Friday, March 25, 2011

Solaris (1972)

Solaris, aka Солярис (Andrey Tarkovskiy, 1972) Solaris has often been called "The Russian 2001," presumably because its pace has been deemed similar to Kubrick's Space Odyssey, in that it ignores dramatic pacing in favor of environmental naturalness.

Well, it isn't true, of course. For me, Kubrick's movie moves like a bat out of Hell—it just doesn't engage in the dramatic short-hand that we've become accustomed to in movies: Entrance/Declarative Sentence/Oppositive Expansion/Response (and can we do that faster, please?).

And while it is true that neither does Tarkovsky's Solaris, the Russian director moves his film at a glacial pace, with little interest in "moving things along," engaging in a visual obtuseness that communicates metaphorically rather than directly—which takes time. And while Kubrick has a whole Universe to play around with (and let's include Space/Time in that), Tarkovsky keeps us to two places (with an extended travelogue through Japan's futuristic—in 1972—highway system, standing in for The Future: the dacha of Astronaut/Psychiatrist Kris Kelvin (
Donatas Banionis) and the scientific research station floating above the water-planet Solaris.

Earth fears that the station has become an Orbiting Dutchman, its crew beset by an unexplained madness, because of the reports of returned Astronaut Henri Berton (
Vladislav Dvorzhetsky). After talking to Berton (and saying good-bye to his elderly father who will prbably not be alive by the time he returns) Kelvin goes to the ship and finds it in a shambles, with one crew-man dead, and the other two deranged, seeing visions that he has glimpses of, as well.  Meanwhile, down below, the waters of Solaris are churning.

Kelvin wakes up after a fitful sleep to find his wife in bed with him.  His wife (Natalya Bondarchuk).  His late wife.  His late wife, due to suicide many years before.  The confrontation of such a finality with its apparent re-emergence as reality convinces Kevlin that Solaris, the planet, is working on him, sucking his thoughts and using them against him.  He fights back, luring his wife into a launch vehicle and sending her...somewhere, anywhere but here.  A pointless extreme gesture, as she comes back, a new version, to haunt him again, more complete, with neuroses and suicidal tendencies intact.  You can't fight The Old Feelings, especially when they're being used against you.  Especially when they're yourself...out of your control.

The style and pace...and just plain "WTF-factor" recall the Star-Gate and human-cage sequences of 2001, in that they disorient in such a way as to leave you a bit adrift and dis-associated with what is happening on-screen ("I can't trust what I'm seeing because I don't know what's going on"—mirroring Kelvin's predicament).  This weightlessness of the mind makes Solaris a tough slog, but that it keeps bringing up questions long after its viewing, places it in the same Heaven as Kubrick's "Shaggy God Story" (as critic John Simon dubbed it), and although Solaris may not be "The Ultimate Trip," it might be "The Ultimate Head-Trip."

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