Solaris (1972)


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I finally saw Soderbergh's version yesterday (how many people have seen Tarkovsky's in the cinema, but only seen Soderbergh's on video?).

I guess having only seen Tarkovsky once I was quite keen to see Soderbergh's take on it, and hopefully to enlighten me about the other as well. And havng seen it to that end I thought it did well, and lets face it for a holywood film it was ambitious and adventurous.

I was quite surprised that it got negative-ish views amongst those on the board. liked it. I guess maybe if you see it next to Tarkovsky it makes more sense, but I was confused by responses to the ending. I thought the ending was meant to be negative, but for example SDG said in his review:

QUOTE With both films, if the ending is understood as intended to be a feel-good sentimental sop to the viewer, then it becomes profoundly disturbing and anti-humanistic...I have a suspicion in the case of Solaris that it isn�t meant to be dreadful and empty.
Why did you (and others) come to that conclusion? I thought we increasingly see the irrationalism of Clooney and are gradually encouraged to side with the captain (whatever her name was).

Anyway...any other thoughts?

Matt

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Ok, didn't get much response so I've changed the title in a feeble attempt to get some comments.

Anyone got anyone to say on this ...pleeeease

Matt

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There was nothing wrong with the original title.

Basically, I felt that the Soderburgh version, like the Tarkovsky version, was meant to end on an affirming, redeeming note. The difference, I think, is that for Tarkovsky the Solaris scenario was primarily a moral challenge, and for Soderburgh it is primarily a sentimental opportunity. For Tarkovsky, the question here is, "What is the moral thing to do here, confronted as we are with these creatures to whom we cannot relate as the people we knew, yet whom it seems wrong to treat as nonpersons?" For Soderburgh, the question seems to be, "Can we find happiness here? Can we make the most of this second chance, this opportunity for redemption, and make better choices than we did before? As long as she looks and feels real, why should anything else matter?"

And in the end, it seems to me, Soderburgh takes this idea to its natural conclusion...

SPOILERS

...and suggests that the "second-chance" scenario can be just as validated if both Kelvin and his wife are simulations, known and remembered only by the planet itself. No matter that Kelvin and his wife are both dead, they live on happily reunited in simulation on Solaris. They feel real to themselves and to each other, so what else matters?

To which I say, Phooey.

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Spoilers

I didn't think Clooney was meant to have died, just tht he ended up living on the planet like Kris did in the Tarkovsky version. Did Kris die in the first one then - or am I getting it all wrong?

Matt

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SPOILERS

I'm pretty sure Kelvin dies in the crash on the planet's surface, at least in the Soderburgh version. I don't remember if I came to any definite conclusion about the ending of the Tarkovsky version.

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I have yet to see the Tarkovsky version, however I just watched the Soderbergh version this past weekend.

Like Matt, my reaction was different from most of the members of this board. I thought that it was an interesting, well made film, which unlike the majority of films these days seemed to actually want to explore ideas, even if (as in the case of SDG) we end up disagreeing with them. I know I didn't feel that Kelvin was making the right decision in the end, however I know that I don't entirely side with the woman who wanted to just kill the visitors.

Interestingly I listened to the audio commentary by Soderbergh and James Cameron immediately after, and Cameron makes comments essentially raises some of the moral issues that SDG commented on, while also acknowledging that as a person, Cameron would, if faced with that situation, side with the woman rather than Kelvin.

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Anders wrote:

I thought that it was an interesting, well made film, which unlike the majority of films these days seemed to actually want to explore ideas, even if (as in the case of SDG) we end up disagreeing with them.

Yes, I thought of that. I agree that the film is interesting and well-made (that's why I gave it three stars). My overall-recommendability evaluation was based on my ultimate assessment of the film's point of view. But maybe there's more room for ambiguity and interpretation than I allowed, and maybe my moral-spiritual and overall ratings were a bit hard.

I know I didn't feel that Kelvin was making the right decision in the end, however I know that I don't entirely side with the woman who wanted to just kill the visitors.

