MattPage

Solaris (1972)

83 posts in this topic

Thanks for your comments, Neb. I'm impressed that you saw both films and are chewing on them in this 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.

I'd say it's less of a theatrical convention than, say, a Western convention that deeply wants to labels art with words, ideas, and rational explanations. Eastern art and thinking tends to be much more experiential, poetic, and mystical. Western newbies to Tarkovsky often attempt to interpret his ambiguity in an intellectual manner and get flustered by any lack of consistency or thesis; I always recommend letting go of those paradigms and simply appreciating his images and sounds for their beauty alone--and meaning can often come later, even unexpectedly, as it does in the icon or contemplative traditions. Not that there aren't any specific ideas within Tarkovsky's work--his dialogue is often quite philosophical--but his aesthetics are definitely designed to be felt, not understood. Think of it as cinematic lectio divina. smile.gif

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.

Oh, they're there for a reason, all right! But the purpose is experiential rather than intellectual.

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?

Yeah, I'm with you--I often find abstract art daunting, myself, although I admire it when I do connect with it and wish I had a better knowledge of it in general. Interestingly, Tarkovsky never seemed very fond of abstraction, himself. There's a hilarious account of his encounter with the work of Stan Brakhage here, written by Brakhage himself (it's further down the page so you might have to search for the text "La Petite Cinema"). Tarkovsky always aligned himself with traditional artists like Bach, Brueghel, Leonardo, and Rembrandt. His imagery is poetic, but not very abstract--it's very much rooted in the physical world, its natural elements, objects, and atmosphere.

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I love movies. I love watching them as well as making them. I love this forum because it's a place where film discussions amount to much more than "It was totally cool" or "It sucks" (sorry). There are several threads on this board that have prompted me to get on the local library database and start placing requests. Thank goodness I have access to a great library system (money is a bit tight these days)!

The idea of developed symbols being a Western theatrical convention make sense. Since I haven't seen many non-Western films, unless you count Miyazaki and Kurosawa, it may take some getting used to. Of course, the directors mentioned above seem to use symbols in a way I understand, so maybe they're not good examples.

Neb

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Criterion has already released the Tarkovsky film, so why not the Soderbergh film?

I'm hoping I'll somehow be able to squeeze a Lem/Tarkovsky/Soderbergh comparison into my grad school program, so I guess this could help with that.

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Alright, I haven't seen the Soderbergh version. I just watched the Tarkovsky version. I don't understand it, and I certainly don't understand the ending.

Going to have to watch the damn thing again I expect.

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Alright, I haven't seen the Soderbergh version. I just watched the Tarkovsky version. I don't understand it, and I certainly don't understand the ending.

Going to have to watch the damn thing again I expect.

If you have the Criterion DVD, the commentary track is really good. It's done by the two authors who wrote The Films of Andrei Tarkovsky: A Visual Fugue.

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I saw the Soderbergh version about seven or eight years ago and didn't hate it, and still haven't seen the Tarkovsky version. I have read the Lem novel, though, and found it fascinating. From what I've read, both films deviate greatly from the book. Seeing this thread pop up made me realize I need to put Tarkovsky's on the Netflix queue. Hopefully I won't take a nap during it like I did during Stalker (which, despite that, I liked a lot).

It's also worth noting that, according to some translators, most of the English versions of Lem's novels (including Solaris are pretty clunky. At least as far as translation goes.

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If you have the Criterion DVD, the commentary track is really good. It's done by the two authors who wrote The Films of Andrei Tarkovsky: A Visual Fugue.

Thanks, yes I do, so I look forward to listening to that.

I saw the Soderbergh version about seven or eight years ago and didn't hate it, and still haven't seen the Tarkovsky version. I have read the Lem novel, though, and found it fascinating. From what I've read, both films deviate greatly from the book. Seeing this thread pop up made me realize I need to put Tarkovsky's on the Netflix queue.

As I'm given to understand, the endings between the two films are very very different. I know how the Soderbergh one ends only because I've read this thread, and I do think that, by comparison, I much prefer the Tarkovsky ending. And that's while admitting that I don't quite understand Tarkovsky's ending (it seems both horrible and hopeful, with maybe just a little more on the side of horrible).

