This film takes a very interesting place in the realm of sci-fi as not strictly adhering to the genre’s machinations and typical plot elements. It is what I would call “light” science fiction. The story of resurrected love takes center stage, and the effects and fantastic elements are only a thin backstage atmosphere. It is an artful movie, but those of you expecting a Russian clone of 2001: A Space Odyssey may be disappointed in that area.
Solaris tells the story of reclusive Kris Kelvin, a man consumed by past grief. The story is and only is about Kris, not even when the planet or the space station attracts our attention, nor during the complex love story later on does it waver from him. This tale is about a man who is tormented by his past, and forced to confront it once again. Kris travels to the space station orbiting the ocean world of Solaris. Here we are treated to especially eerie scenes of Kris walking through the halls of the half-derelict structure. The two remaining crew members of the station, Snaut and Sartorius are incredibly far drawn into themselves, but for a reason that Kris will soon discover. After uneasily settling into his room, Kris wakes the next morning to find a woman sitting before him. This is Hari. We find that she is Kris‘ wife, who had committed suicide ten years earlier. Remembering a certain piece of advice from Snaut, Kris sends “Hari” into space via an escape pod. He seems more accepting when the second Hari shows up, and the real story begins.
This movie has an incredibly complex love story for a science fiction film. Tarkovsky, however, saw to it that the film would not be labelled as merely a “space film”. Although it couldn’t avoid many of the generalizations of the day, the present seems more open and welcoming to such a film. Kris is brought into his own fantasy world, reliving his love for his wife. However, the further incarnations of Hari develop their own feelings, because they were not created for Kris‘ enjoyment alone. A lesson for modern man indeed. She is the embodiment of an entity reaching out to those as equally alien to it as it is to them. Natalya Bondarchuk indubitably makes us believe in her anguish as the confused creation of the planet, she was certainly a very talented actress.
An entry on Solaris would be incomplete without a few words on the gorgeous and inspired film work. On the earth scenes we see such rich visions of nature that, as Akira Kurosawa put it, “creates a nostalgia” in us, after we are sealed into the space station. Excellent use of letterboxing is employed and even such a large format doesn’t relax the sense of claustrophobia at times. To help with the longing towards earth we’re given glimpses of artwork by such artists as Rublev and Bruegel littered around the station. Such a level of detail is achieved with the sets that it is wholly credible to believe that the space station was once full of people and bustling about. The final word on this film is Beautiful.
Film Highlight: My favorite scene from this Soviet-era gem takes place in the space station’s incongruous library. Hari and Kris enjoy each other’s company while suspended in the air as a brief interlude of zero-gravity takes over the scene. They fly and we are given a wonderful moment as Bach’s Prelude in F minor plays and several glimpses are given of Bruegels’s Hunters in the Snow. Charming, beautiful and flawless, this scene gives a much deserved moment of fantasy in a film that is almost otherwise completely bleak and melancholy.