Revisiting Solaris

23Mar08

Tarkovsky’s 1971 original was a film I first watched during my school days; needless to say, I brushed it aside as pretentious drivel along with Kubrick’s 2001: ASO. A revisitng of the film during college proved futile too. I could never appreciate Tarkovsky’s long and rather plain visuals.

The recent passing of Arthur C Clarke drove me to revisit the film yet again, that too two weeks after I watched Soderbergh’s 2002 interpretation of Stanislav Lem‘s novel featuring George Clooney’s buttocks. This time around, both the films blew me away. The films while being (long) meditations on grief, are also explorations of existentialism and love; themes that feature in the two films to varying extent. For the uninitiated, Solaris was a novel written by Polish sci fi author, Stanislav Lem about a planet (Solaris) being observed by humans aboard a space station. But it soon turn out that it’s merely the humans who are under observation. *cue ominous music*

solaris.jpg solaris1.jpg

Tarkovsky’s Solaris is unabashedly more philosophical; it flits across consciousness, guilt, memories and (drumroll) love. The protagonist Kris Kelvin finds that his deceased wife keeps reappearing aboard the spacehip. We are soon privy to the fact that she may be a manifestation of his idea of her; she posseses memories and characteristics only Kelvin is aware of. Kelvin cannot seem to come to terms with her and at one point tries to get rid of the apparition by shooting her/it off into space. Dr. Snaut, another human aboard the ship decides to broadcast Kelvin’s brainwave patterns to Solaris in an attempt to communicate with the planet. The ending is one I consider far superior to Soderbergh’s version. The brainwave patterns (brainwave. heh.) cause islands to appear on the planet surface; the islands are occupied by manifestations of Kelvin’s childhood home.

Soderbergh’s Solaris is exponentially more artistic with exquisite set design and photography, heavily inspired by Kubrick’s 2001 and like 2001 is a film that is slightly ahead of it’s times; a film that will be fully appreciated only 10-15 years from now by 20 something art aficionados and intellectually impotent folk like yours truly. The science is updated too; Higgs Bosons replace Neutrinos as explanations for the spooky occurences.

I would reccomend both films but then again, what do I know? Stanislav Lem hated both.

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3 Responses to “Revisiting Solaris”

  1. Spot on reviews bro!

    And its quite strange that I too recently went on a Solaris retrospective. (And the coincidences that happen between us cannot be explained by Higgs Bosons or Neutrinos.)

    I read somewhere that Soderbergh’s version is closer to Lem’s material. Also, like the numerous discussions we’ve had about cinema, I must state here again, that Solaris by Soderbergh has superior visual storytelling. Tarkovsky depends heavily on lengthy expositions (a la the library scene), while Soderbergh uses none of it. Though both directors use awesome visual styles, Soderbergh’s cuts and cues are more seamless and understandable.

    But there are three scenes in Tarkovsky’s original that really raises his Solaris above Soderberghs –
    1. In the library, when the camera pans across the painting. And visually, it accents the film where we see Kelvin’s childhood with his cold and distant mother, and his friendly loving father.
    2. The sequence when they become weightless in each other’s arms.
    3. The resurrection scene after she consumes liquid oxygen. She writhes in ecstasy. Its disturbing and erotic.

    p.s. Is it just me or did you feel that in Soderbergh’s version, there were numerous scenes (the one that clearly pops up is Kelvin and his wife meeting for the first time on the train) that reminded you of Wong Kar Wai?

  2. @baphomet Yeah, Soderbergh’s was definitely more visual but then again, it wasn’t very original. Most of the scenes were very reminiscent of 2001…that’s a good thing though.

    And yes, I loved the weightless scene…that’s the kind of stuff that makes Tarkovsky’s version a bit more ‘cinematic’ than Soderbergh’s.

    You know what…it did remind me of WKW. Remember when I told you some of the scenes felt a tad bit pretentious? Those were the scenes that reminded me of WKW (the flashback sequences in the rain). Not that Mr Wai is pretentious or anything…. 🙂

    Regarding our coincidences…maybe it’s the universe trying to tell us something. (“Universe, you’ve done it again”. -Tobias Funke)

  3. “Not that Mr Wai is pretentious or anything…” Sometimes he is though bro. I re-watched My Blueberry Nights, and the flaws just stood out too much. The acting was a tad bit off timed. And like you said, the script is empty. The film felt more like a “Best Of” collection. Where scenes and themes from previous WKW films played over and over. But I cannot find it in my heart to give the film less than 6 bro. It has its moments. And one fo the best kisses in cinema, in a long time.

    Head over to Swenny’s comments sectiong. Forget the universe, Johnny is trying to say something.


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