Directed By: Andrei Tarkovsky
Starring: Natalya Bondarchuk, Donatas Banionis and Jüri Järvetbr />
Trivia: Writer Stanislaw Lem was critical of this adaptation of his novel, complaining that he didn't write about people's "erotic problems in space."
Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris, a 1972 sci-fi / mystery set aboard a space station, is a haunting, dramatic look at what it is that makes us human, and what we require to keep our humanity alive.
The three scientists residing on board the Solairs Space Station have been sending bizarre transmissions back to earth, and psychologist Kris Kelvin (Donatis Banionis) is sent in to investigate. Upon his arrival, he learns one of the scientists, his good friend Dr. Gabrarian (Sos Sarkisyan), has killed himself, and only Drs. Snauth (Juri Jarvet) and Sartorius (Anatoli Solonitsyn) remain. They inform Kelvin that the planet Solaris has been active as of late, and may be causing a phenomenon that science cannot explain. At first skeptical, Kelvin himself soon realizes something strange is going on when his wife, Hari (Natalya Bondarchuk) suddenly appears on the station, despite the fact she committed suicide over ten years earlier! Now, Kelvin must deal not only with the mysterious powers of the planet Solaris, but his own past as well, including the mistakes that led to his wife’s death. Is Hari’s presence just a figment of his imagination, or is this the second chance he’s been longing for?
Andrei Tarkovsky was a filmmaker who liked to take his time, utilizing long, sustained shots that favored imagery over dialogue. In Solaris, we get many such moments, including Kelvin’s arrival at the station, where we follow along as he tours what has become a desolate, run-down vessel. It’s a sequence that emphasizes the loneliness of space, a loneliness that will soon give way to a reunion of sorts, as well as an opportunity for redemption. Tarkovsky’s camera lingers in nearly every scene of Solaris, taking in all that surrounds it, and setting a tone as ominous as it is observant.
The Solaris station, which, at first glance, appears to be a floating pile of junk, is hiding an astonishing secret that's downright torturous for those left to deal with it. While Kelvin struggles with his past, Hari searches for proof of her own existence. Dr. Sartorius warns Kris not to get emotionally involved with Hari, who, he says, is only a reproduction, an image created by the planet based on Kris’ own memories of his wife. As for Hari, she’s fully aware that she’s only a copy, yet perfectly recalls moments from their history together, and harbors the same feelings as the actual Hari, the same love for Kris. Are these feelings and memories enough to prove this Hari is, in fact, a living, breathing human being? If not, what more is required?
These are the questions Tarkovsky poses throughout Solaris, a motion picture that pushes the concepts of humanity, consciousness, and man’s need for love to the forefront. Wonderfully poetic, Solaris is unlike any science fiction film I’ve ever seen before.