Wednesday , December 6 2023
Tarkovksy reaches deep inside to ask what we are.

Movie Review: Solaris (1972)

Written by by El Mono Santo

We have no interest in conquering any cosmos.
We want to extend the earth to the borders of the cosmos.
We don't know what to do with other worlds.
We don't need other worlds.
We need a mirror…
Man needs man.


After watching Andrei Tarkovsky's Solaris (not to be confused with the Clooney clone) my love of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey waned. Though 2001 preceded it by four years, Solaris makes Kubrick's masterpiece resemble a Hollywood film. The two share many similarities. And yet the similarities seem entirely accidental. Both directors used very different methods of film-making for very different reasons. Perhaps it would be better to call Kubrick's film a "space ballad" and Tarkovsky's a "soul probe." Kubrick's arm reaches forward, out, away from present being to the dream of what we might become. Tarkovksy reaches deep inside to ask what we are.

As the opening quote indicates, Solaris plays with a paradox of human motivation. We turn our heads to the cosmos seeking to uncover it's wonders. "The truth is out there" as The X-Files put it. And yet if there was extra-­terrestrial life – an OTHER kind of life than what we – could we recognize it? Or would we be invariably led, like a Modern Narcissus, to see nothing more than our own reflection? Our concepts of "life" and "being" and "mind" are anthropomorphic. They are contained and given meaning by a frame that is human. But if there was a different frame? In Solaris, that frame is a foreign planetoid or its ocean. Tarkovsky might ask me whether even there I am reducing it to something resembling "the human." At any rate, when human beings came to this deep-space ocean, it reacted.

The main character, Kris, is a scientist sent to the space station to examine its remaining crew and evaluate their psychological standing. Ironically, it will be the scientist, like those he wished to examine, who will be the one psychologically evaluated. Above the churning, morphing ocean of Solaris, contact between humankind and the other is made. And the point of contact is conscience. As the fog of sleep overpowers Kris and the crew, they awake to find that memories etched into their mind by a fingerprint of remorse, guilt, or the tension between ethical/moral dilemma and duty have taken on flesh. We are led to believe, for example, that one crewman, Gibarian, is perpetually haunted by a version of his own perversion – presumably an innocent daughter he blamed himself for molesting. Unable to face a too-­real reflection of his inner demon, Gibarian commits suicide. Caught within his own web of conscience, Kris chooses to embrace it instead of reject it. Will this lead Kris to deeper union with "the other" or further strand him in the island of his own humanity?

In a style similar to Hitchcock's Rope, Tarkovsky limits his cutting and splicing of many scenes. This is done in opposition to his Soviet film-making comrades who wanted to force perspective through their editing. Instead, Tarkovsky leaves us hanging inside the space of the character in near realtime and forces the camera to follow. Truth is thus unveiled through question, not propaganda. Combined with a very minimalistic soundtrack, this stretches out the moments of the film and causes the audience to enter into the self-awareness and meditative ambiance of its characters. And like 2001, there were many instances of incredible cinematic mise-en-scene.

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