A part of this view­ing list: Cri­te­ri­on Col­lec­tion Spine #164: Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris.


My Dos­to­evsky pro­fes­sor once said that Rus­sians are more Ori­en­tal than Occi­den­tal in tem­pera­ment, and the con­tem­pla­tive pac­ing and con­stant impor­tance of the unim­por­tant through­out Tarkovsky’s Solaris seems to sup­port this asser­tion fair­ly well. For those used to Stanis­law Lem’s whim­si­cal cyber­net­ic sci­ence fic­tion, Solaris is more rem­i­nis­cent of Philip K. Dick, espe­cial­ly with its psy­cho­log­i­cal bent and hal­lu­cino­genic atmos­phere. These par­tic­u­lar aspects give the work and the film both sig­nif­i­cant stay­ing pow­er; the fic­tion is phe­nom­e­no­log­i­cal instead of tech­no­log­i­cal. East­ern Euro­peans and Asi­at­ics always seem to pull off pen­sive mad­ness with much more believ­abil­i­ty than less thought­ful cul­tures. So Kris, Kelvin can stag­ger around Solaris Sta­tion in naught but his box­ers, eyes inward, but when he begins to talk about con­science and con­scious­ness and com­mu­ni­ca­tion, his out­ward dis­or­der is mere­ly the sign of a com­plete inter­nal focus on more impor­tant prob­lems.


Kelvin becomes a reflec­tion of Solaris Sta­tion, an utter ruin itself; both igno­rant to the means and effects of the Solaris Ocean which they are study­ing. Com­mu­ni­ca­tion seems to be the theme of this film. Com­mu­ni­ca­tion with the self as man­i­fest­ed by the appear­ance of Hari, Kelv­in’s long-deceased wife, the plan­et’s attempt at com­mu­ni­ca­tion by proxy through the man­i­fes­ta­tion of Hari, tête-a-tête com­mu­ni­ca­tion between the sci­en­tists and the sci­en­tists attempts to com­mu­ni­cate with the plan­et via radi­a­tion. On a meta-lev­el we also have Tarkovsky’s attempt to com­mu­ni­cate the dif­fi­cul­ties of these process­es to his view­ers. In the end it becomes eas­i­er to toss the dice and hope that expla­na­tion through evo­ca­tion and imagery will suf­fice.


Kelvin seems admirably suit­ed to his job as con­sul­tant for the con­tin­u­a­tion of the Solaris project. He is not so much objec­tive as com­plete­ly recep­tive and instead of sit­ting in indif­fer­ence, he explores in accep­tance. Because of this, he becomes, unwill­ing­ly, the first per­son to suc­cess­ful­ly com­mu­ni­cate with the sen­tient ocean. After this occurs, the hal­lu­ci­na­tions cease, but the reap­pear­ance of Hari has exhumed his old skele­tons, and his is dis­qui­et­ed. At this point, Tarkovsky’s sub­tle mas­tery final­ly reveals itself, the small peace­ful nat­ur­al clues we’ve received through­out the film, flow­ing water, sway­ing plants, swirling vis­tas and obscu­rant clouds become visu­al rep­re­sen­ta­tions of Kelv­in’s pri­vate thought process­es, and the Solaris Ocean offers him full com­mu­nion with them. A form of com­mu­ni­ca­tion that we all only wish for.


Cri­te­ri­on Essay by Philip Lopate.
Andrei Tarkovsky on Solaris.
• Sens­es of Cin­e­ma arti­cle by the Strict­ly Film School guy.
Movie Mar­tyr review with stills.
Offi­cial site of Stanis­law Lem.
• Exhaus­tive site about the film and the book.
Roger Ebert Review.
• YouTube Clips: 1, 2, 3, 4.

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