Imagine you are in space working on a space station, exploring a new planet and conducting experiments, when you start to hallucinate and begin to see strange and horrifying images. Like for instance, you see a long dead relative, a misshapen child perhaps, or someone you once loved who died a tragic death. How would you react? Would you go crazy? What is causing this? These questions are just some that the characters Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1972 film, Solaris (which is based from a novel with the same name by Stanislaw Lem), deal with when they are tasked to explore an alien planet from from a space station with an entity that seems to be curious about human beings.
The film starts on Earth (as opposed to the novel, which starts at the space station orbiting the planet Solaris) where Kris Kelvin(Donatas Banionis) is preparing to leave for the space station orbiting the mysterious planet of Solaris, however, he is feeling conflicted with this because his father is dying and Kelvin will not return in time to see him before he dies. The reason Kelvin is headed to the space station is because the crew is suffering from psychological and emotional problems. As a psychologist, Kelvin is given the task to investigate the happenings on the space station and report his findings back to Earth to see if it is worth letting operations at the space station continue. When Kelvin arrives at the space station, he discovers that one of friends, Dr. Gibarian has died under strange circumstances.
Once Kelvin has settled down and become somewhat acclimated with the space station, Kelvin begins to see other people besides himself and the other two scientists, Dr. Snaut and Dr. Sartorius, onboard the space station. Added to this bizarreness, Kelvin discovers that his dead wife, Hari (Natalya Bondarchuk), in his room. Realizing that she is some type of copy, Kelvin disposes of her, but ends up getting injured in the process. While, getting his injuries tended to by Dr. Snaut, Kelvin learns that the Snaut and Sartorius believe that the ocean on Solaris is a sentient entity that is creating the other people dubbed “visitors” because it is drawn to the scientists on the space station. Meanwhile, another copy of Hari reappears and this time, Kelvin does not freak out, but instead accepts her as his wife.
With Hari’s reappearance, the scientists realize that Solaris has created her from Kelvin’s mind and while she appears human, she is believed to be created from neutrinos. Snaut believes that with Solaris seemingly fixed on Kelvin, they could use that to end the disturbing visions, but Sartorius disagrees and believes that Solaris should be hit with large amounts of radiation. While this is going on, Kelvin interacts more with Hari and even shows some of his own home videos to her, but later discovers that the original Hari committed suicide some years back. Overcome with distress, Hari tries to kill herself by drinking liquid oxygen; the suicide attempt does not succeed. Because of this event, Kelvin falls into a restless sleep where he dreams about his mother and Hari. After waking up, Kelvin discovers that Hari had ask Dr. Snaut and Dr. Sartorius to kill her and that they use Kelvin’s brainwaves to appeal to Solaris to stop creating the visions and hallucinations; the appeal works. At the end of the film, Kelvin contemplates going back to Earth or going to Solaris; he chooses the latter and embraces a copy of his father, created by Solaris, on an island made up to look like Kelvin’s father’s house.
Overall, Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris is a fascinating yet strange film that makes you think about your life and what it means to have a second chance. At least it did for me. Think about it, if you have chance to see someone you once loved, wouldn’t you want a chance to be with that person again? That’s the feeling I get from Tarkovsky’s film of Solaris versus Stanislaw Lem’s original novel of Solaris. Lem’s novel, in my opinion focuses more on the scientific and philosophical aspects with interacting with an alien entity and not being able to connect with each other properly. Tarksovky’s film, on the other hand, focuses more on the human side of wanting and desiring love, which is evidence by filming the first few scenes on Earth with Kelvin visiting his father for the last time. This allows the audience to see the differences between Earth, which is filled with life and love, and the space station, which is filled with emptiness and coldness. By showing us Earth first, as opposed to the space station, the audience can relate to Kevin’s turmoil better. Do not get me wrong, I like Lem’s novel and it interesting, but I think Tarkosvky pulls it off a little better because he allows us to visually see the characters reactions to what Solaris is doing to them.
In my opinion, what the planet of Solaris is trying to do with the scientists on the space station is trying to find out how humans tick. In other words, Solaris is curious about us and wants to learn more about us; however, because Solaris does not understand us fully, it created those disturbing “visitors” and brought back Kelvin’s wife, Hari. Solaris, probably brought back Hari, so that Kelvin could connect and show her the love that she always wanted, but did not get from him when she was alive on Earth. At the end of the film, it is evident that Solaris has learn from it mistakes because it stopped all the visions and hallucinations and it allowed Kelvin a hypothetical reunion with his father to help Kelvin resolve his inner turmoil of not seeing his before he died. In the end, Solaris is an engaging and thought provoking film that demands your full attention.
ETA: I first watched this film in a Soviet Cinema class and thought this would be an interesting film for posting.