream. When I dream of the log walls and dark pantry, I sense that it's only a dream. Then my joy is clouded for I know I'll wake up. Sometimes something happens, and I stop dreaming of the house and the pines by the house of my childhood. Then I grieve and wait for the dream that will make me a child again, and I'll be happy again, knowing that all still lies ahead, and nothing is impossible.

Cut to scene of garden, close up of vase on table from which camera pulls back and a slow pan left; young child walks past to left, camera follows, past wooden rails, trees beyond, house beyond in middle distance, camera stops and zooms closer to house; child's voice "Mama" (50 secs); cut to hen breaking through window.

Cut back to edge of woods, wind blowing; camera pans left across bushes to table, where lamp blows over and falls from edge of table (29 secs); cut back to view of house, sheet flapping right, child moving towards house on left, running, but slow motion, after disappears inside, rain and leaves fall in shower from trees; cut to boy going to shed, tries door, goes away; door opens to reveal Maria with potatoes and dog (who ambles out), rain visible in window behind Maria on far side



Earring sale episode -- visit to Nadezhda.

Alyosha left alone looks at himself in mirror on wall; the lamp gutters, then goes out. Alyosha and the women go through to see the woman's baby asleep in cot; Maria looks a little bored, then nauseated; she leaves the room abruptly; Nadezhda asks Maria to slaughter the cockerel; after she wields the axe, Maria looks up slowly, triumphant (da Vinci painting echo).

Cut to husband, who turns to bed, strokes hand of women on bed; zoom back shows Maria is levitated.

Cut back to house: Maria and Alyosha leaving in a hurry, Maria saying they changed their minds; Nadezhda objects, saying it is 15 miles to town, but they leave, walking home in dark past river (voice over poem).

During poem, cut to edge of woods of 1935 house, wind blows; pan left across garden to table while poem continues, where lamp already fallen is rolling over edge as in #11 (29 secs).

Several other brief scenes of house, boy swimming; then to Maria as old woman sitting on far side of pines; boy goes towards her and says "The stove's smoking, Mama." But mother just grunts as she glances around, stays seated, smoking [Maria smokes young and old; Natalia doesn't]



Death bed scene of Alexei. Doctor is in attendance, with women from Pushkin letter scene (#7).



Cut to scene of field bounded by woods, pan right and across to fence and house glimpsed through woods; music fades in, opening number of Bach's St John Passion: Herr, unser Herrscher, dessen Ruhm in allen Landen herrlich ist! (Lord, our Sovereign, whose glory in every land is magnificent!)

Pan down to couple: Maria leaning on husband's chest, he has grass in his mouth; she sits up, zoom in on face. Husband asks "Do you want a boy or a girl?" She reacts by looking down, smiles, then tears cross her face; she looks away.

Cut to woods [in the music the chorus begins]; pan left across garden, mother (Maria as old) carrying washing; pan left across bank under trees, insects, fallen trees, rotting trunks; mother walking to right, meets child, takes hand and walks on; cut back to Maria, still mingled joy and sadness on her face; then back to mother, still walking across field with two children; music stops; boy's whooping sound, pan back as mother and children walking, sound of bird that boy was imitating; through trees, fade to dark.


Film credits

MIRROR (1974)

Director: Andrei Tarkovsky
Assistant Director: Larissa Tarkovskaya
Screenplay: Andrei Tarkovsky and Aleksandr Misharin
Photography: Georgy Rerberg (colour and monochrome)
Editor: Ludmila Feyganova
Art Director: Nikolai Dvigubsky
Sets: A. Merkulov
Music: Eduard Artemyev; and extracts of Pergolesi, Purcell, J.S. Bach
Sound: Semyon Litvinov
Narrator: Innokenti Smoktunovsky
Poems by Arseny Tarkovsky, read by himself

Maria/Natalia: Margarita Terekhova (variously called Masha, Maria in pre-war sequences)
Ignat at 5: Philip Yankovsky
Ignat at 12/Alexei at 12: Ignat Daniltsev
Father: Oleg Yankovsky
Man at printers: Nikolai Grinko
Liza at printers: Alla Demidova
Military instructor: Yuri Nazarov
Doctor passer-by: Anatoly Solonitsin
Woman in Puskin letter scene: Tatiana Ogorodnikova
Alexei's mother, Maria, as an old woman: Maria Ivanovna Vishniakova (Tarkovskaya)
Nadezhda: Larissa Tarkovskaya

For full film credits, and much other valuable film information, you can refer to the Internet Movie Database (http://www.imdb.com). Search for the exact title: "Zerkalo". My thanks to Alex Asp for this reference, and also for the reference to Chekhov in section #2, and information on the two poets identified in section #7; and to Deborah Vess for information on the da Vinci portrait in #9.

Other Tarkovsky sites include

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Document first revised, October 10th, 1998 / Last revised April 30th, 2003