Interestingly I listened to the audio commentary by Soderbergh and James Cameron immediately after, and Cameron makes comments essentially raises some of the moral issues that SDG commented on, while also acknowledging that as a person, Cameron would, if faced with that situation, side with the woman rather than Kelvin.

Fascinating. Good for Cameron. Of course, Soderburgh adapted and directed - did he shed any light on his own views / take here? Any comments from either about interpreting the end of the film?

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SPOILERS

SDG wrote:

: ...and suggests that the "second-chance" scenario can be just as

: validated if both Kelvin and his wife are simulations, known and

: remembered only by the planet itself. No matter that Kelvin and his wife

: are both dead, they live on happily reunited in simulation on Solaris.

: They feel real to themselves and to each other, so what else matters?

Hmmm. Well, if Kelvin and his wife actually feel ANYTHING, then they are not merely memories of the planet, but they must have some sort of individual identity and consciousness too. So, if we insist that Kelvin and the replica of him on the planet surface are two separate entities, then what we have here is Kelvin killing himself, in the hope that a replica of him will remember being him and have a feeling of reunion with his wife -- but Kelvin himself will not have this feeling, because he will be dead.

Hmmm. It does raise all sorts of questions, about identity and the continuation of personal consciousness across physical forms and so forth. I mean, to a certain extent, we are ALWAYS transferring our personal identity from one physical form to another, as our bodies take in new physical matter and reject old physical matter; and I have often wondered if resurrection would be not so much like waking up after a long sleep, but more like creating a brand-new being and giving it the memories of some former being -- creating new hardware and downloading the same old software into it, but perhaps with an upgrade or two. I have always imagined that my resurrected self would feel a little distant from my current self, and that my future, resurrected find my current, mortal self rather odd -- just as the human Pinocchio sees his former puppet self sprawled out on a chair and finds it odd, and just as I see home-video footage of me when I was a boy and I find it odd.

Augustine, recognizing that personal memory and identity are always in flux, once said that the thing which held his identity together was the fact that GOD has a perfect memory and thus "remembers" him as a single, whole person. So I don't automatically object to the idea that Kelvin and his wife can ultimately find a semblance of eternal life not in their own bodies (which are never really "their own" anyway) but in someone else's memories. If the replicas of Kelvin and his wife have consciousnesses of their own, IN ADDITION TO existing within the memory of the planet, then that is actually not too far from how I have envisioned heaven.

The problem here is that Kelvin's wife is a very incomplete replica of the original wife, based entirely on Kelvin's memories of her. In that sense, she is arguably more of a projection of Kelvin and his point of view than a person in her own right -- kind of like David's reconstruction of Monica at the end of A.I.; she exists not as some sort of self-existing Other to which Kelvin is drawn, but as a projection of Kelvin's desires, etc. And I wonder whose point of view has shaped the KELVIN replica -- whose perspective has determined the form that the Kelvin replica will take? Does the planet have a point of view and a memory of its own from which it can create its own replicas of people? Or is the Kelvin replica a projection of the wife-replica? If so, then Kelvin appears to be caught in a replica feedback loop, and the Kelvin replica is something less than what the original Kelvin was.

And I guess that would be my main criticism of Kelvin's decision -- the replica of him seems to be less than what the original Kelvin was, and not more than what the original Kelvin was or even the same as what the original Kelvin was. Achieving immortality has made him less than human, not more than human or fully human.

Anders wrote:

: Interestingly I listened to the audio commentary by Soderbergh and

: James Cameron immediately after, and Cameron makes comments

: essentially raises some of the moral issues that SDG commented on,

: while also acknowledging that as a person, Cameron would, if faced with

: that situation, side with the woman rather than Kelvin.

Interesting. I wonder what he bases that on.

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The movie was interesting and though it got my brain juices going, I could not but help but walk away somewhat confused and depressed at what the film's ending hinted at.

