Solaris (1972), or A Planet Of Mind

22 04 2009

In the annals of sci-fi, there are few movies that really, REALLY make you think. It’s difficult enough to have a sci-fi movie be good, but to be truly thought-provoking and original; that is a pinnacle most simply do not reach. Today’s film goes above and beyond what people ask of in a science fiction film. Solaris, as I found it, not only questions the nature of man, but his ability to cope with his own mercurial essence. In mysterious images, it paints a picture of human pain that is infinitely vast and paradoxically infinitesimal in comparison to the ceaseless black of the universe.

The film deals mainly with Kris Kelvin, a psychologist in the perhaps-distant future. He is being sent to a space station orbiting a far-off planet called Solaris, a mysterious ocean planet. It seems that after years of research, few conclusions have been reached about the planet, and so Kelvin will go to determine whether or not the expedition can be saved. After saying goodbye to the earth and his old life, he hurtles through space towards the enigma of his destination. When he reaches the space station, he finds only two people there, a Dr. Snaut and a Dr. Sartorius. Both of them act strangely and caution him of bizarre happenings caused by the planet itself. Solaris itself is revealed to have a mysterious sway over human consciousness and possesses something of an intelligence. But once Kelvin realizes what is happening, Solaris has already tapped into his thoughts and created a guest on their space station for him; Hari, his dead wife.

I fell in love with this movie. It is a journey into the self. Solaris exists as a cosmic mirror in a way, pressing itself in the face of those who would watch it. It is a film that is not about the depths of space, but the complications that exist within each of us. Director Andrei Tarkovsky asks a lot of tough questions here, and not all of them are even answerable, but the complex ideas of human self-loathing, the grief of loss, and the relativity of love are all pondered upon here.

This is a Russian-language film, so for those of you who don’t like to “read your movies”, don’t watch this one, and never talk to me in person or I will have to politely walk away mid-sentence. The script is eloquent and crafted with care, and there is a magic in these characters and this situation that touches me in my deepest sense of self. It was adapted from the Stanislaw Lem novel of the same name, and although the script is substantially different compared to the book, a number of philosophical touchstones shine through to wonderful effect. I enjoyed all 163 minutes of this incredibly compelling story.

The leads, Natalya Bondarchuk and Donatas Banionis, are merely marionettes in the hands of Tarkovsky. It is simply mesmerizing to see a director in such total control. That doesn’t happen too much these days, so watching a director’s words inhabit an actor’s mouth is something to behold. The movie is said to be too long, like all of Tarkovsky’s work, but I feel as if Solaris were one second shorter this vision would not be nearly as complete as it is. It is something almost approaching sacred, and not a single haunting frame could be taken away without compromising the meaning of Tarkovsky’s slow-building epic.

I was really taken aback by how much this film resonated with me. Even now, I can’t comprehend just what it is that Solaris represents for me. I wager that it varies from person to person, and my experience will be completely different from yours. This was a landmark picture for the cinematic world, and it has yet to find an equal in today’s less meditative sci-fi movie. I recommend watching this in conjunction with 2001: A Space Odyssey. They are two sides of the same coin, and their genius is only magnified by their lack of peerage. It’s a flawless, well-made movie, simple as that, so I give Solaris 10 mysterious ocean planets out of 10. I highly recommend it.

Tomorrow, I’m going to watch this movie again, albeit with a different cast and crew. That’s right; I’m going to watch the recent remake of Solaris starring George Clooney! Will it be as disastrous as its budget deficit? We’ll find out tomorrow!

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