Background

Solaris is a Russian science fiction film directed by Andrei Tarkovsky. The film is an adaptation from Stanislaw Lem’s novel Solaris. It was originally released in 1972 and released on Criterion DVD on May 24, 2011, spine #164 with a run-time of 166 minutes.

The Story

The inhabitants of a space station orbiting around Solaris, a planet under observation, experience an inexplicable psychological phenomena. Seeking answers, ground control sends a psychologist to help alleviate the three men of their distressed state. Despite his best efforts, the psychologist is unable to escape the delusions.

The Film

Solaris CoverThe film begins in silence.  Progressively, the sounds of nature become audible. This concentrated attention to the flowing water and wind is a reflective.  We anticipate a disconnect to these Earthbound treasures when in space.In anticipation of the upcoming mission, Kris Kelvin (Donatas Banionis) is introduced to a retired space pilot Henri Berton (Vladislav Dvorzhetsky) who shared his own peculiar experience on the Solaris space station via an old film reel. The recording fails to convince Kelvin and leaves his father (Nikolai Grinko) fully knowing he may never see him again. Upon Kelvin’s arrival at the orbiting space center, he enters a dilapidated and aged facility, its former impeccable state long amiss. Seeking out the shut-in inhabitants, Kelvin learns one of the scientists committed suicide while the remaining two Dr. Snaut (Jüri Järvet) and Dr. Sartoris (Anatoli Solonitsyn) are uncooperative and cagey. Kelvin inevitably meets the “guests” of the space station, tangible apparitions formed by the subconscious of the scientists, and manifests his own, a reincarnation of his departed wife Hari (Natalya Bondarchuk). Kelvin undergoes emotional and mental stress as he attempts to understand the presence of his guest.

Underlying the science fiction themes, Solaris is an extension of musical and artistic exploration. Throughout the film director, Andrei Tarkovsky incorporates paintings from various time periods. This is entirely unique to Solaris, as is the construction of the space station. As if to compensate for the lack of human interaction, the station is equipped with amenities that would otherwise be deemed unnecessary by space exploration standards, such as, a library, enclosed and personal living quarters, and expansive halls with countless wide windows. The soundtrack, composed by Eduard Artemyev, is unlike other mixes developed for early science fiction films. As a pioneer in the use of synthesizers, Artemyev artificial sound can be attributed to the foundation in the sounds of the future, so-to-speak, working closely with a colleague who developed the very first synthesizers of the time. To sustain the complementary visual and audible artistic nature, the trilling characteristics from Johann Sebastian Bach is infused; a unity of the past and future. The space station environment is a conduit for Tarkovsky to primarily dive into human consciousness, the intricacies involved when given the opportunity to one’s inner desires to manifest.

Supplements

Additionally, there are four interviews from composer, Eduard Artemyev, actress Natalya Bondarchuk, cinematographer Vadim Yusov, and art director Mikhail Romadin. The additional information encourages a repeat viewing to further understand complexities that Tarkovsky brings to the surface. Yusov states all aspects of the film are intentional, from the smallest pebble, nothing is overlooked by Tarkovsky.

Overall

Solaris is a complicated examination of human consciousness and acts as a cohesive project of Tarkovsky’s passions. Although the film is longer than most, the measured pace is necessary as the concepts require a fully engaged mind to fully comprehend the events and implications.

Criterion Grade: A

Film Grade: A