The logical conclusion suggests that Kelvin died and/or a copy of him was recreated alongside another Rheya. They meet up and all is bliss and eternal happiness. Problem? Besides with where this copy of Kelvin came from (visitors were recreated from memories of individuals while they were dreaming), and the final Rheya acting in a way that is opposite to how the previous version agonized at the state of her existance, the ending completely rules out any true second chance for Kelvin and his wife.

As some quotes from another thread so strongly argue " The problem is that there is no second chance in this scenario. The Rheya duplicates are not Rheya. Even if we choose to regard the Visitors as real sentient beings, Kelvin's relationship with Rheya #3 is not a revisitation of his relationship with the original Rheya, but a new relationship with a new individual".

And another quote from the same user "So, in the end of the film, memories are reconciled to memories within the mind of a planet. And that's supposed to say something about second chances and redemption?"

These comments from this user summarise my problem with the ending. Kelvin is dead. His wife is dead, years earlier. She was miserable without him. He was miserable without her. They both went to their graves unhappy people, knowing that they would never see the REAL each other again. And this is a happy ending?

This supposed happy ending is really in my opinion a delusion of sorts. And it also undermines THE reason the Rheya on the ship killed herself. Her recreation based on another's memories. She couldn't bear it. Now, she's back (with a message of forgiveness to boot) and completely aware of her situation (or we assume) and eager for Kelvin to greet her. She seems to have accepted her newfound memory-based existance with a gutso the earlier version couldn't.

I just don't buy that this is what the director was trying to get us to believe. Any thoughts?

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Hi, tkip. Thanks for participating. I'm sure Peter will be along soon with his links to earlier threads, though you've evidently aware of them and even quote me from the earlier board... so you know I agree with you. smile.gif

As to "what the director was trying to get us to believe..." I'm not sure in the end that the director has a belief that he's trying to get across. I think he goes for an emotional and sentimental image that doesn't hold water in terms of beliefs. I do find it interesting, as Peter reported, that on the commentary track producer James Cameron expressed some level of disagreement with Kelvin's choices and what he professed to believe. I wonder how Soderburgh felt about it.

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I didn't get the feeling that Cameron was differing in his opinion/views with either Kelvin or Soderbergh. Must have missed something. Certainly I got the distinct impression that Cameron was seeing a more metaphysical/divinity feel to the film that I too also noticed. Hmmmmm. :roll:

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I was going to post this in a 2001: A Space Odyssey thread, but much to my surprise, we don't have one ... so Solaris is the next best thing. (I'm not sure this film could sustain a thread unto itself.)

I caught a Czech film from 1963 last night called Ikarie XB-1 (or Icarus XB-1, or -- to use the name an American distributor gave it after hacking it up and dubbing it in English, Voyage to the End of the Universe), which was pretty interesting. The Cinematheque's blurb says it "has a mood, style and seriousness of purpose that anticipates Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey and Tarkovsky's Solaris," and I would definitely agree. The use of intensely bright lights along the walls of the corridors, etc., seemed particularly Kubrickian to me (though I don't think one can say Kubrick stole the technique from this film, exactly, since his earlier films had some pretty high-contrast cinematography themselves), as did the scene where one robot keeps repeating a character's name somewhat menacingly.

I wish I could draw closer Solaris parallels, but I'm drawing a blank right now -- apart, of course, from the fact that Solaris and Ikarie XB-1 were both produced in the Eastern bloc. Does anyone know if Tarkovsky was aware of, or influenced by, this film?

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BTW, it seems to me the plural of "Solaris" would be "Solares" (compare "crisis" and "crises", "thesis" and "theses", etc.). A plural like "Solari" might work if the singular were spelled "Solarus", but a word like "Solarii" doesn't fit any grammatical rule that I know.

Edited by Peter T Chattaway

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Link to the Solaris discussion we had three message boards ago when Soderbergh's film came out (including tangents on the definition of "science fiction" and whether Robert Wise, who may have borrowed from Solaris in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, was himself borrowed from by Tarkovsky).

