Tarkovksy’s Solaris has been described as “Russia’s answer to 2001.” I would have to disagree with that sentiment, because apart from being slow paced and mostly taking place on a space station. This is by no means a bad thing, they’re simply different and both brilliant in their own right.
Solaris has Tarkovksy’s signature camera work at play, with plenty of wide shots and long, contemplative takes, with minimal cutting. It also has in these sequences characters speaking philosophically, similar to his later film, Stalker. It’s a movie that wants you to drink in the scene and absorb it’s details and brilliant, real and lived in sets that look absolutely gorgeous on the blu ray copy I watched. Pouring rain, the launching of a rocket, the cluttered, but colourful space station are superbly shot, as well as nature shots. It gives you the necessary time to process the ideas it’s presenting, which are absolutely essential to this movie. These ideas, in particular, at least what I gathered on this viewing relate to love, as well as consciousness and reality. In the portion of the film before our protagonist, Kris, reaches the Solaris station, we are treated to a lot of exposition and some sequences, such as a long drive on what looked a Japanese urban centre could have been shortened. However, after this initial hump, once Kris gets to the Solaris station, things start to get more interesting.
That was a good segue into trying to summarise the basic plot of the movie, which is straightforward in my opinion. Essentially, the people of Earth have been researching a strange planet, the titular Solaris, for many years and are trying to make contact with what appears to be a lifeform or consciousness, but the research is on it’s last legs and Kris is sent up to check up on the remaining researchers. At least that is how the film gets started. There is also a very interesting romance plot that drives a significant amount of the movie, and for me to call a romance plot in a film interesting, rather than the ‘human core’ or ‘lame’ means it must be good. Which it is.
The film is in Russian language, but the subtitles on this copy of mine were clear and seemed well translated enough, but as an English speaker it’s difficult to grasp the nuances of the dialogue. But they never sounded flat and each character was different in relevant ways, with the movie having enough strangeness to keep you interested. Conceptually, I never felt too confused on a fundamental level, which is great for a film like this and is quite the achievement to have something that doesn’t compromise on the presentation of it’s complex ideas nor makes them so complex as to be almost incomprehensible. However, some lingering shots are difficult to decipher the meaning of or the intended meaning due to Tarkovksy’s general reluctance towards the use of symbolism in his films. You’ll know what I’m talking about when you see it. These might be the only somewhat confusing parts of the movie.
This film is also a very quiet film. In fact, so quiet that even when I had it on fairly loud, the sounds of the clock ticking and water cooler running were often louder than this most of the time. However, dialogue was also loud and clear. I’m not sure whether this is to do with not enough volume from the audio mix or whether it’s to do with the audio being in mono or maybe the sound wasn’t perfect originally. Or it could be intentional. Whatever the case, the movie is quiet. The music is also very subdued and sparse in direct contrast to 2001‘s loud and regular use of classical music.
Should you watch Tarkovsky’s Solaris? The answer is yes if you have the patience for these types of movies. If you don’t, or the philosophical dialogue is something you dislike or goes over your head totally, you probably won’t like it. It’s got an almost 3 hour run time and I did feel sleepy throughout but when I watched it I was tired beforehand and I managed to stay awake without being totally lost. It’s definitely one of the great sci fi films and rather than the Russian answer to 2001, it’s the Russian companion to it.