The Poetics of Maternal Loss in Andrey Tarkovsky’s The Mirror
This paper looks at the transformations of the feminine, in its many different guises, in Tarkovsky’s masterpiece The Mirror (Zerkalo) (1975).
Fragmented and vague, the film’s stream-of-consciousness narrative foregrounds the theme of the lost and unfathomable mother – the source of warmth, pleasure and pain, and the object of nostalgic longing. The protagonist – Alexei – reminisces about his mother as she is gradually transforming into his mirror, his echo, the source of meaning, and the binding force in the fragmented and cruel world. His perception of the mother is paradoxical – it is both literally-Oedipal and eternally-archetypal; erotic and disembodied.
The film is unique in the sense that it equally lends itself to Jungian and Freudian analysis. There are images in the film that are distinctly Freudian; but Tarkovsky himself would deny this. He classed his art not as filmmaking but as poetry, and placed a lot of emphasis on the archetype – in cinematic terms on the image. His fascination with Russian nature and landscapes has a particularly Jungian hue. The mother in The Mirror is sexual, she is physical, she is tactile – and yet, she is also archetypal, and eternal, and mysterious, and unfathomable.
Alexei’s vision of the mysterious feminine goes outside his personal mother and envelops symbolic and mythopoetic aspects of existence. The whole film is an extended metaphor of a search for the lost ideal mother, for the magical image of a loving and accepting female that the protagonist vaguely remembers as a baby. Throughout the film the protagonist is struggling to understand other impenetrable and powerful mothers: Mother Russia, Mother Nature and even the cruel Mother War.
The final scenes of the film juxtapose the protagonist on his deathbed with the images of his pregnant mother as his memory anesthetises the pain of loss and restores the powerful and profound union of the child and the mirror.