Chloe Walker, Marketing Manager at Phoenix Picturehouse, Oxford introduces this week’s Discover Tuesdays title Solaris.
Director: Andrei Tarkovsky. 1972. Soviet Union. 166 mins.
In a career cut short by a tragically early death, Andrei Tarkovsky only directed seven feature films. Solaris, his third, is his most famous, and is often compared to another groundbreaking sci-fi masterpiece: Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.
In Tarkovsky’s film, psychologist Kris Kelvin (Donatas Banionis) is sent to investigate a space station orbiting the planet Solaris. There have been multiple strange sightings and reports sent from the men on the space station, of whom only three out of an original 85 remain. On his arrival, Kelvin learns that one of the three has killed himself for reasons unknown. Then Kelvin starts to see his own wife (Natalya Bondarchuk), who has been dead for ten years, and she converses with him naturally, as if the previous decade had never happened. Is this really his wife, or an illusion, or something altogether different?
Solaris is not a casual watch: it clocks in at two hours and 45 minutes, and is languidly paced to boot. But much as with 2001, what you’re getting here is more than an ordinary cinematic experience. It’s a huge exploration of the issues of existence: love, grief, loneliness, how well we can ever really know each other, and even the meaning of life itself are all covered by the film’s probing philosophical gaze.
It is Solaris’s humanity that makes it less imposing. Kelvin spends his last day on Earth before the mission in his beautiful lakeside childhood home. A sudden rainstorm causes everyone in the garden to run for shelter, but Kelvin just stands there and feels the rain on his face, knowing there’s a chance it will be for the last time. The film is replete with scenes like this: tiny, deeply human moments that cut through the grander themes and envelop you in the wonder of life. It’s the fact that Solaris is as long as it is, and as leisurely paced, that allows these special moments the requisite time to breathe.
Steven Soderbergh’s 2002 remake with George Clooney in the lead role is worth checking out; his alternative adaptation of the source novel leads to a different ending, but it shares the original’s quiet, meditative atmosphere, which is a rarity for a Hollywood sci-fi film. However, for its sheer magisterial grandeur and humanity, you can’t beat Tarkovsky’s Solaris.
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