“Man was created by nature in order to explore it. As he approaches truth he is fated to knowledge. All the rest is bullshit.”
There are movies I watch more out of obligation than because I think I’ll like them or be entertained by them. Every year for about the last five, I’ve made a point of watching every Oscar Best Picture nominee before the night of the awards. There are plenty of classics or cult favourites that I feel like I need to see if l’m gonna class myself as a real movie fan. And some are purely homework, obligations that I know I have to just get through once so I can tick them off an arbitrary list and move on. Even with those loose, barely definable guidelines, I still have no idea why I felt like I needed to see the original Solaris.
I don’t think it’s regarded as classic by any means. I don’t think it has a particularly strong cult following. On the surface, it doesn’t appear to be a genre or type of story I’m particularly into. And I’m not familiar with a single name in front of or behind the camera. About the only box Solaris does tick for me is that it’s foreign. And I know I need to see more non-English language movies. Other than that, for some unknown reason, I felt like I needed to see this movie, even though I was pretty sure I wouldn’t like it. And it kind of delivered in the most shrug inducing way.
Psychologist Kris (Donatas Banionis) is at his childhood home, walking around while obviously thinking about something really deep. You know his thoughts must be deep, because he has a very serious look on his face and the scenes are filled with long, boring takes where nothing happens. He’s visited by Henri (Vladislav Dvorzhesky),a former space pilot who became a laughing stock a few years ago. While working on a space station above the planet Solaris, he had visions of a giant boy. He shared these visions and was laughed out of the space program. Now, the current men on board the space station are starting to exhibit their own forms of madness, and Kris has been chosen to go up there and sort their noodles out.
Once aboard, the two official residents of the station are pretty nonchalant about Kris’ arrival. There’s Dr Snaut (Juri Jarvet) and Dr Sartorius (Anatoliy Solonitsyn) who have both obviously come to terms with their madness and are pretty OK with it. Unfortunately, the one dude on board who Kris actually knew, Dr Gibarian (Sos Sargsyan) has killed himself, making things just that little bit more ominous. But things really get weird when Kris’ wife arrives (Natalya Bondarchuk as Hari). Not only weird because she’s all of a sudden found a way to travel into deep space, but weird because she actually killed herself a decade earlier.
Solaris is trippy and weird and ambiguous and heady and intellectual. It’s all of those things without ever being entertaining. By the time it gets to the story of Kris and Hari, I’d been lulled into such a comatosed state by everything that preceded it, that I just didn’t care about them or their tragic past. I had the same reaction once they got into the pseudo sci-fi mumbo jumbo explaining the how the planet of Solaris brought this broad back to life. Solaris just had no wind in its sails by this point to make any of it interesting.
There was one kind of interesting aspect to this movie though. Getting a glimpse of communist Russia in the 70s. Obviously it’s a sci-fi story, set in the future and takes place mostly on a space station and alien planet, so it doesn’t give a literal look at actual communist Russia in the 70s. But it’s kind of fascinating to think of the lives these people were living and the ideas they were having, if this is the kind of sterile version of emotion and love they came up with.