Year: 1972

Production: Mosfilm

Director: Andrei Tarkovsky

Starring: Donatas Banionis, Natalia Bondarchuk, Youri Jarvet, Anatoli Solinitsin

Based on Solaris (1961) by Stanislaw Lem

165 minutes; first US version 132 minutes, Color

This long, ambitious rendering of Lem's metaphysical novel is regarded by some as one of the finest sf films made; a minority sees it as tediously slow-moving. Solaris changes the emphasis of the story from the intellectual to the emotional, partly by restructuring the narrative, which in the film is framed by elegiac and nostalgic sequences at the country house of the young space-scientist hero's parents, focusing on the scientists' relationship with his father; the opening passage is on Earth, the closing passage on Solaris' recreation of Earth. The main action is set on a space-station hovering above the planet Solaris, whose ever-changing ocean is thought to be organic and sentient. The protagonist finds the station in disrepair and his colleagues demoralized by the materialization of "phantoms" (quite real and solid) of their innermost obsessions; soon he is himeself haunted by a reincarnation of his suicided wife. These phantoms may be an attempt by Solaris to communicate. Horrified, he kills the phantom wife, but a replica arrives that night. Ultimately he recognizes that, no matter what her source, she is both living and lovable; but while he sleeps she connives at her own exorcism. Solaris remains an enigma. The philosophical questions about the limits of human understanding are not put so sharply as in the book, but the visual images, despite occasionally mediocre special effects, are potent - haunting leitmotivs of water, sundering screens, technology and snow.

The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction

This classic Soviet sf counterpart to 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Like the American film, it offers the kind of confused humanist philosophy which Kluge's Der Grosse Verhau (1970) so corrosively castigates. Tarkovsky's epic is based on Polish writer Lem's novel. But whereas the novel is entirely set on the planet Solaris, Tarkovsky frames the story by two visions of Earth: the first is an ordinary, realist one before the psychologist Kelvin (Banionis) sets off to investigate what is happening with the crew on the Solaris station. The second one is an idyllic vision of a rural, family cottage, possibly formed on the oceanic substance of the planet itself. This encapsulation suggests that the most extraordinary thing man can think coincides with a nostalgic fantasy image of our origins. Man may go to Solaris but his spirit is eternal and unchangeable. Solaris itself is presented as a giant brain, or rather an intelligent substance (God?) that communicates with its visitors by materializing, in human form, a figure representing a trauma or obsessive dream or memory that haunts them. As such, it functions as a conscience is said to function, and any attempt to understand its mysteries is doomed to come up against the limits of man's own mind. If it were not for the intensely cinematic and fascinating mise en scene, the intellectual content of the film would be seen as a set of very antiquated romantic cliches. However, the cinematic power of the representations is such that the brilliance of the imagery and the skilfully controlled rhythm is all absorbing, making the content merely a minor irritant.

It is interesting to note that both 2001: A Space Odyssey and Solaris offer intellectual banalities cloaked in cinematic splendor while Der Grosse Verhau ridicules such operatic grandeur and provides an intensely intelligent, and therefore infinitely more disturbing, vision of human development in the space age and beyond.

The Overlook Film Encyclopedia - Science Fiction

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