Solaris (1972)

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Movies
February 18th, 2003 • 1:27 am

Watched the DVD last night… Only remembered Tarkovsky’s The Sacrifice from my university years, when I saw it with a friend in a dilapilated experimental and art film theater in downtown Strasbourg (now long gone). That film had left a lasting impression on me. I definitely want to see it again. But Solaris came out on DVD first, and it sounded like something worth exploring.

I was not disappointed. There’s definitely something unique about Tarkovsky’s art, something that I did experience back then with The Sacrifice and that I experienced again last night. Something about pace, photography, mystery, silence, essential issues. Something about leaving things unexplained.

Is it “brainy” movie-making? Yes, compared to standard Hollywood fare, I suppose it is. Yet from a purely intellectual point of view, it is not “didactic” enough. Too many things are not explained, not delineated. It doesn’t provide any obvious “answers”.

A couple of things were a bit weak: the contrast between the hero’s description as someone with an “accountant-like” attitude — and his behaviour as soon as he arrives on the space station. And then the turning point, the action that changes everything and brings resolution (the beaming of X-rays based on Kelvin’s brain waves to the “thinking ocean” causes it to stop recreating the human figures drawn from their dreams), apart from its dated science, is a bit too “easy”. Reminded me (for some reason) of the episode with the gun towards the end of Céline’s Voyage au bout de la nuit. Doesn’t really fit. Doesn’t really feel necessary at this point in the story. A bit too much like a “traditional” narrative device. As well, it seems to me that the idea of a form of “communication” between the astronauts and the thinking ocean could have been reconciled with the fact that the ocean’s recreations were interacting with the astronauts and “learning” from them. Wasn’t that already a form of “communication”?

Interesting bits of English/American stuff in an otherwise Sovietic movie (in Russian, subtitled, all Russian actors): some of the character’s names (Kris Kelvin? Berton?) — and “Solaris” written in English on the rocket used to get rid of the first recreation of Hari.

On the whole a terrific, beautiful, unique movie. Didn’t feel long at all (it’s 165 minutes). And the actress who played Hari (Natalya Bondarchuck) was absolutely beautiful.

6 Responses to “Solaris (1972)”

  1. Volodya says:

    I don’t believe Tarkovski intended to be “didactic” or provide answers. As for leaving things unexplained, I guess he sees himself as a kind of heir to Dostoevsky who could write a whole detective without telling the reader who the murderer was. Even letting the viewer in on the character’s emotions is a bit of a giveaway – you should try his (Tarkovski’s) “Stalker”.

    I think that what you refer to as the resolution is, for Tarkovski, far from the central focus – more like an afterthought. The point is attitude, not individual solutions. Having indicated the general direction he does not really care about technical implementation.

    I don’t see how designating the main character as accountant detracts from anything.

    The names may just be a carry-over from the original. On the other hand, it had been a tradition in Russian sf literature to freely mix Russian and non-Russian names in distant future scenarios – the name of the deceased spaceman is in fact Armenian.

  2. Pierre Igot says:

    The comment about the movie not being didactic enough was certainly not intended as criticism — quite the contrary. And I will try “Stalker” :).

    About the resolution: The fact remains that it is a science fiction movie and, as such, needs some solid science. It’s not just a matter of “implementation”. We are asked to suspend our disbelief — so things need to be scientifically convincing :).

    The problem with the main character is the way he’s described before the trip, as opposed to the way he behaves afterwards. It’s not exactly consistent.

  3. Volodya says:

    In my experience, it is not the scientific details that make a novel or a movie “convincing”. I find the “science” in “science fiction” a rather unfortunate occurrence. The less attention an author wastes on “scientifically convincing things”, the better are chances to produce something deep. IMHO, of course. Certainly, my favourite sf authors aren’t heavy on “science”. Neither was Stanislaw Lem on whose novel Solaris is based.

    If you want logic (which I think you should not), assume that guests are autonomous agents incapable of feedback to their creator.

    As for consistency – certainly, accountancy is not the first type of occupation you’d expect this type of behaviour from. But how about this – humanity can be found anywhere, even in accountants.

  4. Pierre Igot says:

    I think what defines science fiction as a genre is precisely the use of scientifically plausible futuristic scenarios. I am not saying that science fiction needs to be plausible to the point that the author would have to be a trained scientist himself — but there is a minimum required.

    I am certainly not saying that the science in “Solaris” is totally unconvincing. Let’s just say that it’s a bit “light”.

    I also cannot agree with the idea that “The less attention an author wastes on ‘scientifically convincing things’, the better are chances to produce something deep.” Why would depth be incompatibility with scientific plausibility? Science fiction is just a genre, and ultimately the depth of a work of art created within a genre depends on how well it is developed within the constraints of the genre. And one of the constraints of science fiction is scientific plausibility.

  5. Volodya says:

    I don’t think Tarkovski would or should ever voluntarily submit to the constraints of any given genre. Neither should he be judged against those. Having said that, of course Solaris is obviously influenced by the sf tradition. The “science” in Solaris is probably lighter than in most sf, but is more than sufficiently heavy for my taste.

    An aside – I don’t believe sf is by definition futuristic. There are lots of bona fide sf based far in the past, and quite a few scenarios taking place today.

    The depth of a work, in my opinion, is not predicated by how well it follows the canons of a genre, but stylistic purity probably is. As for “The less attention..”, well, the “scientific stuff” has in my experience never succeeded in taking centerstage in a meaningful sf piece. Implausible “scientifically plausible” scenarios serve in a secondary role to expose and amplify certain human conflicts and issues that are the real subjects. Accordingly, as an application of the minimalist principle, one should go easy on “science”.

  6. burak altinisik says:

    anyone has an idea on the presence of – if i did not see it wrong – the brueghel paintings on the wall where the birthday “party” was supposed to take place?

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