“Solaris” (1972) – Chris Luedtke

I see Solaris and think about the endless possibilities that exist beyond our planet. The potential for other inhabited worlds, the contents of dark matter, how a black hole works. Solaris plays off of humanity’s ignorance of outer space, which is what will initially pull most viewers in. However, its caverns prove to be endless, and we begin to wonder just how interesting this film can stay.

Psychologist Kris Kelvin (Donatas Banionis) has lived in grief since the passing of his wife, Hari (Natalya Bondarchuk). He spends many of his days walking around, moping and wasting away. One day, Kris receives an assignment that takes him to a space station orbiting the planet Solaris. Something has gone wrong here, and it’s up to him to analyze the situation and figure out a way to patch it up. Kris receives a less-than-friendly welcome from both the station’s crew and the planet, though there are more urgent matters at stake. It appears that Solaris itself has the ability to manifest desires — which spells trouble for Kris when Hari makes a surprising return.

The first thing anyone will note about Solaris is its length. I put this one off to the side for a while due to the intimidating 169 minutes clearly stamped on the Netflix sleeve. Solaris does not move very fast, either. As with Eraserhead and Why Does Herr R. Run Amok?, the film’s speed makes a definite impact; each passing minute can be felt, especially if one has nothing but reaching the end in mind. Solaris requires a special sort of attention in order to be appreciated. It’s not for everyone, more for those looking for something to study.

Solaris begins and ends quietly. There’s minimal action and long bursts of silence; everything about the film is delicate. We quickly realize that Kris is not a people person. He may have been at one point, but the loss of his wife has stranded him in a daily moping routine. We don’t grow to hate the character, though. Never does Kris enter “Oh, woe is me!” territory, his discontent attributed to a state of shock. We see his desires appear before his very eyes, but nothing about it all seems right. Concepts like this hold us in suspense and make us wonder how we’d react in a similar scenario. Moments are just as tender as they are horrifying. Director Andrei Tarkovsky creates a lovely allegory of mortality, life, love, and the depths of our feelings. It’s so subtle, we don’t even realize these themes are there unless we stop to ponder them.

All this depth will be enough to turn off many viewers, though. The film is lax on music, and the planet’s ambiguity may make some of us roll our eyes. Solaris becomes a lucid trap in its latter stages, too. But the constant, anti-Hollywood attitude is something that can be admired. Solaris required thought in its creation, which more films nowadays could definitely use. Its biggest downfall is the fact that it doesn’t do enough with the loads of time it has. One could see this in one of two ways: extra weight could have destroyed the film’s delicate nature, though it also could’ve added more layers to the characters and story.

If you’re dying to watch something blow up, then search elsewhere. Solaris is an intelligent film, and those who appreciate such endeavors will find themselves rewarded. It should be noted that George Clooney starred in a 2002 remake, which was a pretty good rendition. It has the same mood as the 1972 film but clocks in at only 99 minutes. Definitely take a shot at the original, though. Even if it seems daunting, it’s a good film.

Rating: ★★★☆

-Chris Luedtke

Leave a Reply