Solaris

Solaris (1972) movie poster

(1972) dir. Andrei Tarkovsky
viewed: 12/25/03

This film made me feel like a narcoleptic.

I’d sat down to watch it twice before and moved about 45 minutes forward each time before dozing my way to incomprehension. So, getting the kid to bed early, I made a fresh cup of tea and sallied my way through it from the beginning. About 1am, after suffering a few flashes of unconsciouness, I had made it through.

I am not being coy in referring to my sleepiness, because I had every intention to make it through this film. It is slow. It is long. I am not my once youthful self anymore.

Adapted from the Polish writer, Stanislaw Lem’s novel about a space station floating above a planet that seems to have a living ocean that can tap into visitors’ psyches and create living beings from their memories, this is the 1972 Russian adaptation by noted filmmaker, Andrei Tarkovsky, whose work I am unfamiliar with. Another version of this story was directed in 2002 by Steven Soderbergh.

The film is visually interesting, flashing between black and white and color photography. For its Earth scenes, it doesn’t seem like any “futuristic” art design was concocted. Things are naturalistic, particularly at the farmhouse where the film begins. There is a mesmerizing shot from the perspective of a vehicle as it enters the big city (Moscow, perhaps?), winding through concrete mazes and down tunnels, peacefully gliding into the heart of a metropolis. It’s vivid and striking, and is the world of its time representing something of the future.

The film is a “thinking man’s” version of science fiction, very metaphysical and introspective. There were points at which the discourse seemed heavily focused on memory. Solaris, the planet, tapped into people’s minds to create interactions that became incredibly dream-like. It resurrects the lead character’s long dead wife but with varying actresses, which I found a bit confusing. I think it was that he couldn’t remember her face correctly and was seeing someone vaguely right, but not right. And her knowledge of herself was limited to what he knew. I don’t doubt that with more sustained consciousness and a Derrida text in hand, there is some interesting material here about the apparatus of memory.

Ultimately, despite the fact that I found it really interesting in many ways, I also found it more challenging than my consciousness could bear. I did stay awake through the film, but didn’t feel like I really got as much out of it despite multiple viewings of the first half. I am still curious about Andrei Tarkovsky’s films and would see another. I suppose that I have some modicum of interest in the Soderbergh version (if only to glean more storyline to confirm my understanding).

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