Solaris (1972)
★★★ / ★★★★

Based on the science fiction novel by Stanislaw Lem, “Solaris” followed psychologist Kris Kelvin (Donatas Banionis) to a space station orbiting a planet that had the strange ability to create bodies of human beings based on one’s memories while sleeping. I saw Steven Soderbergh’s film prior but there were very few similarities between the two. While both were purposely slow in pace, the classic “Solaris” was more concerned about specific details that aim to creep out its audiences. Despite its close to three hours running time, I was consistently fascinated with what was happening because of the images it had to offer. The first kind of image was what the audiences saw on screen. There was something genuinely unsettling about the planet’s human version of us. In this case, Kris’ wife Hari (Natalya Bondarchuk), who passed away years prior, was extracted from Kris’ memory more than once. Although she initially did not have any memory of who she was (she didn’t even know what she looked like until she looked in the mirror), she was a learning being, eventually able to mimic certain behaviors like sleeping or feeling guilt. She tried to be human but she simply wasn’t. She was eventually able to copy very human characteristics like selflessness but does that make her human? I noticed that even though the planet had the ability to replicate images from the mind, it managed to create incorrect details like a dress not having a zipper or a lake’s water not moving at all. The second kind image was in the stories the characters told. In the beginning of the film, a pilot described his experiences while exploring the planet. The way he talked about the evolution of the planet’s water and his eventual encounter with a giant baby was frightenening. His words were so alive, I felt like I was there with him. Directed by Andrey Tarkovskiy, “Solaris” successfully tackled questions about humanity through encounters that defied the norm. The filmmakers had a great challenge because they had to keep the material creative while not simply giving easy answers. In the end, I still had questions such as the filmmakers’ use of black and white in some scenes, their purposeful way of defying the laws of physics in specific scenes when we knew what was happening was occuring in reality and not in the mind, and the fates of the crew like amicable Dr. Snaut (Jüri Järvet) and practical Dr. Sartorius (Anatoli Solonitsyn). Despite my unanswered questions, I could not help but respect the film because it, too, treated me with respect. I watched it with a careful eye and it rewarded me with possibilities. Who’s to say that a planet like Solaris isn’t out there in the universe just waiting to be discovered?

5 replies »

  1. Lem’s book is worth reading as well — and it doesn’t answer all the questions. Lem was dissatisfied with BOTH adaptations of his work (though, more so with Soderbergh’s piece of drivel)

    • I think what I love about the story was its audacity to bring up big questions and not necessarily answering them WITHOUT leaving us in the dark. I think it’s very difficult to pull off.

      I also enjoyed Soderbergh’s interpretation. It’s more commercial and a (slightly) weaker work but there was something about it that I responded to. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that I saw it before this. Hmm.

      • Yeah, I saw Tarkovsky’s first. And he’s always been one of my favorite directors so I’m somewhat predisposed towards his work. Stalker (1979) is in my top five favorite films. I love the concept of desiring alien contact but not knowing whether what we contact is alive, or communicating, or what — Lem posits that we really explore the stars to find images of ourselves and what we find (if it is indeed alive) will be almost incomprehensible.

    • The way you described “Stalker” made me interested in watching it. I’ve always been interested in ruminations about anything extra-terrestrial. I’ve added it to my Netflix queue but it’s currently under “Short Wait.” I hate it when that happens…

  2. “Lem posits that we really explore the stars to find images of ourselves and what we find (if it is indeed alive) will be almost incomprehensible.” has more to do with Solaris….

    But, Stalker is similar — but the strange “extra-terrestrial” event is on earth, an area where a meteor supposedly fell, or an alien landed, or something along those lines — it’s amazing.

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