Solaris (1972 Russia)

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Solaris (1972 Russia)

Post  BoG on Sat Oct 11, 2014 7:34 pm




When I first became aware of Solaris many years ago, my understanding was that it was regarded as the Russian effort or version of 2001:A Space Odyssey (1968) - but that's a very simple description, a beginning of one. There are similarities to the plot and premise: mankind's confrontation with truly alien forces, but the films diverge very sharply at some point and director Tarkovsky, while also regarded as like Russia's answer to Kubrick, lends his own stylistics to this. As written elsewhere, such as a well done IMDb review, one can determine if the film will be of any interest to  a viewer with the very first shot - if one gains nothing from the shot of those reeds swaying hypnotically in some dreamlike state, then this film is not for you.

The plot, spare as it is, involves a space station in orbit around the far-off planet of the title. The central character is Kelvin (Donatas Banionis), a psychologist with whom we spend the first hour of the film on Earth, during his last day there.  He is sent to investigate the doings on the space station, which has fallen into disarray and aimlessness. There are only two other residents on the station; another had killed himself a while back.  Kelvin does note some oddities quickly, including what looks like a midget inside one of the men's rooms. Later, the planet sends another person to the station - it looks like Hari (Natalya Bondarchuk), Kelvin's deceased wife. Kelvin panics and sends her off on one of the space capsules, injuring himself in the process. But, another Hari appears a bit later. What is the purpose of these happenings? Is it the method by which an alien entity wishes to communicate with the Earthmen? The men discuss theories and do have a scientific analysis of these human duplicates, but real answers are not forthcoming, even though it's easily determined that something is tapping into the minds of the Earthmen, recreating people from their memories.

Desson Howe,The Washington Post, on 6/1/90 wrote:“Tarkovsky doesn't script so much as paint and compose; his work is a collection of living paintings, or visual symphonies, rather than narrative movies. Though "Solaris" is one of the late director's most plot-coherent and accessible films, its plot is still a mere conduit for mood, atmosphere and philosophy. With cinematographer Vadim Yusov's deft eye, Tarkovsky also creates some incredible images, such as the opening shot, in which underwater reeds undulate with such hypnotic grace that they seem to be directed, or the breathtaking shots of the surface of Solaris. His pictures, and his sounds -- such as the symphonic drip of raindrops in a wooded pond -- tell more than just the immediate story; they rejuvenate the mind.”

Muir, John Kenneth (2013-10-25). Science Fiction and Fantasy Films of the 1970s (p. 121). The Lulu Show LLC. Kindle Edition.


On the surface, the brilliant, open-ended, Russian science fiction epic Solaris concerns mankind’s reckoning with an alien world, and its coruscating, planet wide ocean. Scrape the surface, however, and the Tarkovsky film revolves around humanity’s total inability to meaningfully reckon with something truly alien, something truly unlike us. Humanity’s steadfast inability to understand something “different’ is a result of a peculiar brand of selfishness, Solaris suggests. When mankind gazes upon any object or person, people see only echoes of themselves and their own lives, their own experiences. Thus, we are intrinsically self-centric beings. This notion is expressed in a line of dialogue in the film which suggests “We don’t need other worlds. We need a mirror.” How then, can we contextualize something that originates far away, and boasts a psyche or soul utterly unrelated to us? Solaris suggests that such communication between human and alien is not truly possible.

Muir, John Kenneth (2013-10-25). Science Fiction and Fantasy Films of the 1970s (p. 122). The Lulu Show LLC. Kindle Edition.
>> BoG's Score: 8 out of 10  Idea  American remake in 2002 by Steven Soderbergh, starring George Clooney; a bit pointless...
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