The Bliss of Solitude
TLR Rating: 9 Reels.
During my childhood I was a devout fan of sci-fi movies; no matter how absurd the films were, they used to engulf my mind like nothing in those days and I found myself completely lost in those joyrides. But as I was growing up, that little kid inside me was over thrown slowly by maturity and now I find absolutely no interest in those cheap thrills. However there are some movies I watched recently that made me think twice about this particular genre, one of them is, as anyone can expect, Stanley Kubrik’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’. That was the only space movie that had won my heart until I saw this relatively less talked about masterpiece by Andrei Tarkovsky. With all those stunning visual effects, it is true that ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ rises as high as the Mount Everest among all the space movies but ‘Solaris’ is more like the Mariana trench which explores the deepest portions of your soul and mind. Loosely based on Stainslaw Len’s novel, the movie is set mostly in a distant space station orbiting a mysterious planet Solaris which gives us a perfect blend of science fiction and psychological drama unlike anything ever seen before. ‘Solaris’ won the second most prestigious award Grand Prix Special du Jury at Cannes film festival and mesmerized by it’s artistic delicacy, renowned author Salman Rushdie called it “a sci-fi masterpiece”.
Kris Kelvin, a psychologist is about to embark on a journey to a space station near the mysterious planet ‘Solaris’, where the scientific progresses in researching the planet have reached an impasse state and he must evaluate whether the research should be continued or not. In the beginning, he is seen standing by the lake beside his childhood house where a former space pilot Henri Berton pays him a visit. Kris comes to know about his journey through the oceanic clouds of Solaris years ago, where he saw a four meter tall kid who looked exactly like the son of his fellow colleague. But his camera records showed nothing but clouds and as a result, he was laughed upon by the others and his report was labelled as a hallucination. After arriving at his destination, Kris finds out a tape of his friend Dr. Gibarian where he talks about the unexplainable mysterious atmosphere which prevails on board and how anyone’s conception takes a materialized form there and somehow the clouds of Solaris are responsible for this. It is a only a matter of few hours after which Kris starts visualizing his wife Hari in his room inside the ship, who incidentally had committed suicide ten years ago. As he was unable to move on after her death, Solaris materialized Hari out of his dreams; Dr. Sartorius informs him that she is not human but composed of neutrino substances and can be destroyed by the use of the ‘annihilator’. After this, the film presents the journey of Kris of overcoming his grief and distress. Kris is seen to love this version of Hari more than the actual one as he knows that she is not real, that he created her according to his own perception. On the other hand, Hari starts to become more and more human with time and their relationship strengthens. This love towards his deceased wife puts him in a moral dilemma and he fails to decide whether to stay in this space station or to go back to earth.
One day Hari leaves him by convincing the other two scientists to destroy her. Kris comes to know about this after waking up from his dream. Maybe, Hari tried to convey a message to her husband that it is better to forget your past mistakes and move on. At the very end we see Kris standing by the same lake just like the beginning but something unworldly is there in the atmosphere. Is he back on earth or is it a fragment of his imagination which materialized on one of the islands in the mysterious ocean of Solaris? It will be a crime to spoil the experience so I’ll better leave this question unanswered.
A monstrous budget is a necessary element along with several others to make a movie about space exploration. But the absence of a huge fund and technology proved to be a blessing in disguise for ‘Solaris’, as Tarkovsky used this to his advantage. Though the movie is not as visually stunning as other movies of this genre, it focuses on bigger issues, like our lack of enthusiasm in discovering the unknown; the scientists were more interested in destroying the Solaris with radiation rather than unfolding its puzzle, or with advancement of technology we are actually getting nowhere. The beauty of nature is depicted at the beginning of the film and the aftermath of technology can be seen in the long shot of overcrowded Tokyo highways or the disorganization inside the space station. There are no irrelevant scenes in the movie at all. At certain point in the film, Kris comes to know that these materialized visitors from the dream can heal instantaneously and later inside his dream he is shown to be healed instantly, Also as the movie grows, slowly more of the human nature of Hari is unveiled to us; so is she becoming a human being or is Kris becoming a neutrino substance? One thing is for sure that no matter how advanced we are, ‘Solaris’ is still in the position of control with all its mysteries and abstractness which expresses the helplessness of mankind in understanding the vast universe.
My article will remain incomplete if I don’t mention about the acting performances which is a very important aspect for a movie playing with human psychology. The Latvian actor Donatas Banionis played the role of Kris Kelvin and I have never seen a better performance as a distressed scientist than this one. He used his face as a canvas and just like an expert painter, made this act dazzling and colourful with spontaneous expressions. But it was Natalya Bondarchuk as Hari who outshone everybody; despite of having only a small on-screen time, she took things to a different level with her flawless career-best performance. She even developed a suicidal tendency after this film and claimed that it was partly influenced by her character in the film.
In short, this film is a benchmark among all the sci-fi films and among the most thought provoking movies ever. It seduces the audience with its slow and detailed narrative and again, at times captivates them with its sheer complexity and provides a sense of isolation. We should be thankful to a visionary like Andrei Tarkovsky for this brave attempt of filmmaking which is still as appealing as it was forty years ago.
The author is an electrical engineer, a movie buff and a big fan of Satyajit Ray.