Sunday, February 2, 2014

CANON OF FILM: "SOLARIS"

SOLARIS (1972)

Director: Andrey Tarkvosky
Screenplay: F. Gorenshteyn & A. Tarkovsky based on the novel by Stanislav Lem



Something that I hadn't really picked up on watching "Solaris" on previous viewings was the notion of disconnection and loneliness. Much of the movie, is about people trying to connect with others through ways that are not face-to-face. The film takes place at a point in the future, where a Russian Space Station doing research on a distant planet called, Solaris is getting strange reports of what's going on up there. They call on Kris Kelvin (Donatas Banionis), a psychologist to make the up to the space station to study and diagnose the effects of Solaris and the cosmonauts, which ones are left. One of them, a friend of his, has already committed suicide by the time he arrives there. But, look at where he is, and where he travels to, before he even arrives. They call him, on what would've been science-fiction at the time, a camera phone to participate on a conference call. Kris's currently secluded himself far away in nature at his father's country home, tending to the garden. There's even a long take of just driving down a long highway. I thought about why that shot, something I often think about with many a Tarkovsky film, but then compare it to the journey he must take in the spaceship. Not based on the distance, but the emotional effect. The quiet, the loneliness. Connection is the key to the film, and to succeed at making human connections...- It's a challenging thing, more challenging today, in this world which "Solaris" seemed to have foreshadowed, this world where face-to-face connection are no longer as needed. There are notes that are left, voices that come from behind other doors, and then they enter the scene, and there's more pre-recorded messages when Kris arrives at the station, which seems unusually quiet, vacant and haunting. A strange blow of wind from the outside of the ship is the equivalent or a creaky door in a haunted house movie. (Especially since, there no reason there should be wind.) The long walking space and look must've been inspired from the set design and special effects from "2001: A Space Odyssey", but it's used differently here. Actually, if it plays like any Kubrick film, it's more like "The Shining" in the way strange people and events can suddenly be seen, and some may be really existing, others may be in the mind, some we not be able to tell the difference between anymore.

When he arrives on "Solaris", he's startled to soon find, his own memories being replicated, beginning with the image of his late wife Khari (Natalya Bondarchuk). Recently, I mentioned that the first instance of a virtual character in film was Debbie Harry's character in David Cronenberg's "Videodrome", but maybe Bondarchuk's performance could be considered earlier, but still, she's more of a creation of "Solaris" than a memory or an idealized vision. She isn't created with anything, other than the image from Kris's mind. She's unaware of the original Khari, and tries to learn. He sends her away in a pod, but unbeknownst to Kris, he finds out later that it's of no use, and soon, another Khari appears the next day. This is the start of Part II of the film. When Steven Soderbergh did his remake back in '04, that was still part of Act I practically, occurring in the first 20 minutes or so of the film. Tarkovsky likes to have his films take time and meander. Sometimes, they can simply be boring. Other times, they can be transcendent. He takes his time, to make us think, and consider. We're reflecting out own lives and thoughts into the films, symbolism and the meaning, almost the same way that Kris eventually tries to reflect his remembrance of Khari onto this new Khari. Khari however, is a sentient being, with her thoughts and feelings and ideas. Again, two people, trying, but ultimately unable to fully connect. The rest of the movie, particularly the strange ending which seems to make and double and try to rethink again, on what we've just seen and what is real, is hard to even begin explaining. It's not to be explained, it's to be experienced. Some won't be able to pull through it; even more than the most meditative of filmmakers like Win Wenders and Ron Fricke, no director asks or insists more of the audience. The only other film of his I've personally seen so far was "The Mirror", which broke the Top 20 on "Sight & Sound"'s Critics poll recently of the Greatest Films ever made, but I've always felt that one, didn't have any particular extra layer to it, and was just simply an autobiographical, almost masturbatory epic, in which a man, drowsily tells us about his own life and all the minutiae of things that happened, and frankly, while it's all good filmmaking, I'm amazed anybody is intrigued by that film, outside of Tarkovsky himself. (The same way that our own lives, usually only intrigue us) While "Solaris" on the other hand, has so much to say about us, as people, and the way we are, the ways we wished we be, and this conflict between our minds, our bodies, life, death what we want, what we have, and so much more about these instinctual aspects about ourselves, or indeed, if those instincts, are in fact actually, instincts, or something that's possibly been implanted in us, against our will and against or knowing. You can watch "Solaris" multiple times over, and never get the same interpretation about it.

It's also a magnificent film to watch. so stunningly cinematic. Beautiful shot, filled with magnificent images, like the shot down onto the ocean that is the planet "Solaris", and the set design, particularly on the spaceship is something to behold. The film, could've probably been released yesterday, and with the exception of the film being shot on film instead of digital, most could've thought it was a new release, yet the movie continually challenges us, and experiments and tries something new, and gives us something else to ponder over and think about. "Solaris" might be mild in terms of challenges in the Tarkovsky canon, but it remains one of his most rewarding one to go through.
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