Moving Pictures
May 04, 2009, 10:40AM

Reconsidering Solaris

Tarkovsky's sci fi masterpiece.

The film is, I would submit, Tarkovsky's finest, though the great director would have argued with me. He reportedly came to consider Solaris his least successful project, owing to what he saw as its inability to break the shackles of its genre. Though no viewer then or now would call it anything other than a science fiction film, perhaps only Tarkovsky himself, his mind's eye fixed on the less conventional visions he would later realize, could lump it with the day's rockets-and-aliens potboilers. What to him may have been a not-entirely-successful attempt to imbue relatively insubstantial material with stronger human resonances is to others a set of Tarkovskian themes brought closer and made more comprehensible by interaction with a familiar cinematic context. This is not to minimize the impact of the films that followed — the ultra-personal Mirror and The Sacrifice, the supremely textural Nostalghia , the much more distant science fiction of Stalker — but to appreciate the unexpectedly positive hybridization effects of two entirely distinct entities, a phenomenon of which almost any science fiction writer would approve.Not that Stanislaw Lem, author of the eponymous novel on which Solaris is based, granted much approval of his own. Though it's clearly more what we would today call a "reimagining" than a transliteration from page to screen, Tarkovsky's rendition of the story struck Lem as a misinterpretation of the highest order. The movie, so intently, unflinchingly focused on irresolvable inner struggle, is certainly unlike other experiences available in the sci-fi mainstream, but that's all to its advantage over the rest of the sci-fi mainstream. Recent theatrical releases in the genre challenge their audiences to recall their details mere hours after the screening; Solaris challenges its audience to the equally insurmountable task of forgetting a single scene as long as they live.


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