Sunday, August 23, 2015

SOLARIS - 1972

Running Time: 165 (very philosophical) Minutes

Directed By: Andrei Tarkovsky

Based Upon: The 1961 novel by the same name by Stanislaw Lem. 

Staring: Natalya Bondarchuk
Donates Banionis
Juri Jarvet
Anatoli Solonitsyn

Plot: “Scientist Kris Kelin travels to the mysterious planet Solaris to investigate the failure of an earlier mission.  But when his long-dead wife appears on the space station, he realized the planet has the power to materialize human desires.  Director Andrei Tarkovsky’s sci-fi cult classic, based upon Stanislaw Lem’s novel, presents an uncompromisingly unique and poetic meditation on space travel and its physical and existential ramifications” - Netflix.

"This exploration of the unreliability of reality and the power of the human unconscious, this great examination of the limits of rationalism and the perverse power of even the most ill-fated love, needs to be seen as widely as possible before it's transformed by Steven Soderbergh and James Cameron into what they ludicrously threaten will be 2001 meets Last Tango in Paris.' What, sex in space with floating butter? Tarkovsky must be turning over in his grave." - Salman Rushdie (Author of The Satanic Verses and Midnight’s Children)

How I Discovered It: I was completely unaware that this movie existed until 2002 when Steven Soderberg came along and made a (considerably shorter) American remake staring George Clooney (I’m assuming I don’t need an IMDB link for him).

I have never seen the American version.  Ironically it may be a more obscure than the original since this remake was a complete and utter flop.  (Although critics didn't seem to mind it too much.

 Memorable Moment: When Kris Kelin first arrives on the Solaris space station, he finds that the "futuristic" equipment lining the walls have been torn out and the corridors are covered in refuse.  The station has been left in such a ruin that it is a miracle that life support still works.  During his journey through the station (which is currently inhabited by only two other men) he catches glimpses of a woman in a blue night gown and a short man who one of the surviving scientists seems determined to keep inside his quarters. 


    •    Tarovsky (the director) and Lem (the author of the original novel) collaborated on this film. However, neither were terribly proud of it.  Tarkovsky has openly stated that Solaris is his least favorite of his movies (although it is his most popular among Western audiences).  Lem was disappointed with the film because his original novel focused on “science’s inadequacy in allowing humans to communicate with an alien life form.”  The film version focused on “Kelvin’s feelings for his wife, Hari, and the impact of outer space exploration upon the human condition."  Lem supposedly claimed that Tarkovsky created a cinematic Crime and Punishment rather than a film version of Solaris.  (I don’t think that this is necessarily a bad thing.) 
    •    Won the Grand Prix Special du Jury at the 1972 Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for the Palme d’Or.
    •     Natalya Bondarchuk (who plays Hari, Kelvin’s long dead wife) was only in her late teens when the movie was filmed.  She originally did not receive the part because of her young age (something that would never happen in Hollywood) however, the director re-considered half a year later after watching her other work. 
    •    This is the second adaptation of the novel.  The first was a Russian made for TV movie released in 1968.

Who Should Embrace This Film: My immediate answer is, “Anyone who loves Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.”  The two films have more in common than just being  philosophical space sagas.  They also share a similar pace (which some may mistake as being "boring").  In fact, it has often been rumored that Solaris was filmed as the Soviet's answer to  2001, which was viewed as a promotion for the American space program.

 This rumor is somewhat ironic because while the films have a great deal in common on the surface, in a way they are opposites of one another.  2001 was a major leap forward in special effects and while it does contain one of cinema’s most notorious villains the human characters are (purposefully) machine-like.  On the other hand, Solaris contains almost no special effects (other than occasional hallucinatory shots of the planet’s ocean surface) and those who inhabit the space station are remarkably complex characters.

I would sooner recommend Solaris to someone interested in philosophy than  than someone seeking sci-fi thrills.  The pace is slow and much of the film is taken up by conversations regarding the nature of reality/humanity.  The first 40 minutes don’t even look like what one would expect form a science fiction film.  I absolutely believe that most people would appreciate this film, but I don’t know how much they would enjoy it.  To be completely honest, I personally didn't enjoy a great deal of the film in terms of entertainment.  This is a difficult film (in some ways more difficult than 2001).  However, I am glad that I experienced it.  The concepts, performances and conversations (and certainly that final haunting image) are certainly worth our patience.

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