Solaris (1972) – Andrey Tarkovskiy

Often referred to as Russia’s answer to Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, this entry on the 101 Sci-Fi Movies list is given the short shrift with such a comparison. Yes, they are both epic science fiction tales dealing with humanity, but that I think is where the comparisons can be brought to an end.

Where 2001 is a clinically cold and beautiful effects laden film, Andrey Tarkovsky’s film is decidedly low-tech, there are no gorgeous models of spacecraft floating through space, or long quiet moments as the camera watches, Solaris focuses more on the human equation. The film shifts between color and black and white, which I thought would be jarring and disconcerting, but somehow it just works, and just adds more mystery to the story.

A remote space station hangs above an ocean planet, referred to as Solaris, manned by the three remaining members of a crew of 85. It seems, there is a sentience to the planet, to the very ocean itself, and Kris Kelvin (Donatas Banionis) has been sent on the long voyage from Earth to decide on what to do with the station, if contact should be made, or should the station be pulled from orbit.

He arrives to learn that one of the three remaining crew, an old colleague, has committed suicide, a decidedly uncharacteristic behavior for him.

solaris1972No sooner has he arrived, and is starting to believe that something very odd is going on, some form of contact with the planet, when he has an encounter with what the survivors refer to as The Visitors.

His wife.

His dead wife.

The theory is that the ocean reads you, especially when you sleep, and can pull memories and people from your deepest recesses, usually ones with strong emotional attachments, and for Kris there is nothing stronger than the love and loss of his dead wife, who we learn took her own life.

The longer this version of his wife, Hari (Natalya Bondarchuk) the more human she becomes, and sooner or later, their relationship hits that disastrous moment when she takes her life.

The film examines love and grief, the sacrifices for, and causes of, both all while Kelvin tries to figure out if contact should be made, or if the whole project should be scratched.

The film, clocking in at an epic 163 minutes is emotional and involving, and I’m quite glad that I had waited for so long to finally watch it. I honestly wouldn’t have been able to appreciate it in my 20s.

solaris2I also want to put this out there for those who have seen the film, I love the ending. I started scratching my head when the final sequence started, but then started nodding and smiling to myself.

From a strictly science fiction point of view, I loved the idea of contact in this film, we don’t know anything about this life form. We only know that both of us are trying in our way to establish a form of interaction, which will hopefully lead to a more meaningful and beneficial relationship for both species. But first we need to find a common ground between us and them.

I love stuff like that.

There are almost no special effects in the entire film, the space travel is merely implied, and the circular corridors feel more akin to a cheesy tv series, but somehow it wall works, and we are drawn into Kris and Hari’s story, watching both of them walk the fine line between love and pain.

It was a truly enjoyable film, and one that I may revisit again. Steven Soderbergh’s remake, while giving us the special effects, and a shorter running time, doesn’t have the same emotional impact and sense of mystery to it.

Did you see either of them? Both of them? What are your thoughts?


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