Who said science fiction had to be all about technology and the advances of the human race? Andrei Tarkovsky’s challenging yet rewarding film, Solaris, is about human emotion and the subconscious. It’s a deeply philosophical journey not just to space, but into the depths of a man’s mind. This may be a slow, long, and, at times, tedious movie but the feeling you get while watching it and then returning to earth again is well worth it.
After receiving worrying transmissions by the three man crew of a satellite surrounding a distant planet, Solaris, ground control decides to send psychologist Kris Kelvin (Donatas Banionis) to investigate. Upon getting there he finds that one of the crew members (Sos Sargsyan) has already committed suicide, leaving only Dr. Snaut (Jüri Järvet) and Dr. Sartorius (Anatoli Solonitsyn). Kelvin soon begins seeing his dead wife Hari (Natalya Bondarchuk) due to the sentient planet’s transmission of the subconscious into a strange reality. Kris and the other scientists have to bear with these beings and find some way of stopping Solaris from transmitting them onto the space station.
This is one of those movie that after it was done I sat back and pondered the fact that someone actually sat down and thought of this. Solaris is based off of a science fiction novel by Stanisław Lem, so a lot of the credit belongs to him. Tarkovsky also has to be given a lot of credit because his adaptation is quite different from the source materiel, and his handling of the pacing, characters, and events are all fantastic. This is a perfect combination of science fiction and philosophy, although, the movie can get really overwhelming and I found myself in need of a break at a certain point.
This is the second film by Andrei Tarkovsky that I have seen, the other being Stalker. I’ve heard people say that Stalker is Tarkovsky’s most difficult piece of work. I would have to disagree. I found Solaris to be much more difficult. In Stalker, there are plenty of beautiful shots of nature and the whole feel is very spacious and organic. Solaris has a completely different feel to it. It’s cold an uninviting space station is an excellent contrast to the opening shots of a river and a small forest. Once we get to space, we are confined to the hallways of the station. Both films are three hours long, but Solaris felt much longer due to the overall atmosphere.
The only thing that may be more uninviting than the space station is my own subconscious, and I realize this thanks to Solaris. While this isn’t the only theme of the movie (the others being the fluctuating emotions of love, grief, and denial), it is the one that stuck out to me the most. The characters in this movie suffer from not being able to control their minds in a very different sort of way. They can control their mind, but they can’t control facing their deepest loves or regrets. Imagine waking up to a living being that represents some repressed feeling, and being forced to live with it.
Solaris is beautiful, intriguing, philosophical, and haunting. While it is a difficult movie to sit through because of its overwhelming run time, pace, and mental intensity, it’s still very worthwhile and rewarding. I can’t say that I recommend this movie to anyone, because it’s certainly not everyone’s cup of tea. To those who can appreciate the complexities of the story along with the way the story is presented will find lots to love in Solaris and will probably agree with me in saying that Andrei Tarkovsky is a master film maker.