When I first saw the trailer of Solaris, I thought that it could be a good science fiction film. I love Science fiction. There is something that I have always enjoyed about science fiction, since I was a child and I saw Forbidden Planet or War of the Worlds or Starwars! Films that almost everyone who likes science ficition have seen at some moment in their life. To me there are different levels on this genre. It can be a “We now have spaceships” film, or it can be a more profound thing that makes you wonder “What do I just have seen?”. 2001: A Space Odyssey falls in this category, while Starwars belongs to the other one.
As I said, when I saw that Solaris trailer, I found it interesting because of that “what is this exactly?” feeling. I did a bit of research and I found the Stanislaw Lem novel on which the film is based. Also, I heard about the original Russian film, directed by Tarkovsky. So, expectations about this new version were high.
The novel is really interesting. A hundred or so years ago, in a not so distant future, a kind of planet with weird properties has been discovered. People on earth have no clue about what makes that planet behave so weird. Its been decades since the discovery of the planet and the book goes into details about all the studies which have been carried, trying to understand that strange place. Its been so long and the knowledge about it so big that there are even philosophical and religious movements described in the book based on the findings of years of observations. It is not only that the planet is inhabited, but the planet itself is the only living being. During decades missions have been there to explore, and the last one, has sent a help message. Someone goes there to see what happens, and then is when everything gets even weirder. I won’t go into detail, but basically, this planet has the ability to read the deeper parts of the human mind and use that knowledge to try to communicate with humans, somehow. Efforts in trying to understand this phenomena span for decades without result That’s where this novel really got me interested. In most science fiction films or novels, it seems really easy for two different species to communicate and become friends, or the opposite case, engage in a terrible war because some other reason. Here it is not like that. Humans are just ants and the planet Solaris completely interferes with the mind of these people in the space station, making them believe that things long time kept in their minds are there in the station, with them, as visitors.
Then I watched the film, the “new” version directed by Steven Soderbergh. I had not guts to watch the Russian one, and more learning what Stanislaw Lem thought about it:
I have fundamental reservations to this adaptation. First of all I would have liked to see the planet Solaris which the director unfortunately denied me as the film was to be a cinematically subdued work. And secondly — as I told Tarkovsky during one of our quarrels — he didn’t make Solaris at all, he made Crime and Punishment.
One thing I really enjoyed, and I still do, is the Cliff Martinez soundtrack. Really atmospheric and great for closing your eyes and try to relax. This doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoyed the film. I find it deeply moving and full of meanings and interpretations. Of course, you can say that it only focuses on the love story between Dr. Kelvin and Rheya. That’s what Lem said about this adaptation:
Summing up, as “Solaris”‘ author I shall allow myself to repeat that I only wanted to create a vision of a human encounter with something that certainly exists, in a mighty manner perhaps, but cannot be reduced to human concepts, ideas or images. This is why the book was entitled “Solaris” and not Love in Outer Space.
It’s also true that most of the themes found in the book are missing. All those “solaristic” researches and philosophy are gone. Descriptions of the planet and other nice details are gone. There are some hints of that scattered in the film, for telling that yes, there is a weird planet somewhere that we don’t understand and nothing more. It is a more a psychological drama than a science fiction film. The things that happened between Dr. Kelvin and Rheya are quite dramatic. Themes like not feeling ready for paternity, tragic loss of loved ones, grief, which are common in any adult relationship, are mixed here with the weird effect that planet Solaris has on humans. One thing I found really disturbing is the lucid dream like feeling of the film. At the beginning, when Dr. Kelvin arrives to the station, he is asked about his sleep habits. One wonders if what really is happening is that everybody has hallucinations because of sleep deprivation. But then, things get more complicated with the presence of the visitors, that seem to react and feel in the same way as their original copies, people long time dead or very far away. They show a disturbing self-awareness. They resuscitate if they are killed. Dr. Kelvin tries hard not to get emotionally engaged with the new Rheya, but that proves to be and impossible task, until the end. And ending quite different from the novel one, a bit confusing maybe, that leaves you thinking “what do I have just seen”, for a while…