Notes:

- I am not a fan of very many Science-Fiction films. But, if more of them were like this, then I would be.

- Most Sci-Fi films do not have their characters discuss and debate questions of philosophy and morality, this one obviously does.

- Yes, it's slowly paced. But the slow moving camera gives you a sense of dread - the sense that something weighty or terrifying is just about to enter the screen. Tarkovsky does a hell of a lot with very little. Sometimes, all he needs to do is let the camera slowly focus in on an arm chair and, after doing a double take, you realize that there are 2 shawls instead of 1.

- The comments on this thread about some eastern art & film being more about images expressing feelings, rather than necessarily strictly coherent ideas, is, well ... ironic. Yes, many of the images in this film make you feel emotions rather than make you understand the next turn of the plot. But, in spite of all of that, this film asks more coherent moral and philosophical questions than the 99.99% of all other science fiction films will.

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From a purely ideological perspective, I have always preferred the ending of Tarkovsky's film to 2001. Both are quite similar in form, in that they are image-driven, opaque myths about the cosmos. But where 2001 is the great cinema poem of evolutionary theory, Solaris sees and attempts to visualize a great Something at the heart of the human experience that is ultimately transcendent and lies beyond the cycles of material history.

I know Tarkovsky lays this on pretty thick at the end of his film, but I am grateful for that as it provides a good contrast to 2001.

Edited by M. Leary

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And that's while admitting that I don't quite understand Tarkovsky's ending (it seems both horrible and hopeful, with maybe just a little more on the side of horrible).

You're definitely on the right track there. I read somewhere once that Kurosawa said Solaris was one of the disturbing or disquieting or terrifying (I forget the exact word) films he'd seen.

About the different versions of the ending,

Tarkovsky's and Soderbergh's endings are closer to one another, I think, than either one is to Lem's ending. The big difference between the films and the book is that the planet still looks ocean-like at the end, although Kelvin can walk on it, whereas in the movies, the surface of the planet has been transformed into an imperfect replication of Kelvin's home on earth. That interpretation is cloudier in the Soderbergh version, but I still think that's what's going on.

BTW, Lem's novel takes place entirely on Solaris and the station. Tarkovsky added the earth parts at the beginning because the idea of the earth as home was so important to him spiritually. (The commentary talks about this point quite a bit.)

If you take the planet as a metaphor for God, which is how I like to think about it, then Lem's ends with God being present but impersonal and inscrutable, while the films end with the planet trying to make a earth/home connection in addition to the personal/visitors connections it tried earlier.

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If I'm correct, one of Lem's motivations for writing Solaris was to show how absolutely alien an extraterrestrial being would be, and the novel ends with Kelvin on the planet's surface as he watches it make indescribable, almost Lovecraftian forms. Poor translation aside, it's still unlike anything else I've read.

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Yeah, I agree that it is a crazy experience. I grew up reading great sci-fi, but most of it domesticated images of extra-terrestrials with seeing, hearing, and feeling faculties along with variously almost human features (leading lots of literary critics to accuse this lit. as domesticating the "Other" in a typically mid-century American colonializing move). But Lem kind of blew the roof off of that long-held image in my head.

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I still think the planet looks like the Great Link from Star Trek: DS9.

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I always feel obligated to interject a quick defense of Soderbergh's film whenever this subject arises. I have no investment in Lem's original story, and I have no interest in seeing another director try to out-Tarkovsky Tarkovsky, but Soderbergh avoids that trap, and the film is quite successful on its own terms, I think. It came out about a year before my mother- and father-in-law both passed away, and in those months following the funeral, as I was struggling to make my way through the grieving process, I found myself watching Solaris over and over. Partly I was drawn to the mood of the film -- and to Cliff Martinez's score, which is brilliant -- but the strength of the film is its grounding in human emotion. Tarkovsky does beauty and wonder and Spirit better than any filmmaker ever but he always keeps viewers and characters at a slight remove. The Kelvin in Soderbergh's version is a more empathetic creation. With this Tarkovsky film, in particular, I can never shake the conscious impression that I'm watching a parable. Although a good friend (and former member of this board) once described the Solaris remake as a two-hour perfume ad, I actually really like Clooney's performance. It's a remarkable study of grief and guilt. Whether it's successful by classic sci-fi standards, I don't know and don't particularly care.

