‘Solaris’ (1971) by Andrei Tarkovsky

Director: Andrei Tarkovsky

Cinematographer: Vadim Yusov

Writers: Fridrikh Gorenshtein, Andrei Tarkovsky

Starring:  Natayla Bondarchuck, Dontas Banionis, Juri Jarvet, Anatoliy Solonitsyn

Rating: 86

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‘Solaris’ is literally and figuratively on its own orbit. Andrei Tarkovsky’s first humanistic dive into science fiction left the world disconnected and disturbed. How the film manifests itself leading up to the ultimate revelation as the screen pulls back to reveal the location of the characters. It’s Tarkovksy coming to grips with reality and consciousness.

To start, Kris Kelvin (Dontas Banionis) is set to make a visit to the space station orbiting Solaris to examine what went wrong with the crew on board. Leading up to this, the speculation on the existence of what Anri Burton (Vladislav Dvorzhetskiy) saw on his journey. The findings are highly disputed by the scientific community making Kelvin’s journey filled with many questions.

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As is the case with all Tarkovsky films, it’s a never-ending reel of thought provocation through either challenging subject matter: facing a deceased loved one but knowing it’s not them, or, the excellent use of elongated shot sequences and extra long takes. Tarkosvky forces the viewer to consider not only the story and dialogue but what’s presented in the frame.

Take the set designs, for example, it’s a space station and each room in it has the look of regular 1980 home furniture and carpet. No aspect of this film doesn’t burst out with important detail such as the rooms are the planet getting these characters to relive their memories. The level of detail on each set is mind-numbing.

Solaris, adapted from Stanislov Lem’s book of the same name, deals entirely with a specific space capable of the unimaginable. The audience, via Kelvin, experience this firsthand watching each character reach their breaking point. Solaris is in the same vein as Tarkovsky’s later work ‘Stalker,’ that had a similar feeling in tone and dealt with places that actively change humans. I have to mention it because the two films sharing glaring similarities.

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I could talk about this film for days and days. The depth to this story is undeniable and the moment Khari (Natayla Bondarchuck) appears on the space station, things start to get weird. It happens early on, as Kelvin learns about the suicide of his lone friend on the ship, and then confronts his dead wife. The dive into loving something based solely on the memory defines consciousness in one’s view. This story feels as if it’s open to interpretation.

As for the punch in this film, it comes from the screenplay. The dialogue scenes are long-winded, but the contents of each individual sentence contain a wealth of detail and substance. The conversations reach highly intellectual discussion and again, promote questions about the nature of the characters.

Performances

Watching Dontas Banionis fail to grasp or fully comprehend the existence of his reborn wife on Solaris is excellent. Kelvin’s character was drab, quiet, and almost blends into this bleak existence. But Banionis and Bondarchuck give this film such a light. Their reunion on the ship felt surreal, but their connection and chemistry were felt.

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Another great Tarkovsky, ‘Andrei Rublev,’ played by Anatoliy Solonitsyn along with his human approach in Stalker. He’s not as much of a factor in Solaris but still plays a great role. Stumbling across the two lasting scientists on Solaris showed the sheer madness of a place that manifests itself through one’s own memories. 

Whatever the case, Tarkosvky gets strong performances every single time. Its intensity in the actors, no scene in Solaris is meant as a feel-good. The tone is always dreary and doom. The performances bring that out the most. The chemistry is there between Khari and Kelvin.

Verdict

Researchers need to put out journals on this film because it needs that level of commitment to fully understanding the many meanings and interpretations of this film. One thing’s for sure, it’s unique to its core and adds a visual narrative style that counter-acts the heavy-dialogue. It’s also interesting as all hell.

However, it does drag on with the amount of dialogue. It’s not always super engaging, but it’s simply unlike other films. It’s creative in so many ways and was perfectly in tune with a rather great novel story. It’s on par with any great film from that era and was one of the films that helped redefine the genre of science-fiction in the film.

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Tarkovsky films aren’t for everyone, but Solaris will undoubtedly peak your interest in one way or another. And as for the final shot before the credits, learning of the reality of the situation not only answers questions but also promotes about a thousand more. It’s a fascinating film because of the Tarkovsky touch of brilliance and detail.


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