A remake that I prefer by vast amounts to the original!
Screenplay By: Steven Soderbergh
Directed By: Steven Soderbergh
I will confess to not being a huge fan of Solyaris or of Andrei Tarkovsky’s work in general. I don’t think he is a bad director, or anything of that sort, but I do find that his films use philosophy in a way that is too simple. I know this is a minority opinion, but I always get the sense from the films of Mr. Tarkovsky that he’s operating on the level of a community college philosophy student. That statement has pissed off some fans of Gospodin Tarkovsky’s in the past, but it is an opinion that I still hold true. This leads to an empty feeling in a film like Solyaris where the themes do not match up to the purported ideas of the filmmaker.
Solaris is a much different experience than Solyaris. Steven Soderbergh is not a philosopher nor is he a director who I think has aspirations of exploring the philosophical nature of man. He does, however, want to explore the philosophy of one man and how a small group of people deal with the ideas of the unknown and memory. Before everyone gets up in arms over that last statement, I do believe there is a difference in scale between the two films. Solyaris has larger themes it wishes to tackle, whereas Solaris is interested in the smaller scope of a single man. When it comes to the basic themes of both Solyaris and Solaris, there is no doubt in my mind that Solaris does a much better job of exploring its themes.
The lack of a larger scope is the main reason why I enjoyed Solaris as much as I did. That doesn’t mean that Solaris is a small movie. Rather, the lack of scope in Solaris creates an economy of motion within the narrative of the film. There’s no dead space to be found in Solaris, the film has a caustic pace but it uses every second of its run time to push in on its lead character. There are other characters in Solaris, but they exist as conduits for the exploration of Chris Kelvin.
It’s important, I think, to trace the framing of George Clooney, the aforementioned Chris Kelvin, during Solaris. From the onset Mr. Soderbergh centers Mr. Clooney in the middle of the frame. This told me a lot about Kelvin’s personality, about his views on the world and about the realizations his character needed to have. There are moments of framing brilliance during Solaris. Mr. Clooney doesn’t always start out in the center of the frame. At times he is on the edge of the frame, and during the scene he is pulled back into the center. The only time when he never gravitates towards the center is when he is asleep, and those are tellingly the moments when Kelvin has the least control over his actions.
In the final sequence of Solaris Mr. Clooney still resides in the center of the frame and this speaks to the characters inability to move on. For my money this was the key theme of Solaris. In a perfect world, in a world that makes sense, Kelvin would be able to move on from Rheya. As the film illustrates the world is far from perfect and Kelvin can’t move on nor does he actually want to move on. Kelvin is the center of the universe in his own mind. The planet of Solaris is but a tool to further wallow in his pain. The characters around him help to facilitate his great sense of loss.
The emotion of loss is a universal truth. The inability to move on is something that most people experience at some point in their life. By taking an intimate approach to the films themes Mr. Soderbergh manages to reach much farther than just one man. There are no answers to be found in Solaris. There is only loss, pain, and the revelation that despite what we may do, say, or think we can drown ourselves in pain. There is breathtakingly beautiful cinematography to be found in Solaris. As I have come to expect from a Steven Soderbergh picture the use of color in Solaris is amazing to behold. As economical of a film as you will find, Solaris uses its cold austerity to weave a compelling tale of loss and the pain of memory. When Solaris ends Kelvin is still at the center of his own universe. He is still immersed in his own pain and in his memories of the past. Solaris left me feeling numb, but it was the type of emotional numbness that can only come from a great movie.