Given the world's current condition, my weariness returns to the man who made me a cinephile. Perhaps, its dumb luck or a coincidence or sporadic memories but finding ourselves among a world hindered not only by an illness but the mentality of isolation rang an enormous bell in my head. What film knocks all the other films on their asses in terms of such proclivity? The master of them all and the most essential science fiction film that has influenced so many others, ( you can all fight me on this), but it is very much the great Andrei Tarkovsky's SOLARIS.
SOLARIS seeps into a deep and lengthy mediation of our own perceptions of time, identity, and grief. It’s a story about space, without really showing us space. Oddly, enough the film gives off a claustrophobic vibe with the minimal usage of sound and painfully slow tracking shots that transports the audience as if they were actually on the lonely space station with the delirious scientists. The only space visuals revealed are of the ocean that makes up the planet Solaris as well as video footage of it’s clouds from a former space cadet. The story is a psychological mind bender where the protagonist Kris Kelvin is sent up to investigate the strange behavior of the remaining crew on the lonely space station as it explores Solaris but there is more behind the expedition. The mystery of the unknown and strangeness is the hook.
Tarkovsky uses long tracking shots that linger over various set designs such as the cups of tea and fruit on the table outside the house while it rains, (before Kris heads off to Solaris) to emphasize the importance of slowing down time. It’s as if he wants his audience to take a breathier from the meticulous ongoing vibrations of everyday life. Explore nature. Breathe. Think. Mediate. He demands the patience of his audience. Being a minimalist, when it comes to cinematography, Tarkovsky is aware of the heightened need for compelling sound design such as the opening sequence, he uses the glorious noises of nature such as the sound water trickling, birds tweeting, and the absence of city congestion. Tarkovsky, which similarly to Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, also uses these elements of nature and the use of slow panning, again to convey the depth and the importance of time. For instance, he presents the haunting image of the underwater reeds undulating beneath the surface like some inexplicable force that leaves a tantalizing feeling of intrigue. Also in the levitation scene, where Kris and Hari embrace each other in a genuine understanding of love and respect, the camera slowly pans creating a very human moment between the two.
There’s no montage, no glorious soundtrack, or stylistic lighting, which typically keeps the audience’s attention going through the course of a film. On the contrary, Tarkovsky explores the emotional depth of what it’s like to be trapped in grief. A never ending nightmare of recycled pain, one must endure until some form of resolution is discovered. Kris Kelvin becomes the product of what is known as a tortured soul. He grieves the tragic loss of his wife’s suicide, and is unable to come to terms with it until he arrives at the space station where the Solaris world creeps into his subconscious as he sleeps. When he awakens a manifestation of his wife sits before him, hardly knowing who she is. Hari, Kris’s wife becomes a projection who literally dies a few times only to remerge to which Kris falls in love with her all over again. In a way, she’s a healing mechanism that allows Kris to face his grief and let go of the past. As a result he is able to feel somewhat like a human being again. Kris and Hari’s narrative has a somewhat similar theme to that of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth. Orpheus loses Eurydice forever because he looks back at her before they leave the cave, which is chillingly similar to Kris’s inability to look forward as he’s always submerged into his past and the grief he carries internally.
Andrei Tarkovsky’s film, oozes with confusion and somber fascination into the mysteries of the human mind and the explorations of a strange world, which consequently creates the deep introspection of one’s soul by replicating the various manifestations one holds within. And it begs the question, if the scientists are studying Solaris or is Solaris studying the scientists? Either way, it’s a scary journey to fathom the unknowns of the human mind and the universe we inhabit.
Every fiber of my being adores everything Tarkovsky has set out to do in his work. The man is a poet among other things and how it translates into his films is unlike anything I've ever seen. No one has come close as far as I can tell and that's truly the beauty behind a mastermind of such an artist. Beneath the surface his greatest strength is harboring a feeling so embedded within our souls, he's willingly giving us the opportunity to explore it, to tap into it, and feel something beyond what's purely hailed as entertainment. Isn't this what art is supposed to be? He's on an entirely different level and all those films that proceeded and influenced his nature such as THE TREE OF LIFE, ANTICHRIST, MEEK'S CUTOFF, GRAVITY, THE TURIN HORSE, UNCLE BOONMME WHO CAN RECALL HIS PAST LIVES, and so many more always have me chasing back to Tarkovsky's films. His work will always be what I measure everything else to. I realize he's not for everyone, but if you have a patient mind, a gentle soul, a willingness to be open you just may find a cerebral connection or feeling you just can't quite describe. Perhaps its all a streaming of consciousness on some level where answers are elusive, irrelevant, as our inherent need to feel something beyond humanity's rational temperament.