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The SOLARIS remake is certainly defensible. I don't find it satisfying, but it's not a bad film.

I suppose one reason that Soderbergh's film doesn't sit so well with me is that the Tarkovsky film is stylistically very impressive, as one would expect from a cinematic storyteller as unique and striking as Tarkovsky. The slow, dreamlike imagery is both captivating and compelling; it feels like we are exploring the architecture of the mind.

Soderbergh's approach to SOLARIS, on the other hand, often feels quite conventional, which doesn't seem to work anywhere near as well given the story's focus on memory and illusion. I'm not suggesting that Soderbergh needed to make the film super-artsy or try to compete with Tarkovsky, but a more evocative, atmospheric approach would have gone a long way, an approach that isn't quite so prosaic.

Edited by Ryan H.

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Dan Kois writes for New York Times Magazine:

In college, a friend demanded to know what kind of idiot I was that I hadn’t yet watched Tarkovsky’s “Solaris.” “It’s so boring,” he said with evident awe. “You have to watch it, but you won’t get it.”

He was right: I had to watch it, and I didn’t get it. I had to watch it — on a laserdisc in the university library — because the intimation that there was a film that connoisseurs knew that I’d never heard of was too much to bear. I didn’t get it because its mesmerizing pace was so far removed from my cinematic metabolism that several times during its 165 minutes, I awoke in a panic, only to find that the same thing was happening onscreen as was happening when I closed my eyes. (Seas roiling; Russians brooding.) After I left the library, my friend asked me what I thought. “That was amazing,” I said. When he asked me what part I liked the best, I picked the five-minute sequence of a car driving down a highway, because it seemed the most boring. He nodded his approval.

Forever after, rather than avoiding slow-moving films, I’ve viewed aridity as a sign of sophistication. Part of being a civilized watcher of films, I doggedly believe, is seeing movies that care little for my short attention span — movies that find ways to burrow underneath my boredom to create a lasting impression. I still remember watching Derek Jarman’s 1993 “Blue,” a movie that’s simply 79 minutes of narration over a screen colored an unwavering deep blue. (It’s available on DVD — “enhanced for wide-screen TVs,” thank goodness.)

Now, as a film critic, I find writing about stately, austere films difficult. Often, I scapegoat others for my own boredom via the reviewer’s best friend: the fabled “many viewers.” As in: “For many viewers” (as I wrote about one drama about the Kazakh steppes), “accidentally walking into a showing of ‘Tulpan’ would be a 10-minute nightmare of tractors and bad haircuts, followed by a 90-minute nap.”

[ . . . ]

Other critics, much smarter than me, write about these films with the kind of unfettered enthusiasm that I feel when writing about directors like Alfonso Cuarón or Lisa Cholodenko or Steven Soderbergh (except for his “Solaris” remake, obviously). They love the experience of watching movies that I find myself simply enduring in order to get to the good part — i.e., not the part where you’re watching the real-time birth of a Kazakh lamb, but the rest of your life, when you have watched it and you get to talk about it and write about it and remember it.

[ . . . ]

As I get older, I find I’m suffering from a kind of culture fatigue and have less interest in eating my cultural vegetables, no matter how good they may be for me. I don’t fool myself that aspirational viewing no longer has anything left to offer, that I’ve somehow absorbed the lessons Tarkovsky couldn’t teach me all those years ago. Yes, there are films, like the 2000 Taiwanese drama “Yi Yi (A One and a Two),” that enrapture me with deliberate pacing, spare screenplays and static shooting styles. I’ve watched “Yi Yi” five times and never once dozed off over 15 cumulative hours of low-key Taiwanese domesticity.

