“We don’t need other worlds. We need a mirror!”
Space. It’s a big, vast place. Lots of room for things to happen in, and indeed in the movies at least, it always seems like there’s something interesting going on in it. Aliens, killer asteroids, epic battles, black holes, and robots to name a few. Very exciting, those sci-fi movies. Full of action, adventure, even horror. Solaris is a sci-fi movie, but it is none of these things. In fact, it’s the complete opposite of exciting. But that’s not such a bad thing, give me the chance to explain.
While other sci-fi movies are fascinated with what is happening outside of us, Solaris is fascinated with what is happening inside us. Inside our minds to be more specific. It is an exploration into human psychology, rather than an exploration of the outward physical universe. Solaris makes the point that the mind is a very complicated place, so complicated that despite all of our technological capabilities we know as much about ourselves as we do the universe around us (which is very very little). As such, the human mind makes a worthwhile subject of exploration for a film. A film that at times feels like it functions like the human mind itself; flashbacks, day dreams, memories, fantasies come and go. Like the mind, the film is focused, yes, but requires the conjuring up of unrelated visual images and feelings in order to create true understanding. I’ll say it right out; it is not an easy thing to sit through. Solaris takes its time, there is no action. The characters are intentionally cold. Large chunks of the movie go by without any dialogue whatsoever. It jumps forward and backwards in time effortlessly.
But this is also why this film is so brilliant. It doesn’t rush to conclusions, or force the audience into them. Instead, it flows. You let it seep into you, drip by drip. You take what is given and make your own connections. You don’t know what’s really happening, but you like it.
Story: Kris Kelvin is a psychologist. Years ago he was married, but his wife left him and tragically committed suicide. Years later, she is just a shadow in his life. Kelvin’s colleague, Dr. Gibrarian, is a scientist aboard a research station called Solaris, built to study a far away planet covered in a mysterious and powerful ocean. Initially built with high hopes of understanding the planet it studies, the station is now almost deserted and those left aboard are struggling to produce results. Gibrarian suggests that Kelvin be sent to the station to investigate the problem as a last ditch effort before those in charge abandon the station altogether. Once he arrives, Kelvin makes a startling discovery, one that makes him conflicted on whether or not he wants to ever leave the station again…Great (25/25)
Acting: Donatas Banionis is the focus of the film as Kris Kelvin, and is a consistent and strong character throughout. It is an interesting role because a majority of the movie has him saying nothing, and in those moments he is a powerful representation of human intelligence and emotion. His general demeanor was well constructed to create the illusion of deep inner conflict. The other actors are strong as well. At times the script is just plain odd, but nonetheless the portrayal of emotional unrest in all the characters keeps it grounded. Good (23/25)
Direction: The biggest conflict with this movie that audience members will have is with the direction. Andrey Tarkovsky’s atmospheric and meandering style will either drive you insane, put you to sleep, or blow your mind. I’d say its a masterpiece, one of the all-time greats, but not for everyone. Tarkovsky weaves a movie like poetry, its very beautiful. For instance, the opening scene is all but silent, focusing for long periods of time on the beauty of nature. Then, in a later sequence, Tarkovsky contrasts this perspective of what life is like on earth with a hectic extended rush-hour car ride sequence with noise that slowly builds to a roar. Tarkovsky also effectively uses black-and-white to illustrate flashbacks, until suddenly half way through the movie the flashbacks appear to blend with real life resulting in a cacophony of seemingly random black-and-white and color shots. This technique is excellent in slowly building chaos that echos the storyline. Great (25/25)
Special Effects: This film is frequently compared to 2001: A Space Odyssey in terms of special effects. While the special effects are pretty good, I would not go as far as saying that they are as good as 2001. Instead, this film makes its artistic impression through the direction. Nonetheless its a solid work and rarely if at all do the special effects compromise the story. Good (22/25)
Rating: (95/100) = A (A Historical Achievement)
- What’s Good: A very intelligent story takes a welcomed different approach to science fiction while a great cast adds a human element. The direction is top-notch in that it creates a totally unique visual experience that is like nothing you’ve seen before.
- What’s Bad: That directional style is not for everyone, as it takes a good hour to get used to it and even then the film moves forward slowly and haphazardly. Those looking for action or suspense will be disappointed.
Summary: Fine art delivered one brush stroke at a time.
My previous review: Rated: Dick Tracy (1990)
If you liked this film, you might also enjoy: Rated: Moon (2009)
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I honestly liked the 2002 remake more. Good review.