Andrei Tarkovsky’s, Solaris, is one of the cornerstones of the science fiction genre. It’s one of the few science fiction films of the 70s that feels truly important when you’re watching it. It’s world is believable and the has an excellent use of subjectivity. It’s often described as the “Russian 2001: A Space Odyssey” but I do not agree with this because Solaris takes on a more personal approach in conveying its messages and values. The film was loosely based on a book of the same name written by Stanisław Lem. However, the author, much like Stephen King with Kubrick’s re-imagining of The Shining, has condemned Tarkovsky’s adaptation because the book was allegedly not intended to be a story about “erotic problems in space”.
We see the world of Solaris through the eyes of its main protagonist, Kris Kelvin. Kris is a widower psychologist who is assigned to go on a space mission on the ocean of planet Solaris to investigate the bizarre visions of a scientist and work as the replacement member of the oceans base following the death of one the stations scientists. On arrival, Kris finds that the base has been subject to some extra-terrestrial activity and must monitor the sanity of the two other scientists, Dr Sartorius and Dr Snaut, after they claim seeing hallucinations themselves aboard their ship. Kris himself eventually succumbs to these visions and finds that he cannot let them go, as his recurring vision is the resurrected corpse of his wife, Hari, following him around.
The film is a deep and intimate exploration of the human condition upon interacting with extra-terrestrial life. Much like Blade Runner or Ex Machina, Solaris questions the very means of what it means to be considered human and does so in a slow-burning yet poetic way. The visions which Sartorius, Snaut and Kris are experiencing are the physical manifestations of each of their consciousness. There are some beautifully ethereal moments of subjectivity found in the forbidden love between Kris and Hari as well as some unforgettably haunting scenes. The ocean of Solaris is frightening in its own right, swirling with its alienated colours (orange, grey, blue) and in some cases having the resemblance of a human brain- perhaps a tie-in to the psychological themes of Solaris. The film also encompasses all the surrealistic and masterful directing techniques as seen in Tarkovsky’s masterworks and ranks among them as one of his best.
Solaris is renowned as being one of the greatest science fiction films of all time (and of course it is) but I feel it transcends the sci-fi genre as its themes are rooted deep in exploring the human psyche with a stunning unique vision. I would recommend this film to anyone who enjoys science fiction and is fascinated by psychology in films.
Recently, Solaris has had a stunning Blu-ray digital restoration from The Criterion Collection which is available to buy on Amazon as well as other retailers on Monday April 4th. The Blu ray also includes the following supplementary extras:
Audio commentary by Andrei Tarkovsky scholars Vida Johnson and Graham Petrie, New subtitle translation, Nine deleted and alternate scenes, Video interviews with actress Natalya Bondarchuk, cinematographer Vadim Yusov, art director Mikhail Romadin, and composer Eduard Artemyev and an excerpt from a documentary about Stanislaw Lem, the author of the film’s source novel. PLUS: A booklet featuring a new essay by critic Phillip Lopate and an appreciation by director Akira Kurosawa.