Those who create their own worlds are generally the poets.
Tarkovsky’s films are characterised by metaphysical themes, extremely long takes, and memorable images of exceptional beauty. Recurring motifs are dreams, memory, childhood, running water accompanied by fire, rain indoors, reflections, levitation, and characters re-appearing in the foreground of long panning movements of the camera. He 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.”
Tarkovsky included levitation scenes into several of his films, most notably Solaris. To him these scenes possess great power and are used for their photogenic value and magical inexplicability.
Water, clouds, and reflections were used by him for its surreal beauty and photogenic value, as well as its symbolism, such as waves or the form of brooks or running water.
Bells and candles are also frequent symbols. These are symbols of film, sight and sound, and Tarkovsky’s film frequently has themes of self reflection.
Tarkovsky developed a theory of cinema that he called “sculpting in time”. By this he meant that the unique characteristic of cinema as a medium was to take our experience of time and alter it. Unedited movie footage transcribes time in real time. By using long takes and few cuts in his films, he aimed to give the viewers a sense of time passing, time lost, and the relationship of one moment in time to another.
Up to, and including, his film The Mirror, Tarkovsky focused his cinematic works on exploring this theory. After The Mirror, he announced that he would focus his work on exploring the dramatic unities proposed by Aristotle: a concentrated action, happening in one place, within the span of a single day.
Several of Tarkovsky’s films have color or black and white sequences, including for example Andrei Rublev which features an epilogue in color of religious icon paintings, as well as Solaris, The Mirror, and Stalker, which feature monochrome and sepia sequences while otherwise being in color. In 1966, in an interview conducted shortly after finishing Andrei Rublev, Tarkovsky dismissed color film as a “commercial gimmick” and cast doubt on the idea that contemporary films meaningfully use color. He claimed that in everyday life one does not consciously notice colors most of the time. Hence in film color should be used mainly to emphasize certain moments, but not all the time as this distracts the viewer. To him, films in color are like moving paintings or photographs, which are too beautiful to be a realistic depiction of life.
The natural elements play a large role in Tarkovsky’s films. The soundtracks often contain the sounds of water dripping while the earth seems to be perpetually damp. Fire and water are usually represented together, the burning barn from The Mirror and candle in Nostalghia being two examples. The Mirror, Stalker, and Nostalghia all contain scenes in which one or several characters lay on the earth in contemplation. Wind is also used often in The Mirror. This emphasis of moments in nature, as well as the theory of “sculpting in time” has been cited by the remodernist film movement as a major influence on their own ideas on filmmaking.