Finite Focus: And Death Shall have no Dominion (Solaris)

Solaris_onesheetLike most great science fiction films, Solaris (and I mean the Steven Soderbergh remake, not the Andrei Tarkovsky film from 1972) was not appreciated all that much on initial release. *Spoilers Follow* I am not sure if a re-evaluation of the film has started yet, but if not, here is as good a place as any. Delicately sprinkled with the debate on divinity vs. astronomical probability, the film seems to tap out on the side that Solaris is in fact the almighty, who trials the cosmonauts on the station with mirrors of their own thoughts. After requesting friend and psychiatrist Kris Kelvin (George Clooney) to come up an evaluate the problem on the orbiting space station, the scientific leader on the shuttle, Dr. Gibarian, commits suicide. Later, the Doctor’s ghost (or perhaps Kelvin’s own conscience or even, more daringly, God Himself) offers, “There is no solution, only choices.” (Earlier Gibarian also equates space travel as the search for divinity in another choice quote, “We do not want other worlds, we want mirrors.”) After the remaining two scientists begin bombarding their ghostly yet corporeal visitors, possibly manifestations from the planet based on each persons memories and emotions, with anti-bosons, the planet pulls the station into its implacable mauve energy cloud.

The crashing station with Kelvin still aboard becomes a ‘moment of fear’ or a ‘moment of truth’ as the three remaining passengers wait for god. The scenes with Jeremy Davies’ character literally meeting his maker are shot to evoke both alien abduction (Fire in the Sky), part spiritual awakening. As it should be, because the film postulates both. More interestingly is Kelvin’s final journey, first of pain and suffering, then help by way of Gibarian’s ‘son’ (an corporeal entity of Solaris, The Son of God?) who reaches out a comforting hand, and a offers a serene (Jesus-like?) face. That he ends up in Heaven (of sorts, where “Everything we’ve done is forgiven. Everything”) with his deceased wife – all radiant and finally at peace, only cements things.

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Matt Brown
Admin

Nicely timed, Kurt, as I was thinking literally yesterday that the time may have come for me to reappraise Solaris. (Disliked it on its release. Have a lifelong antipathy towards Natasha McElhone.) You've piqued my interest.

James McNally
Guest

Had a weird reaction to this film since the original was practically my introduction to the whole world of 'art films'. I respect the hell out of Soderbergh and Clooney, but felt like his version was Tarkovsky Lite. Would like to revisit both versions at some point.

Kurt
Guest

Matt: you are oh so wrong about Natasa McElhone. Exudes sexy cool, even when suicidal. My favourite line ever from here: "Don't Blow it." *shivers*

James: it is tempting to label Soderbergh's film a much simpler than Tarkovsky's because it is less esoteric, and simply 'less' (run-time, reach, etc.), but there is something to be said for focus, and Soderbergh grabs the one element of Tarkovsky's film (the relationship between Kelvin and his wife) which Tarkovsky totally screws up, and breathes life, fire, and humanity into it. The relationship to God, and the scope of the universe are handled much better in Soderbergh's film…And Viola Davis is awesome as the paranoid voice of reason.

I've watched each film about 5 times, and while i do like both very much, i'm actually leaning towards Soderbergh's as the better film (although it is easier to get 'lost in the rhythm' the 1972 version, I think the 2002 version engages the mind and heart in a more intense manner.

Jandy Hardesty
Admin

I haven't watched either version yet, so I'm avoiding reading your commentary or watching the clip until I do (I need to get on that Tarkovsky one; it's even on Netflix Instant Watch and I haven't watched it yet!), but I had to pop in and agree with you about Natascha McElhone. She's awesome. I don't understand why she hasn't made more films than she has – she was great in The Truman Show, the brightest spot in Branagh's Love's Labour's Lost, and held her own against DeNiro and Sean Bean in Ronin. What's not to love?

Jandy Hardesty
Admin

Okay, looking her up on IMDb, she's been in a fair number of films. I guess I should say why she hasn't become more well-known/bigger than she has. Oh, is she a lead in Californication? Looks like she's in most of that – maybe that's why. I don't keep tabs on premium cable shows.

Kurt
Guest

Most known in either the Truman show or RONIN, she kicks real ass in Ronin and smooches DeNiro before he was considered uncool and … old. Her Irish Lilt is majestic.

Kurt
Guest

ooops, missed the comment above, but we do seem to agree. She is absolutely radiant in the flashbacks in Solaris 2002.

But Jandy if you are going to watch them, watch Tarkovsky's version first. Drink some coffee prior, Tarkovsky can certainly let the camera linger on things….

Chris
Guest

I hated hated hated Solaris (2002). I love science fiction. I love the idea of using the utter isolation of space travel as a prop to explore the concept of our relationship to madness and divinity. I read the reviews in 2002, and decided to watching it anyway. For me Solaris failed to entertain. It failed to intrigue. The score was trying to hard to invest the plodding, stilted scenes with a sense of urgency. I found the love story utterly unconvincing (but maybe a few more years a few more scars would change that perspective). It still represents, in my mind, a point where art film collapses so far into itself that it ceases to be worthwhile to any but a very select few.

That said, I am very happy to hear that somebody likes it (loves it, even). Somehow, that makes the two times I tried to watch it worthwhile.

Jonathan
Admin

Wow, just finished this and loved it. I've yet to catch Tarkovsky's or read the novel, but I got home and flipped on IFC to see this coming on and decided to put off the things I had to do to watch it finally and I'm glad I did.

I'm going to reflect on this for the day, then I hope to come back here with something of substance to add, because there is a lot to digest here.