Movie: 4 stars
Picture: 4 stars
Sound: 3 stars
Extras: 3½ stars
A brown leaf floats on brilliantly clear water that flows over rich green seaweed. That’s just one of the many lyrical images that fill the opening sequence of Solaris. A horse trots along in the background. A cup of tea overflows in a momentary thunderstorm — the rain stopping as quickly as it started, leaving the sound of dripping water and then a serene silence.
All of this pastoral beauty is eventually shattered by a 5-minute sequence of driving along motorways and through endless tunnels, accompanied by a cacophonous combination of traffic noise and oppressive electronica. It’s the sound of a hellish manmade futuristic metropolis. The contrast helps prepare us for the harsh scenes to come — aboard an almost abandoned space station orbiting the ocean planet Solaris.
In his 1972 adaptation of Polish writer Stanisław Lem’s seminal sci-fi novel, Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky examines love, life, death, and what it is to be human. A nearly emotionless cosmonaut/psychologist, Kris Kelvin, has been sent to investigate the fate of the remaining scientists on the space station. What he finds is that one has committed suicide and the other two are . . . not all there. Dr. Snaut and Dr. Sartorius are suffering from mental dislocation because they’ve had to face the manifested memories of people — conjured by the ocean, which is believed to have its own consciousness. In turn, Kelvin is confronted by his wife, who had committed suicide because of him.
At times, Solaris can seem like a ghost story, as phantoms drift about, haunting their hosts. Other times, it’s almost as if Kelvin, Dr. Snaut, and Dr. Sartorius, with their plans to radiate the brain of the planet, are a triptych of mad scientists who’ve stepped straight out of Frankenstein. But the planet also seems to be offering these people an opportunity, in their shared waking dreams, to consciously work through unresolved emotions and relationships from the past and rediscover their humanity. As Dr. Snaut puts it: “We don’t need other worlds. We need a mirror.”
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