A Russian film in the vein of 2001: A Space Odyssey and Planet Of The Apes!
Screenplay By: Fridrikh Gorenshtein & Andrei Tarkovsky
Directed By: Andrei Tarkovsky
The above tag line does a bit of a disservice to Solyaris, because it was viewed by some as a 2001: A Space Odyssey knock off. I’m not implying such a thing, but rather that in the tradition of films like Planet Of The Apes and 2001: A Space Odyssey, Solyaris is a science fiction film that is not about the science or the fiction, it’s about making you think. I don’t believe Solyaris is on the same level as either of the aforementioned two films, but it is still a worthwhile film in its own right.
There’s no point in delving into the story, because in all honesty the story is superfluous. Solyaris isn’t about the space station or even the characters, it is about the ideas and thoughts they bring forth. Who is man, why are we here, are you any more alive than I am? What is being alive, if an unnatural being becomes aware of their unnaturalness are they now as alive as you or I? Did God cause all of this, or is it a result of man’s history long flirtation with science and the unknown? These are just a few of the ideas floated about in Solyaris, as big of a brain fuck as there has ever been.
The above ideas and musings are Solyaris’ strongest suit, but the film relies on them so much that they are also the reason why Solyaris doesn’t reach the heights of it’s sci-fi brethren. We are never given any real reason to care about Kris, any of the Hari’s or the space station in general. They do feel like pieces being moved into their necessary places so that the director, Andrei Tarkovsky, can move onto the next philosophical quandary about man’s place in the universe that he wishes you to explore. I realize Solyaris isn’t about the story or the characters, but in order for the themes touched upon and the questions asked to have the utmost impact they need to be tied to a scenario or group of characters that are real, and that is never the case in Solyaris.
Tarkovsky has a knack for long, ponderous shots. Once Solyaris hits space these shots create a welcome pace that allows you to sit back and think about what you have just taken in before the next bit of existence questioning arises. The same can’t be said for the scenes on Earth, they were laborious to get through and held back the momentum of the film. I have no doubt that Tarkovsky had his reasons for designing the Earth scenes in such a manner, but that reasoning failed to resonate with me.
Solyaris won’t wow you like some other question the world science fiction films will and due to its rather slow style it certainly isn’t for everyone. However, it is a deep film that asks pertinent questions about all of humanity and beyond. If you are willing to give those questions the time of day and are willing to allow Tarkovsky’s pacing to grow on you then Solyaris is a film that is worth your time. Otherwise this may not be the movie for you, and that isn’t a knock on you or the film, just a fact of cinematic life. Solyaris takes you to places that most science fiction isn’t willing to go, even if sometimes it does get lost in its own questioning.