Director: Andrei Tarkovsky
Screenplay: Friedrich Gorenstein, Andrei Tarkovsky
Starring: Donatas Banionis, Natalya Bondarchuk, Jüri Järvet
Country: Soviet Union
BBFC classification: 12
Running time: 166 minutes
Tarkovsky loves the singular things that hint at filial piety – those cherries on the kitchen table, that folk-patterned cloth, Crimean twilight.
His 1972 epic is by its very existence mystifying. What does such a nostalgic sensibility have to do with science fiction? It is a riddle that brings to mind Walter Benjamin’s interpretation of Paul Klee’s Angelus Novus – a figure who faces the past while being blasted towards the future.
Solaris is an atmosphere as much as a film or a heavenly body: a formless void with darkness covering the face of its deep.
In this mode, filial piety begins with the daddy of them all – the maker of heaven and earth, Genesis-style. The first few minutes offer a series of antediluvian images – our eyes track across as they would an ancient Chinese handscroll. The only sign of life is of vegetation swaying under, and a leaf skimming over, the surface of clear water.
We then follow Dr Kris Kelvin as he surveys the flora and fauna surrounding his father’s house, re-made in the image of his father’s father’s house.
Here, already, are worlds within worlds within worlds – and a suggestion that the singular nature is under investigation, if not attack.
Tarkovsky seems to be saying that ‘the final frontier’ is not space but a reckoning with the crooked timber of humanity – out of which no straight thing will ever be made. The singular is only irreducible and irreplaceable because it is warped somehow.
There is little left of fact for the reviewer to record, except to say that the film’s afterlife continues to change and be changed by the zeitgeist it orbits. Soderbergh, of course, re-made it to mixed reviews in 2002 – and Tarkovsky’s effort was preceded by a two-part special for Soviet TV in 1968.
Grief and guilt provide the G-force for all three adaptations of Stanisław Lem’s 1961 novel. It is the pull of those emotions that return us to the place where we started, and brings us to our knees.
In the end is our beginning, backlit by twilight.
Solaris was reissued by The Criterion Collection on Blu-ray on April 3rd, 2017.
Special Edition Features
- High-definition digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack
- Audio essay by Andrei Tarkovsky scholars Vida Johnson and Graham Petrie
- Nine deleted and alternate scenes
- Video interviews with actress Natalya Bondarchuk, cinematographer Vadim Yusov, art director Mikhail Romadin, and composer Eduard Artemyev
- Excerpt from a documentary about Stanisław Lem
- Plus: a booklet featuring an essay by critic Phillip Lopate and an appreciation by Akira Kurosawa
Review by Michael Corley