A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Solaris (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1972)

Andrei Tarkovsky called Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) "lifeless," and viewing Tarkovsky's Solaris, made a few years later, it's apparent why. As I said in my comments on his Nostalghia (1983), Tarkovsky was a romantic for whom humankind's alienation from nature is a primary theme. Solaris begins with lush images of nature, of water, greenery, birds and dogs and horses, whereas Kubrick's film begins with (and seems to celebrate) the evolution of human beings into masters of technology, to the point that the most human character in the film is HAL, the computer. Technology in Tarkovsky's film has run amok, but not in the way HAL does in 2001: In contrast to the idyllic scene at the home of the protagonist's father that opens Solaris, the world of technology is endless ribbons of crisscrossing freeways, unreliable communications media, and the dilapidated space station that hovers over the ocean on the titular planet. In lesser hands than Tarkovsky's, portraying the disjunction between humanity and nature would lead to didacticism. But by immersing the viewer in the world of Solaris, by refusing to coach the viewer, Tarkovsky makes us work to assimilate his artistic vision. In that respect, he's not so far from Kubrick as his dismissal of 2001 might suggest.  Both films are immersive experiences, stretching the boundaries of conventional narrative to leave a viewer puzzled and provoked. And both end with visions of transformation and transcendence. It might also be said that Kubrick's fetal star-child, on its passage back to Earth, is a vision that allows for more hope than that of Kris Kelvin (Donatas Banionis) on an island of static and sterile illusions in the vast sea of Solaris. In any case, what a cast: especially Natalya Bondarchuk as an infinitely touching Hari, that frightened and frightening figment of Solaris's misinterpretation of Kelvin's past, and, walking the line near madness, Jüri Järvet as Snaut and Anatoliy Solonitsyn as Sartorius, the scientists damned to confinement on a space station manipulated by an uncomprehending but superior alien intelligence. I think the critic who likened Banionis to Glenn Ford, a handsome actor tending toward blandness, is on the mark, but Kelvin needs to be a little bland to serve as foil for the extraordinary things that occur around him.