Glenn Kenny responds:

I don't want to spend a lot of time kicking and screaming over Dan Kois' May 1 New York Times Magazine "Riff" entitled "Reaching for Culture That Remains Stubbornly Above My Grasp," as it's just another representation, complete with references to "cultural vegetables," of the Cheerful Fake Middlebrow Philistinism That Refuses To Die, and nothing I can say will ever change said refusal. Even though the piece does have
some
novelty value: it piles up its unexamined cultural assumptions in such a relaxed way that the net effect is like Stephen Metcalf on Xanax, and it also throws in a "Hey, there's a TELEVISION SHOW I don't 'get'
either
" confession (a failed attempt to make the weirdly inverted snobbery go down easier), and some love-me-love-my-kids bullshit to boot. What the fug ever. What does give me pause is: Why is it that it seems lately whenever a self-styled film critic wants to evoke boredom, he or she reaches for Tarkovsky's
Solaris
? Were a bunch of these yoyos traumatized by that
Felicity
episode when they were in their teens? Cause honestly there's some stuff in
Stalker
that could be considered even more "boring" than anything in
Solaris
. And hey, if you want honest-to-goodness, actual bonafide art film doldrums, there are a few Angelopolous movies to which I can steer you. So why
Solaris
, which I recently showed to My Lovely Wife, hetetofore a Tarkovsky virgin (I know, I know; she'd never seen a Tarkovsky movie and I actually
married
her, what kind of self-respecting film snob am I anyway?), and which went down quite well with her; in fact she found it as moving and as disturbing as I'd imagine Tarkovsky wanted it to be. Now it so happens that My Lovely Wife, while incredibly brilliant (I can just hear her saying "Pshaw!" to that, but don't listen to her, she really is) would be the first to allow that her taste skews somewhat more to the mainstream than my own. And I realize that some might turn an accusing finger at me and say I'm indulging in love-me-love-my-wife bullshit (our union has yet to be blest with issue, so at least be glad you'll be spared the kid stuff for the foreseeable future), but hell, I'm making a point with what I have at hand, the point being that
Solaris
is only really difficult and inaccessible if you actually
want it to be
.

And the reason guys like Kois like to pick on it is the same reason Kois' master and model Metcalf was compelled to pick on
The Searchers
a few years ago: because it's
revered
, and because the New Mandarins like nothing better than to give what they consider a good kick in the shins to the revered and—
mostly
—to the people doing the revering. My wife and tens of thousands of other may have thoroughly and genuinely enjoyed and been moved by
Solaris
, but they're not gonna get the chance to write two pages in the Times magazine about it; now, that space is this week reserved for Dan Kois and his resentment. We have truly entered the age Lester Bangs predicted in 1977, an age when "along with our nurtured indifference to each other will be an even more contemptuous indifference to each others' objects of reverence [...] whoever [...] seemed to speak for your own private, entirely circumscribed situation's many pains and few ecstasies." How nice to be reminded of this on a beautiful Sunday morning. Thanks, Dan, and thanks, The New York Times Magazine!

Edited by Ryan H.

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wacko.gif

(head spinning from all the intellectual posturing)

mf_hide.gif

(ducking and running before someone diagnoses just what sort of fake bullshit philistinism I'm guilty of in this post)

Edited by SDG

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wacko.gif

(head spinning from all the intellectual posturing)

Steve, I really don't appreciate this sort of fake bullshit philistinism. Blog posts and NYT essays are only as difficult or inaccessible as you want it to be. It really irks me when people (especially critics) use the term "intellectual posturing" as a (usually dismissive) negative descriptor when talking about an essay. "Intellectual posturing" has very little to do with the inherent qualities of the essay when you get down to it, and almost everything to do with the reader's approach to it. It speaks to an unwillingness to engage with the work (usually a kneejerk reaction to either pacing or duration), and then a desire to write this off as if it's somehow the essay's fault — "The essay failed to engage me" - rather than the other way around. It also usually assumes that the chief purpose of an essay (or other form of entertainment/art) is to amuse and divert you, the viewer, by use of smoke, mirror, bells & whistles, etc. In short, it's supposed to be FUN, as if fun were the highest goal one could aspire to. (Not saying that there's anything wrong with fun, mind you, only that the fun factor shouldn't necessarily be the be-all end-all criterion by which something is judged).

::pokerface::

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Cause honestly there's some stuff in Stalker that could be considered even more "boring" than anything in Solaris.

