Cinema as Art: The Philosophy of Andrei Tarkovsky

TarkovskyRussian director Andrei Tarkovsky was a filmmaker that emphatically put cinema in the realm of art. Some may take that for granted, however history tells us that film theorists were anything but unanimous on the true nature of film -- is it a representation of life? Is it art? Is it meant for the betterment of society, or the promotion of ideals? Tarkovsky's spiritual and poetic stance on cinema as art is not only what makes his work so important, but also what guided him through his filmmaking process. Continue on to hear Tarkovsky speak in several interviews and documentaries about the nature of film from his own perspective.

Studying Tarkovsky means studying much more than cinema. It means studying philosophy and pulling back the curtain on the human experience -- becoming a weekend existentialist. Though Tarkovsky's work deserves analysis on a technical level, his sensibilities as an emotional artist are well worth our study as well.

For Tarkovsky, filmmaking was an answer to the many questions he asked the world, but the biggest according to him is possibly the biggest question of all: "What is our purpose here on Earth?" According to the director, if there is a definite meaning for man's existence, art would be a vehicle to accomplish whatever that happens to be.

In this short documentary, the director explains how art, and therefore filmmaking, wouldn't exist without the imperfections of life. Tarkovsky says:

The artist exists because the world is not perfect. Art would be useless if the world were perfect, as man wouldn't look for harmony, but would simply live in it. Art is born out of an ill-designed world.

Video is no longer available:

Here is a (much longer) 1988 documentary that takes us behind the scenes of Tarkovsky's last film Offret. In it, not only do we get more of an idea of the director's philosophical leanings, but we also get to see him at work on-set -- an invaluable piece of film.

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What do you think about the philosophy of Andrei Tarkovsky? How have his films inspired your own work? Let us know in the comments below.

[via Cinephilia and Beyond & TheSheik1976]

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His concerns on film practice were philosophical studies on the ontology of existence itself. Is there anything more universal than contemplating our existence through time? And using a medium that essentially records time?

"Sculpting in Time" is worth a lifetime of study.

January 11, 2014 at 8:25PM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


I made this compilation of Tarkovsky's views on art and the artist last year. It's a free download or read here:

It's a useful reference pamphlet on this subject in his writings. Intention is to make his thoughts on the topic more accessible to people who may be unfamiliar or uninterested in his films. Or those who do not realize that "Sculpting in Time" isn't just about his film career.

January 16, 2014 at 8:33PM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


Great comment! I am reading an interesting book titled "The End of Time" which posits that all possible events exist simultaneously and that time is an illusion, especially from a quantum dynamics point of view. I wonder what a film that tried to show this would look like :^) sounds like Final Cut X!

January 17, 2014 at 12:48PM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


do u have sculpting in time pdf file?

January 18, 2014 at 11:05PM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


The greatest there ever was.

Agreed, Jerome, Sculpting in Time is invaluable. And not just to film buffs.

Time Within Time is pretty fascinating as well.

January 11, 2014 at 10:47PM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


The best thing about him is that even though his shots are long and slow, they're meticulously planned out and evolving constantly. One long shot by him is worth an entire montage by a lesser director.

January 12, 2014 at 12:12AM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


I agree wholeheartedly with this. Tarkovsky often 'edits' with the movement of the camera, not by cutting film. He gives you a feeling of location and meaning that juxtaposed edits struggle to achieve.

January 13, 2014 at 12:13AM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


Tarkovsky was showing his films in Reykjavik in early eighties and in a Q&A after a screening one in the audiences said that he suffered when he watched his films and Tarkovsky replayed " I suffer when i make my films, why should you not suffer when you see my films". Stalker is my favorite Tarkovsky film.

January 12, 2014 at 12:50AM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


Agree, Stalker is my fave as well.

January 21, 2014 at 7:16AM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


I like some (haven't seen them all yet) but he's just too religious for me... I prefer Tarr, Bergman, Fellini, others...

January 12, 2014 at 2:19AM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


>he’s just too religious for me

Tips fedora. Good to see a person euphoric of his own enlightened intelligence.

January 13, 2014 at 7:12AM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


Andrei is the most powerfull director in the world his poetry and kidness give to his films the means of what art want, im so glad to meet his legacy years ago.

January 12, 2014 at 7:13AM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


And The Mirror is my favourite film.

January 12, 2014 at 7:15AM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


What about the post-Tarkovskji era? I'm glad to see his spiritual vision and poetry through SOME Sokurov's movies.

January 12, 2014 at 12:08PM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM

Il Fu Marco Londero

Andrei was a talented but also a very ambitious artist, his achievements on film are beyond of what we see on screen, the actual nature of any form of art is to do that, cinema is only the medium in which it is expressed.
I also look at cinema as a philosophy, as a way of creating a concept of life captured in time, no matter if its film or data, its an interpretation of feelings turned into moving images, somehow andrei turned it into his own meditation, and its so clear that he reached illumination in his early yeas of beign a filmmaker.

January 12, 2014 at 12:56PM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM

Andres Galicia

I've mentioned this before but his major Soviet films are available on YouTube quite legally via its copyright holder Mosfilm. Here's Andrey Rublev (turn the CC on for English subtitles).

January 12, 2014 at 6:32PM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


Stalker will change you. Watched it fifty times. Blows my mind. So we'll done.

January 12, 2014 at 7:56PM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


Tarkovsky is such an inspiring filmmaker. His book, Sculpting in Time, continues to be an critical text for film that aspires to art. There are aspects to our film, North Passage, that I probably wouldn't have had the courage to explore and present if it wasn't for his films and influence. For that, I am very grateful.

January 14, 2014 at 5:39PM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


Anyone who mixes up "solitude" and "loneliness" (if this is the interview I'm thinking of, the translation uses "solitude", but Tarkovsky himself does not use "уединение", he uses "одиночество", which actually translates to "loneliness", not "solitude") casts serious doubts on their thinking capabilities.

Also, what possessed him to believe that he could rewrite Lem's "Solaris" for the better? Argh. That could've been an amazing film had it not been filled with some of the weirdest character rewrites...

I have to admit, though, when he does get it right, the result is mindblowing. The last few minutes of Andrei Rublev are among the greatest things I've ever witnessed in my life.

January 16, 2014 at 12:33PM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


Tarkovsky is the only one who got to me completely.

January 16, 2014 at 12:43PM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM