Solaris (1972)

solaris poster 1972 movie
9.0 Overall Score
Story: 8/10
Acting: 8/10
Visuals: 10/10

Visually creative, deep, and true science-fiction

Long and largely interpretational with few answers

Movie Info

Movie Name: Solaris

Studio: Mosfilm

Genre(s): Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Drama

Release Date(s):  February 5, 1972 (Russia)/May 13, 1972 (Cannes)

MPAA Rating: PG

solaris space station

Come visit the Solaris space station…if you lived here, you’d already be home!

Kris Kelvin (Donatas Banionis) has been summoned to go to the space station circling the planet Solaris.  Questions have been raised about the mental health of the remaining scientists there and whether the space station should be decommissioned.  When Kelvin arrives, he discovers it is worse than previously implied and that the two remaining scientists Snaut (Jüri Järvet) and Sartorius (Anatoli Solonitsyn) are teetering on the edge of sanity while his former friend Dr. Gibarian (Sos Sargsyan) has met with tragedy.  When his deceased wife Hari (Natalya Bondarchuk) begins appearing to Kris, he learns that Solaris has its own perceptions of human existence.

Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky (who helped adapt the script with Fridrikh Gorenshtein), Solaris (Солярис or Solyaris) is a Russian science-fiction psychological drama.  Following Tarkovsky’s film Andrei Rublev in 1966, the film is an adaptation Stanislaw Lem’s 1961 science fiction novel (though Lem did not approve of the final adaptation).  The movie was released to critical acclaim and won the Grand Pris Special du Jury and the FIPRESCI prize at the Cannes film festival with critics frequently naming to “Best of” lists.  The Criterion Collection released a remastered version of the film (Criterion #164).

solaris jetisons wife donatas banionis

That was a cheap divorce

I have tried multiple times to watch Solaris.  I have a couple friends who are rather obsessed with Andrei Tarkovsky and his films, and I always figured that Solaris, with its popularity, would be a good gateway film.  Talking to the friends who are fans, I learned that sitting and watching a Tarkovsky film isn’t easy even by fans…and watching Solaris was a challenge, but a rewarding one…maybe?

Solaris is true science fiction.  The story is about concepts and ideas.  It explores the desire of people to hold onto the past and the question of if memories were given form, would they be “real”.  People create rosy versions of the past and often take the past as better than the present as a result…but Kris begins to remember his past with his wife which wasn’t all roses.  Likewise, the doppelgangers created by Solaris are questioning what it means to be real.  They are pulled from the minds of the people and find the more real they are the more it hurts (which questions if life in general is meant to be easy or if it is meant to be a challenge).  The film and the characters’ actions (and Kris’s final decision) can be interpreted many ways, but the viewers have to be willing to get there through the 2½+ hour film…which might be the biggest challenge.

solaris dead wife natalya bondarchuk donatas banionis

Well…that was a party!

The cast is good, but much of the movie is spent with them contemplating and pensive, longing stares.  Donatas Branionis’s Kris is supposed to be the scientific one who is there to observe but finds himself caught in the whirlwind of the planet.   Jüri Järvet has experienced the wonder of Solaris and seems over it and the doppelgangers while Anatoli Solonitsyn just wants it stopped.  Natalya Bondarchuk plays the simulacrum that is coming into reality of what she is…and doesn’t take it well.

The movie is a visual feast.  While there often is high concept science fiction (like a 2001), Solaris takes a lower key approach.  The film is largely on the Solaris space station set (minus the start, the ending, and key flashbacks), but the set is amazing.  It is circular in nature and the camera often plays with the rounded idea of the set.  This also pushes the endless cycle scenario set up in the film.

solaris ending

If this turns out to be the island from Lost, it probably would still end better than Lost

Solaris isn’t an easy film by any means.  It is hard to watch due to its pacing and length, and it is also almost totally interpretational.  This is a hard sell for many people…and add to the factor that it evolved in the heart of the Cold War USSR makes it difficult to grasp.  With the end of Solaris, you very well might sit there and ask what you just watched for hours.  Andrei Tarkov considered Solaris one of his weaker films and largely in the film community, many of his other films are seen as better.  The film received an American remake in 2002 starring George Clooney (and just over an hour and a half in length).  Tarkovsky followed Solaris with Mirror in 1975.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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