Two days ago, I began a review by wondering about the balance between science and philosophy. As it just so happens, the very next movie I watched questioned the relationship of the two even deeper.
It wondered aloud whether it was truly possible to divorce one’s personal feelings from a scientific endeavour at-hand, or if we are doomed to continually muddy the waters with personal pursuits.
SOLARIS is the story of Kris Kelvin (Donatas Banionis). Kelvin is a scientist being sent into space to rendezvous with a space station whose crew has mysteriously started coming unglued mid-mission. Upon his arrival at the station high above the surface of Solaris, Kelvin is told an unbelievable tale. The planet below them doesn’t seem all that pleased with their visit, and it has seems to have caused the crew to start losing their minds.
They are seeing things, a crew member explains to Kelvin, and it’s only a matter of time before he starts seeing things too.
In short order, the crewman is proved right. Kelvin is visited by his wife Hari (Natalya Bonarchuck), who approaches him with talk of deep love and longing.
Only one problem: Hari’s dead. So what in the world is Kelvin to make of her visits…and how do you break it to a dead person that they aren’t really there?
So, here’s the thing: Five years into The Blindspot Series, and I finally find myself cheating. SOLARIS has a reasonably high-profile remake of the same name that was released fourteen years ago. That film is one that I am pretty gosh-darned well versed with. I own it, have watched it several times over the years, and actually consider it something of an example on how a remake can be done well. The spirit of Tarkovsky’s opus is present in it, to the point where it even seems to shrug off commercial pursuits. If this film that I watched this week is consumed with what is happening inside that space station, the remake is one that wants to look out the window a little more often.
However, my cheating off my friend Stephen’s paper on this project does not come without merit. It allowed me a rare chance at a blindspot entry where I could relax the part of my brain that zeroes in on plot, and instead think about nuance and subtlety. What is represented with weeping in the remake is but a twitch of the facial muscles here, and it comes through so much more clearly if you come armed with the context. In essence, if I needed to read SOLARIS for the final exam, I went in armed having first studied the Cliffs’ Notes cover-to-cover.
There’s nothing wrong with that; nothing wrong with the first hit being free so that you can chase a richer high with a more potent drug.
Tarkovsky requires attention, clarity, and patience. Had I approached this film at age twenty-four without being primed and readied, I might not have felt it as deeply as I did. The intricacies might have been lost on me, the deep longing unrecognized. Instead, I got an introductory course from a master, and was able to fall that much harder for what was unfolding before me.
I must admit, when I first came to SOLARIS, I had in mind something that would represent not only cinema of the 1970’s, but cinema of the communist era. What did this mean in my mind? In a word: Grime. The world got good and dirty for a while in the 1970’s, and films that were both commercial and artistic reflected that. Colour palettes got more muted, fashion and photography became a bit less bold, and the environmental toll we were taking out on our planet seemed to be fusing itself into our art.
Add to that preconceptions of “In Soviet Russia…”, and you have me thinking that SOLARIS would be a dirty proposition. How wrong I was. Look at the warmth and honey tone of that top image. Look at the ethereal quality of the one beneath it. So often, this film is unbelievably striking with its visuals…which just goes to show what I should have done with my preconceptions.
Hari is portrayed as something angelic; downright otherworldly in her beauty (which, of course, is apt). The way her dresses pop against either the natural surroundings in Kelvin’s memories, or the artificial interiors of the space station just turn her that much more into the sort of person one would be drawn to.
Kelvin cannot get her out of his head – that much is to be expected. But then again, neither can we. When we watch a character like Hari pop from her surroundings the way she does, our eyes always go to her…as does our imagination and our affection.
Similarly, Kelvin’s homestead becomes a place of great peace and communion in a world that feels harsh and unforgiving. The most kinetic sequence of the film is a drive down a highway. It feels discombobulating, chaotic, and abrasive. It’s a deep breath of smog after three months spent out in the fresh country air. It’s no co-incidence that Tarkovsky portrays the serenity of the country cottage with a soothing muted palette.
The place we call home is supposed to be a place that holds spiritual bonds; a place of ineffable connection. How I could ever think such a setting would be portrayed with a grimy colour palette is beyond me. The “home” Tarkovsky paints is the only ways home ever could be painted.
The only thing more beautiful are the scarce moments we see Hari at home. It’s almost unfair how beautiful such scenes are.
In many ways it’s fitting that I watched SOLARIS the same weekend that I watched the newest Star Trek film, since both purport to be science fiction but could not be more different in tone. The latter has long been about action and opera, while the former is about deep human introspection the face of so many unknowns in the universe. When critics take aim at the recent Star Trek films and tar them as “not true science fiction”, I wager that they have SOLARIS is mind as a counterpoint.
SOLARIS and its ilk are not only interested in exploring the expanse of the universe as they are trying to understand our place within it. At one point in the film, Klein is accused with “turning a scientific problem into a common love problem”…when quite often that’s precisely what happens. We aren’t in it for the pure research – “the love of the game” if you will. We want to push the boundaries of what we know for certain so we can see what might benefit us more. We want to figure out how to live longer, better protect ourselves, and make our very existence richer. That is the fallacy of what we learn from the universe that surrounds us; that ultimately we must then use our feeble brains and utilize it.
Perhaps that’s why it’s both disappointing and deeply unsettling to listen to a scientist recount something they couldn’t comprehend.
Kris Kelvin was given a gift; to wade chest-deep into fountains of knowledge that few before him have dared to dip. Like so many before him and so many after, all he can think about once he’s in it is how to get drunk on the water…and drink away what ails him.
I usually post Blind Spot entries on the final Tuesday of every month. If you are participating, drop me an email (ryanatthematineedotca) when your post is up and I’ll make sure to link to your entry.
Here’s the round-up for July so far…
Courtney watched LA JETÉE
Erin watched SMILES OF A SUMMER NIGHT
Coog watched HIS GIRL FRIDAY
Keisha watched THE WAGES OF FEAR
Anna watched ERASERHEAD
Josh watched THE MUSIC ROOM
Kevin watched THE DEER HUNTER
Katie watched GASLIGHT
Brittani watched THE MIRACLE WORKER
Kristina watched THE BICYCLE THIEVES
Steven watched RIO GRANDE
Sean Kelly watched HOUSE OF WAX