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Tarkovsky's Solaris

 
 

Shabbiness, Lots of Tea, Philosophy...

   

 

  

 

Things one goes back to, again and again: a favorite novel as comfortable as an overstuffed armchair, a song that still makes one feel the way it did on that summer's day a long time ago.   Solaris is playing this Thursday and Friday at Lincoln Center and there is, among the many reasons to go see, again, or for the first time, the desire to step outside of fast-moving time.

 

Here is no glitzy futuristic science fiction creation -- instead this world is decrepit, slow, meditative, with sudden scenes of shocking beauty.  As The New York Times put it, back in the 70's when the film was released: Outer space is shabbiness, lots of tea and urgent philosophical discussions that leave no time for shavingSolaris, Andrei Tarkovsky's 1972 sci-fi film based on the book by Stanislaw Lem, is sometimes considered the director's response to Stanley Kubrick's 2001.  But the Russian 165-minute film is no mere artistic riposte -- it is a beautiful, finely-crafted meditation on the very nature of what it means to be human.

 

Solaris is framed by a conversation between Chris Kelvin, a psychologist, and Henri Burton, a cosmonaut who has just returned from the space station orbiting the watery Solaris.  Burton is in a state of nervous agitation - he is convinced that the aquatic Solaris, its sea like some brain, some consciousness, is responsible for eerie happenings and deaths aboard.  Kelvin travels to the station where the remaining crew members are acting strangely -- the cosmonauts have sent X-ray probes down to the planet which then responded with its own probes which are able to make memories real, even recreating people from one's past.  These include, now, a double of Kelvin's dead wife Hari (the beautiful Natalya Bondarchuk) - a complex creature of Kelvin's own memories, able to be recreated over and over again, who can feel, and is unaware of the original's suicide. 

 

Tarkovsky's film explores the ephemeral....Are we the sum of our memories?  What do we love when we love: the beloved or our idea of the beloved?  Tarkovsky - his moments of other-worldly beauty (scenes, also in movies such as Andrei Rublev and The Mirror) -- here, in Solaris, the memorable zero-gravity tableau which steals our breath away: Hari, Chris, and lit candles float through the air, as if Tarkovsky were reaffirming his faith in the mystical in man -- memories that can glow incandescent.... 

 

See: Tarkovsky's Solaris, Lincoln Center 

See: Steven Soderbegh's remake of Solaris, 


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