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Honestly, I wasn't too big on the Soderburgh version either. No doubt that it was an adventurous film, but it could have been a lot shorter -- he maybe got too involved with the visual aspect.

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I hate to sound like a heathen, but I watched the Tarkovsky film last night, the second time I've sat through it, and I found it even less engaging this go-round.

My problems with the sci-fi genre are well-known, but I mention it again because I'm not sure what else might explain my complete apathy toward this film. Frankly, it just bored me -- a common complaint about Tarkovsky's films, and one that I'm happy not to agree with in every other instance save this one. I also found the film's soundtrack, and certain visual elements, extremely dated. I try not to hold such things against any film made during an earlier time period, but I mention it because Tarkovsky's other films have a "timeless" quality to them that Solaris, IMHO, lacks.

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I also found the film's soundtrack, and certain visual elements, extremely dated.

Yeah, that fishnet shirt really was rather unfortunate.

I'm curious: What visual elements seemed dated to you? I didn't really notice anything that stuck out that much.

As far as the music goes, I hate to say that I don't remember much about the soundtrack at all, other than some Bach music. Hmm.

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I also found the film's soundtrack, and certain visual elements, extremely dated.

Yeah, that fishnet shirt really was rather unfortunate.

I'm curious: What visual elements seemed dated to you? I didn't really notice anything that stuck out that much.

As far as the music goes, I hate to say that I don't remember much about the soundtrack at all, other than some Bach music. Hmm.

Clarification: By "soundtrack" I meant the ambient sounds in the film, sounds on the spaceship, certain sound effects. As for visual effects, well, there was the main character's haircut, and ... ummm ... gosh, that's a cheap shot.

All part of the film's place in time, but again, Tarkovsky's other films don't fall into that trap. I am glad you enjoyed it, Diane. Sorry to hear of your troubles with Mirror, which may have confounded me more had I not already seen Tarkovsky's later work.

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Christian, it may make you feel better to know that men's haircuts in Russia and post-Soviet countries today are very much like a few of the crew cuts in Solaris, which are more timeless than one might actually think.

-s.

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Men's haircuts in Russia and post-Soviet countries today are very much like a few of the crew cuts in Solaris, which are more timeless than one might actually think.

Stef, this sounds uncharacteristically defensive on your part. Perhaps YOU have one of those haircuts? I'm sure someone more computer savvy than myself can find a photo of you and doctor it up.

Me, I have less and less hair with each passing year, so I don't have to worry about hair styling, except to ponder the possibilities of the comb-over.

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The movie was interesting and though it got my brain juices going, I could not but help but walk away somewhat confused...

... Kelvin is dead. His wife is dead, years earlier. She was miserable without him. He was miserable without her. They both went to their graves unhappy people, knowing that they would never see  the REAL each other again. And this is a happy ending?

Well, thanks to our fabulous local library system, I have at last seen both versions of this film! Tkip pretty much sums up my feelings and thoughts about the Soderberg/Cameron version, and several others have read my mind about the earlier one.

The Tarkovsky version was interesting and sometimes beautiful, but overall I found it ponderous and laden with symbols that were never really developed (like the haltered horse running around the country estate).

The Soderbergh version really seems more coherent to me without pandering, but in the end it just asks a lot of questions it can't answer because of its secular humanist viewpoint. That flashback scene of dinner with Gibarian and his wife pretty much lays it all out: if you try to bring up even the idea of a higher intelligence, let alone God, you will be shouted down. I guess I can't get out of my Christian box enough to really enjoy a film like this anymore, and the ending seems really hollow.

It seems like Soderberg was going for a romantic (in the classic sense) ending, like the end of "Somewhere in Time", a paean to "love", but it doesn't work for me because somebody has to do the loving, and a construct built from somebody's memories isn't a sentient, soul/spirit being in my book.

