Old 04-16-2009, 01:49 PM
Andrei Tarkovsky's Solaris (1972)

Solaris (1972)

I originally wasn't going to do a review for this film, but after revisiting it last night about five years after I had seen it the first time, I found that it dwelled in my mind. It had me asking several questions about it; questions about what it all meant, what things were meant to symbolize, and what the purposes of the characters were. In short, I found that these questions were worth exploring a little further.

A space station has been established over the mysterious ocean known as Solaris. After the mysterious death of one the scientists there and some very strange testimony from a rescue pilot, Henri Berton (Vladislav Dvorzhetsky), a psychologist by the name of Kris Kelvin (Donatas Banionis) is sent to report on the mental state of the three remaining scientists: Dr. Snaut (Jüri Järvet), Dr. Sartorius (Anatoli Solonitsyn), and Dr. Gibarian (Sos Sargsyan).

When Kris arrives on the space station, he is told that Dr. Gibarian has committed suicide. He also finds the behavior of the remaining scientists very strange. They talk to him very cryptically, as if he should expect strange things to happen. He doesn't know what to make of this until he sees his wife, Hari (Natalya Bondarchuk), on the station; his wife who has been dead for ten years.

There are many who say that this film is Tarkovsky's answer to Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey." I think it was Robert Osbourne who said, when introducing the film on TCM a few weeks ago, that Tarkovsky actually hated "2001" and that Kubrick had explored the wrong areas. "2001" had been all about an incredible outward journey to the depths of space, whereas "Solaris" is all about the depths of the human mind.

This is a very, very, very slowly paced movie, revealing itself gradually along its 165 minutes runtime. Yet somehow, the film never really gets boring. It remains one of the strangest landmarks of cinema, many calling it a masterpiece, others saying that it is complete nonsense and rubbish. But I have yet to really see anyone who shares my opinion of the film, which falls in the middle, but leans towards the positive side.

The fact that it is so slowly paced yet remains fascinating is miraculous it itself. It becomes easy to identify with the character of Kris Kelvin because he is made out to be a regular person, like many of the characters. They may all have fancy titles and degrees, but when it comes to their emotions, they are merely human. So when they begin encountering what they at first believe to be hallucinations, they react as anyone would, with fear, but after Snaut's and Sartorius's long-term exposure to these apparitions, their fear turns into puzzlement, wonder, and eventually scientific curiosity.

When Kris meets them on the station, they have already been there for a few years, so we are meeting them in the late stages of their emotional journey. However, Kris is new, having arrived on what he believes to be an important mission which will determine the future of the field of Solaristics. We get to see Kris go through the stages from the beginning. His first reaction of fear is amazing as he throws the first apparition of his wife into a rocket and blasts her off of the station.

He is warned that his wife will be back however, so when she does return, Kris moves on to the next stage of puzzlement as to how this could happen. His wife had committed suicide so long ago by poisoning herself, and indeed the apparition of his wife has a needle mark on her arm where she injected herself. Kris is eventually told that it is the Solaris Ocean that is causing these apparitions to appear and that they are made of neutrinos that are normally unstable, but somehow remain coherent because of a field emitted by the ocean.

Snaut and Sartorius react with great indifference towards Hari because they are so far in the stages of emotional change that they suggest that Kris take a blood sample from here and even go so far as to recommend an autopsy. Kris is sickened at the thought of that, but does take a blood sample, which confirms their findings.

Meanwhile, Hari begins to ask questions like why she can't remember where she came from. She begins to feel very frightened when Kris is not around, which corresponds to what had happened between Kris and the real Hari. The scenes between the two of them are bizarre and play on the emotions, but just like Kris doesn't really know how to feel about this, neither do we. The events in the film don't allow him to reach the last stage of scientific curiosity, but perhaps that was for the best. We are not even sure that he would have even reached that stage. In the end, we can still identify with him as a man who misses his wife, a simple yet tragic scenario that allows for the exploration of the conscience.

My main problem with the film is that it seems to tiptoe around its intended theme for such a long time before finally getting around to discussing it. It felt that there was at least a good two hours before the really engaging scenes that started to get to the heart of the matter. This is my main hesitation in calling this a great film. I had no problem with its length, it's just that I would have like for there to be more discussion between the scientists in regard to what was happening on the station. This could have led to a lot more psychological discussion and further probed into what these men were seeing and why.

There are several scenes that Tarkovsky includes that are wide open to interpretation. Kris has a dream about his mother late in the film. In this dream, it is mentioned that he is two hours late, but for what, we don't know. Are we to take this as another regret that he looks back on? Did he leave behind his parents like he did when he apparently left his wife behind when he got transferred? Or take the scene where Kris first meets Dr. Sartorius. Kris goes to Dr. Sartorius lab and when the door is opened, a little person comes running out only to be captured by Sartorius seconds later and put back in the lab. Perhaps this is an early showing of Sartorius's indifference towards the creations of the ocean.

The ending is also open to much interpretation. I don't remember the copy I had those five years ago ending like this version did, but luckily "The Criterion Collection" released a complete version of the film, which is the one I watched last night. What I took away from the ending is a kind of contentment that Kris eventually finds after the events on the space station. It may not be the exact place he remembers as in the details are not quite right, but it is a place where amazing things can still happen. He knows that here it is possible to be truly happy once again. 3/4 stars.

Last edited by Hal2001; 04-16-2009 at 04:37 PM..
Reply With Quote
Old 04-16-2009, 06:04 PM
Just curious, you ever give 4/4 reviews?

I agree on Solaris by the way.
Reply With Quote
Old 04-16-2009, 06:30 PM
haha, it never seems like it does it? That's somewhat of a rarity. I have to be completely blown away by a film to give it the ol' four-star rating. Recent examples that I remember include De Sica's Umberto D., Doubt, The Dark Knight, Snow Angels, Gran Torino, and In Bruges.
Reply With Quote
Old 04-20-2009, 02:34 AM
My review of the film is here: http://www.joblo.com/forums/showthre...hlight=solaris

This film is a truly mesmerizing experience. Tarkovsky was one of those rare directors who only made a few films, yet left an indelible mark. I don't have a problem with the length, it adds to the power of the film.
Reply With Quote
Old 04-21-2009, 12:42 AM
I was lucky to see this in theaters at a revival a few years ago. Spectacular. Also strongly recommend "Stalker".

***1/2 / ****
Reply With Quote
Old 04-21-2009, 11:53 PM
Originally Posted by APzombie View Post
I was lucky to see this in theaters at a revival a few years ago. Spectacular. Also strongly recommend "Stalker".

***1/2 / ****
I really didn't enjoy Stalker, but I loved Solaris. Great film.
Reply With Quote
Old 04-22-2009, 01:14 AM
I think this is among the best, if not the best science-fiction movie I have ever seen.

Reply With Quote


Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off

Forum Jump