Solaris (1972) … Remembered

solaris1Solaris (1972) is a philosophical film based on a novel that explores human life, death, and memory itself.  I am told that the Russian novel this movie is based on is even more philosophical than the film, which is quite a statement.  This movie sure was introspective.  I can only wonder what people on Earth would think if some scientists on a space station orbiting the planet Solaris revealed the truth: that the mystery of the great beyond lies in ourselves.

A man named Kris Kevlin goes to investigate a strange space station and gets caught up in the power, the miracles this space station makes possible.  He forgets all about his mission over the course of the movie.  One of the first things he discovers, is that “people” from the memories of the space station’s inhabitants can be brought back to life.  These are and are not real people who have passed away.  Mainly it is their presence that tortures the remaining inhabitants of the station.  It is obvious that guilt is a thing that weighs heavily on everybody, an emotion which overrides any love or affection they might have for their resurrected love ones.  These are only some of the themes seen in this movie.  The effects are low-budget, but effective, and I have no complaint about them.  In fact, I would say that the style of the film fits perfectly with what they were trying to do.

solaris2Nostalgia pervades this movie and its characters.  When Kelvin’s wife Hari returns to life on the station, he drifts off into nostalgia land with her, forgetting all about his duty.  He dreams all about his nostalgic past on Earth, his parents he left behind, and a cabin he loved.  Some may question how a man entirely devoted to science can lose himself in the memory of his wife, who has been dead for 10 years.  Of course, Kelvin’s wife committed suicide and he is all broke up about it, so it is a deep, emotional trauma.  Seeing her alive again makes it worse.

The movie itself has some flaws, not the least of which is the pacing and the endless dialogue.  It’s never boring to me though, although I can see how some people wouldn’t have the patience for it.  Although most people claim this film is highly philosophical, I don’t think it has any more story or philosophy than 2001: A Space Odyssey.  However, it inspires us and creates emotional thought, just like 2001.

The ending of the film, or rather, the interpretation of the ending, may give the viewer any number of meaningful representations. Although he accepts it is not really his wife Hari, Kelvin still feels sadness when the fake-Hari dies.  She only wants to please him.  Her torture is as real as his, but she has the added complication of trying to understand what the real Hari went through.  She becomes as suicidal as the real Hari, unable to cope with being only a facsimile.  

Kelvin doesn’t return to Earth.  He never worked anything out with the fake-Hari that he left unresolved with the real one, and it is any wonder that he is still as emotional at the end of the movie, compared to the beginning.  He goes down to the planet Solaris and discovers something wonderful, a place pulled right from his memories.  It is his cabin, where his father and mother lived.  They are alive and smile as he approaches them.  Kelvin doesn’t resist this time, because he has learned from fake-Hari that facsimiles can feel, and they can bring joy.

The real telling emotion is when he hugs his father down on the planet Solaris, which is a symbol of love, acceptance, and overall nostalgia.  This means he has accepted what the planet has tried to offer him in the first place and will undoubtedly never leave.   But that’s just what I think.  Unlike most science fiction movies, the meaning of the open ending is left to the viewer.  I think this is why Solaris is compared to 2001.

The ending of the movie could have gone a number of ways.  If Kelvin were to shake his fake-father’s hand or simply stand there with a stupid look on his face, the ending might mean something completely different.  But Kelvin doesn’t concern himself with anything else but his father, whom he loves.  There are many moments in this film that evoke true emotion, and the ending is one of them.  The movie doesn’t spell out a darn thing, and it doesn’t go anywhere, short of exploring feelings, but I didn’t mind.  However, the fact is, Kelvin does grow as a person and plunges into emotional consciousness head-on, as well as Dave Bowman ever did.