Also: is it just me or is Natasha McElhone extremely thin in this film? She looked far better in "The Truman Show". In "Solaris" she looks like a head on a stick.

Neb

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FWIW Neb, Tarkovsky hated symbols and used visual motifs in his films for a more poetic purpose. He never intended to develop such things as, say, the many horses, dogs, natural elements (especially water), floating lovers, and icons in his films into codify-able meanings, but used them instead for their beauty, rhythm, and mystery, and just because he loved them. Same thing with the aforementioned driving scene--it doesn't necessarily "mean" anything in specific (although some have suggested that it evokes the space travel never fully depicted in the film--that abrupt cut from Earth to space is awesome!), yet it can be downright entrancing to watch.

Did you see the Criterion DVD or an old VHS? The DVD has a good commentary that offers a nice introduction to Tarkovsky's methods and does a good job of highlighting many of the film's stylistic qualities. For me, it's one of the most hypnotic and compelling films I know.

Totally agree with your comments about Soderbergh's version...

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DVD for sure. I have to be pretty desperate (eg. my MST3k home mades) to watch stuff on magnetic tape anymore (I'm such a snob). Instant scene access, commentaries, documentaries, and crystal clear images...oh mighty laser disk, you are mine, MINE! But I digress.

Thanks for the heads up on Tarkovsky's approach to symbols. I guess there's no reason why every artist has to use them the same way. I suppose it's just one of the many theatrical conventions we take for granted as a natural law, when it's more of a traditional choice. Still, I guess I prefer these visual elements to be there for a reason, even if it's only half-developed, because of the visual nature of cinematic story telling. Maybe that's why I don't like a lot of modern/abstract art? Those blobs of paint may be pretty...but what the heck is it supposed to BE?

Neb

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Neb wrote:

: Thanks for the heads up on Tarkovsky's approach to symbols. I guess there's no

: reason why every artist has to use them the same way.

Ah, but does the SAME artist have to use them the SAME way all the time?

For me, THAT is the question. I have attended two Tarkovsky retrospectives at the local cinematheque over the past decade, and if you see all his films in a narrow span of time, the constant use of horse imagery and leaves-rippling-underwater imagery begins to seem a little repetitive, almost -- if I were inclined to be provocative -- one-trick-pony-ish. Kind of like how Ridley Scott movies always used to have scenes of light reflecting off of wet sidewalks (even 1492: Conquest of Paradise, a movie which technically had no sidewalks per se, fell prey to this!).

Don't get me wrong, I LIKE horses and water and even wet, reflective sidewalks, at least from time to time. But variety is good, too; and in a case like Solaris, where Tarkovsky was adapting someone else's story and actively subverting it by imposing lots of his own favorite images -- fetishes, maybe? -- on it, I think some criticism may be warranted.

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Neb wrote:

: Thanks for the heads up on Tarkovsky's approach to symbols. I guess there's no

: reason why every artist has to use them the same way.

Ah, but does the SAME artist have to use them the SAME way all the time?

For me, THAT is the question.  I have attended two Tarkovsky retrospectives at the local cinematheque over the past decade, and if you see all his films in a narrow span of time, the constant use of horse imagery and leaves-rippling-underwater imagery begins to seem a little repetitive, almost -- if I were inclined to be provocative -- one-trick-pony-ish.  Kind of like how Ridley Scott movies always used to have scenes of light reflecting off of wet sidewalks (even 1492: Conquest of Paradise, a movie which technically had no sidewalks per se, fell prey to this!).

Don't get me wrong, I LIKE horses and water and even wet, reflective sidewalks, at least from time to time.  But variety is good, too; and in a case like Solaris, where Tarkovsky was adapting someone else's story and actively subverting it by imposing lots of his own favorite images -- fetishes, maybe? -- on it, I think some criticism may be warranted.

Wow! A criticism of Tarkovsky that isn't, "He's boring." This may be a first in these parts. I wonder if I should make some popcorn.... wink.gif

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