Movie of the Day – Solaris (1972)
July 15, 2012 Leave a comment
This is a spoiler warning for those that are hoping to find a movie that has lasers, space battles, sexy green alien chicks, lightsabers, and cool looking spaceships. You aren’t going to find any of that stuff in this science fiction film from acclaimed, Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky. Instead of all of the usual science fiction tropes we get these days, you are getting an incredible introspective, slow and psychologically deep film about understand humanity and its existence, just like everything that has come out of Russia cause that’s how they roll.
Based on a novel by Stanislaw Lem, Solaris centers on widowed psychologist Kris Kelvin (Donata Banionis), who is sent to a space station orbiting a water-dominated planet called Solaris to investigate the mysterious death of a doctor, as well as the mental problems plaguing the dwindling number of cosmonauts on the station. Finding the remaining crew to be behaving oddly and aloof, Kelvin is more than surprised when he meets his seven-years-dead wife Khari (Natalya Bondarchuk) on the station. It quickly becomes apparent that Solaris possesses something that brings out repressed memories and obsessions within the cosmonauts on the space station, leaving Kelvin to question his perception of reality. ~ Matthew Tobey, Rovi
Now I much prefer the 1972 version of this adapted Polish novel by Stanislaw Lem to the 2002 remake directer by Steven Soderbergh. Still both of those movies, including this one, still miss the relative point of the novel from Lem. The novel dealt with the inadequacy of communication between aliens and human beings. Lem explored the connection of human and the nature in which they exist, trying to understand their place in the universe. It’s a deeply, thought provoking novel that should be read. Tarkovsky’s film takes the notion of Lem’s novel and uses it as a basis for interpersonal discovery, having humans try and understand themselves. It takes the existential aspect of the planet Solaris out of the equation as it is just a catalyst for their struggles instead of directly tying the meaning of the planet with the human on board the station.
Regardless of the difference in the novel and movie, Solaris is a true science fiction film. It is counter to what we come to expect from sci-fi movies, where flash and style is the prominent feature of the film instead of the long narrative and the encompassing nature of grasping the infinite universe. It’s a provocative film, slowly unraveling with psychological insight into the three scientists and the inner problems that manifest on the ship. It takes a while for it to get going in terms of character exposition and insight, but once it starts getting a bit trippy, the film finds its leg and just trots along at a good pace. The strengths come from the visually arresting set pieces of dream like landscapes to enclosed structures and rooms that feel claustrophobic. Altering the mood with color schemes and framing, Tarkovsky is truly and auteur who creates such an engaging movie that you are sucked into the psychological dilemma of the crew.
I don’t want to give away a lot of what happens, more so individual crew struggles and the purpose of the planet. Solaris is a deep, philosophical film that challenges our comfortable notions of reality by having try and understand ourselves. We all like to think that we know everything there is to know about us as an individual, but repressed memories and obsessive natures lead us down a questioning path of our own morality. A true science fiction that does away with all the flash of space battles and fancy technology, instead focusing on man existence amongst the unknown of the universe and trying to grasp the concepts of science and ourselves.