Um, no, there really isn't.

And the reason guys like Kois like to pick on it is the same reason Kois' master and model Metcalf was compelled to pick on The Searchers a few years ago: because it's revered, and because the New Mandarins like nothing better than to give what they consider a good kick in the shins to the revered and—mostly—to the people doing the revering.

Or -- they really think it's a bad film experience regardless of the thoughts and appreciation of the people doing the revering (even if the thoughts and appreciation make sense).

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Cause honestly there's some stuff in Stalker that could be considered even more "boring" than anything in Solaris.

Um, no, there really isn't.

I wouldn't call it "boring," but the really long tracking shot of the creek while Tarkovsky's voiceover dad recites poetry is probably the kind of thing he meant.

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::pokerface::

What is so awesome about your post, Victor, is that it is not only the ideal long-form riposte to my minimalistic comment, but also you used the "poker face" smilie which I only just noticed within the last day or so and have been longing for an opportunity to use, until you beat me to it. Not that I'm complaining, I got to use the cringe-and-cover smilie, which is enough emoticon creativity for one thread.

(if we had a saluting smilie, it would go here)

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::pokerface::

What is so awesome about your post, Victor, is that it is not only the ideal long-form riposte to my minimalistic comment, but also you used the "poker face" smilie which I only just noticed within the last day or so and have been longing for an opportunity to use, until you beat me to it. Not that I'm complaining, I got to use the cringe-and-cover smilie, which is enough emoticon creativity for one thread.

(if we had a saluting smilie, it would go here)

well, we have this

::bow::

or this

=D>

or this

::cheer::

Also check Glenn's comment field. You might see a further surprise about my previous post.

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Jonathan Rosenbaum has re-posted his review of that Tarkovsky film:

To me at least, the notion of spirituality in film has always been more than a little suspect. Filmmakers as diverse as Robert Bresson, Carl Dreyer, Leo McCarey, Kenji Mizoguchi, Yasujiro Ozu, Jean Renoir, Roberto Rossellini, and Michael Snow are frequently praised for their allegedly “transcendental” styles though it seems more appropriate to value them for qualities that suggest the opposites of spirituality and transcendence: the brute materiality of the worlds of Mizoguchi and Renoir, the physicality of McCarey and Ozu, the carnality in Bresson and Dreyer, the skepticism of Rossellini, the relentless mechanisms of Snow. If “pure” transcendence is what one is after, I’m afraid that even the more bogus spirituality of Disney, De Mille, and Spielberg may come closer to the mark.

I’m not trying to argue that a filmmaker’s religious beliefs are irrelevant to his or her art, but it does seem to me that none of the best filmmakers requires religious beliefs in order to be understood or appreciated. Bresson’s Jansenism may play some role in the selection and shaping of his plots, but divine providence is evident in neither the sounds nor the images of Au hasard Balthazar, and both Lancelot du lac and L’argent can easily be read as atheistic. Conversely, Dreyer’s Ordet and Rossellini’s Strangers (Viaggio in Italia) may both conclude with religious miracles, but this doesn’t mean that either Dreyer or Rossellini necessarily believes in them as religious miracles; both filmmakers, in fact, have made statements that suggest the contrary (and Dreyer, as we now know from Maurice Drouzy’s biography and other evidence, was not especially religious). John Huston’s remarkably precise film adaptation of Flannery O’Connor’s novel Wise Blood is the work of a believer “translated” by a nonbeliever, and there is nothing in the film that suggests any obvious sort of betrayal.

But when we come to a spiritual filmmaker like Tarkovsky, the question of acceptance or rejection becomes a bit more complicated. I have to confess that, in his thinking about spiritual and holy matters, Tarkovsky often strikes me as pretentious, egocentric, and downright offensive; his sexual politics are Neanderthal (especially in Nostalghia and The Sacrifice), and his view of piety is generally neither attractive nor inspiring. Yet because he is a passionate, critical thinker about the world we live in and a poetic filmmaker whose images and sounds have the ring of truth, I find it impossible to dismiss him. Even when his films irritate or infuriate me, they teach me something in spite of my objections. . . .

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