May 18, 2015 at 1:16 am (8 Heads, Solaris) (, , , , , )

Solaris – 1972 – Russia

A psychologist travels to a research station on an ocean planet to investigate bizarre reports from the station’s scientists. He finds the station in disarray, and the disturbed scientists offer only cryptic warnings. The psychologist discovers why when he is visited by his deceased wife. She is actually a simulacrum (apparently made from neutrinos), who is utterly convincing aside from her imperfect memories (and the fact that she revives when killed). The scientists suggest that the ocean planet is an intelligent being, and the simulacrum is an attempt at communication. The psychologist begins a romance with the simulacrum, which of course must end in strange tragedy.

Solaris is based on a novel of the same name by the Polish author Stanislaw Lem. The novel has been adapted two other times (in 1968 and 2002). Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1972 film follows the events of the novel, but reinterprets them. The result is thematically rich, but differs substantially from the source material. Lem’s novel expresses the inadequacy of communication between disparate life forms. However, Tarkovsky’s film touches upon many motifs: What delineates consciousness in artificial life? How do memories define a person? Why do people love? Perhaps unsurprisingly, Lem was not fond of Tarkovsky’s version.

Other than its three hour length, Solaris is an understated film. Despite being set in the future, it is not concerned with the aesthetics or implications of technological advancement. There are very few effects, and the setting is barely futuristic. Instead, the film focuses on its characters, although the sparse unemotional dialogue makes them seem aloof and difficult to relate to. Considering this, Solaris can be exhausting to watch, especially with its slow (occasionally agonizing) pacing. However, its elegantly beautiful images and mysterious atmosphere are engrossing. The film’s premise, where an astronaut investigates mystifying phenomenon aboard a dilapidated space station, evokes horror films. Solaris is as eerie and sublime as the best of them.

Rating: 8/10 Shrunken Heads. It is unproductive to compare works in different mediums, but I must say, I like the novel better.

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