Solaris brightens the silver screen

Ted Pigeon

In an age of sci-fi films that are bent on visual effects and minimal on substance, “Solaris” is a filmmaking triumph. The artistic merits and filmmaking achievements of this film are not only flourishing, but the movie also goes against the commercial tidal wave that has engulfed cinemas as of late. What we have here is a quiet, reflective film with a visually artistic touch that mirrors the conflict of its main character and the soul of the story.

In a broad sense, “Solaris” tells a futuristic story about a planet with the power to read the mind of anyone who goes near it. The planet is being orbited by space stations inhabited by scientists from Earth studying the planet. One of the men scientists sends a message to his friend, psychiatrist Chris Kelvin. In the message, the man requests that Kelvin come out to the station to investigate some strange occurrences that have been happening there. Kelvin agrees to go to Solaris. But when he arrives, his friend, along with another crewmember, is dead, while two other crew members seem to be in fear of something that they don’t understand.

When Kelvin sleeps at night, he dreams of his dead wife, Rheya. The film follows a series of flashbacks that chronicle how their relationship came to be and how it ended. These scenes, which maintain the quiet atmosphere of the film, are very tender and skillfully acted. These warm, dream-like sequences contrast perfectly with the sci-fi atmosphere and the mechanical hallways of the space station, Prometheus, as well as the planet outside it. But things take an unexpected turn when Kelvin’s wife appears before him in the flesh, exactly the way she was before she died. It doesn’t take long for Kelvin to realize that her being there has to do with Solaris. The planet is able to bring back people exactly the way they were remembered by the particular person they’re being brought back for. So it depends entirely on what is projected into the image of the person who is brought back, not on his or her true self. It depends entirely on how he or she is viewed by someone else.

As the film progresses, we see Kelvin gradually evolve from denial to acceptance. He eventually sees this as a second chance, a chance to start over and set things right. He falls in love with her all over again and soon becomes convinced that he can take her back with him to Earth. He ultimately becomes consumed by her and their memories of the past.

As the story begins to take shape, we plunge deeper into its philosophies. It takes the idea of perspective, the notion that we all see the “real world” through a particular point of view. There is a line between reality and perception and the idea that perhaps the two cannot be separated. The ideas that dwell below the surface of the plot are endless, and Soderbergh’s camera captures the essence of the story and is equally as important as the characters and script. In the end, this film is a puzzling, mind-blowing piece of art that you need to see more than once. I’m already looking forward to seeing it again. It’s almost too much to handle in one viewing. Whether I understood it completely the first time will be determined after more viewings. But one thing is clear: this film had a profound impact on me and it did that through all aspects of the filmmaking process.

“Solaris” is an enigmatic, absorbing film that raises questions about humanity, but doesn’t attempt to answer them. Rather, this film simply invites the audience to ponder what it is examining. It is layered with philosophical and moral questions that have no concrete answers. It is for this reason that many people will immediately dismiss this film. History has proven that thoughtful films never go over well with audiences, perhaps because the movie-going public wants things to be clean-cut and straightforward without ever having to think. It’s a true shame, because this is a rarity that dares you to think without telling you how to think. It can be confusing, and at times frustrating, but that is essentially the point. We are given no explanations, only ideas.