“”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.'”–Salman Rushdie on the (since realized) prospect of a Solaris remake
DIRECTED BY: Andrei Tarkovsky
FEATURING: Donatas Banionis, Natalya Bondarchuk, Jüri Järvet, Anatoli Solonitsyn
PLOT: In the indefinite future, mankind has set up a space station orbiting Solaris, a mysterious planet covered by an ocean that exhibits signs of consciousness. Several of the crew members studying the planet demonstrate eccentric behavior and possible signs of mental illness, and psychologist Kris Kelvin is sent to the station to evaluate them and decide whether the program studying Solaris must be scrapped. On board the satellite Kelvin discovers an incarnation of his wife, who has been dead for seven years, and falls in love with the hallucination.
- For information on director Tarkovsky, see the background section of the entry for Nostalghia.
- Solaris was based on a 1961 novel by Polish science fiction author Stanislaw Lem. Tarkovsky’s version was actually the second adaptation; the story had been filmed previously by Boris Nirenburg for Soviet television. Steven Soderberg created an American version in 2002 starring George Clooney; it was a modest success with critics, but a commercial flop.
- Solaris won the Special Jury Prize (the second most prestigious award) at Cannes; the Palme d’or was shared by two realistic, political Italian films (The Working Class Goes to Heaven and The Mattei Affair) that are now almost forgotten.
- Although commentators frequently claim that Solaris was created as a reaction to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, cinematographer Vadim Yusov says that the director had not seen the 1968 space epic until filming had already begun. We can safely assume, however, that Soviet authorities were aware of the film, likely viewed it as propaganda for the American space program, and were more than happy to finance a 2001 response with cosmonauts as the cosmic heroes.
- Tarkovsky liked Natalya Bondarchuk’s initial audition for the role of Hari, but thought she was too young for the role (she was only 17 at the time). He recommended her to another director for a different part and continued casting. A year later Bondarchuk had completed her movie, Tarkovsky still had not cast Hari, and she still wanted the role. The director was impressed enough with her work and persistence to relent, ignore the age difference between her and leading man Donatas Banionis, and make her his Hari. Later Tarkovsky would comment in his diary that Bondarchuk’s performance “outshone them all.”
- The weird seascapes of Solaris’ surface were created in the studio using an acetone solution, aluminum powder, and dye.
- American reviewers gave Solaris largely negative reviews on its Stateside release in 1976; in their defense, however, the version then screened here was badly dubbed and had a half-hour cut from the running time.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: During thirty seconds of scheduled weightlessness, Kris and Hari slowly rise in the air. A chandelier tinkles, a slow Bach organ chorale plays, and a lit candelabrum and open books float past them as they embrace.
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Though Solaris is far from Tarkovsky’s weirdest movie—in fact, it may be his most accessible—any movie in which a cosmonaut falls in love with an avatar of his dead wife that’s been created from his memories by an intelligent planet starts off on an oddish note. When Tarkovsky points his dreamy camera at this scenario and applies his typically hypnotic and obliquely philosophical style, the weird notes push to the forefront. The currents rippling in psychologist Kris Kelvin’s troubled subconscious turn out to be as mesmerizing as the ultramarine undulations of the surface of Solaris itself.
Criterion Collection trailer for Solaris (1972)
COMMENTS: Thirty minutes into Solaris Burton, a minor character, takes an almost five Continue reading 95. SOLARIS [SOLYARIS] (1972)