Solaris (1972): Tarkovsky’s Ravisingly Beautiful, Poignant Sci-Fi

Unlike the films of other contemporary Soviet directors, those of Andrei Tarkovsky demonstrate a personal and original vision that placed him alongside Godard, Bergman, and Fellini as one of the major European filmmakers of our time.

For his third feature, Tarkovsky turned to a novel by Polish science fiction writer Stanislaw Lem, “Solaris.”
Grade: A (***** out of *****)
Tarkovsky was less attracted to the science fiction genre per se, than to the ethical questions in the novel. He even contemplated “transferring the entire story to Earth,” “where” the film opens.
Many critics consider “Solaris” to be the Russian response to Kubrick’s “2001: Space Odyssey,” made in 1968, and one of Tarkovsky’s most readily accessible and less metaphysical and intellectual works.
Solyaris ussr poster.jpg

Theatrical release poster
World-premiering at the 1972 Cannes Film Fest, “Solaris” was awarded the Special Jury Prize. It finally opened in New York in the fall of 1976, but in a truncated version, cut by 35 minutes from the original.
The first scene set in the sylvan country home of, Kris Kelvin (Donatis Banionis), a scientist who lives there with his aging parents and child.  When “unusual” events are reported on the planet Solaris, he’s been called upon to investigate.
Before departing, he is visited by his colleague Burton who, as a member of the original crew of the space station now permanently orbiting Solaris, had once been dispatched to search for a missing crew member. From the surface of the planet, an all-encompassing, dense, cloudy sea, he had discerned the figure of a monstrous human baby swollen to a hundred times its normal size. But his report, of which Kris and Burton review taped proceedings, was never given credence and thus never taken seriously.
A committee of scientists dismissed it as hallucination brought about by anxiety and strain. Kris himself is non-committal, a technological man as unmoved by Burton’s excitement and terror as by his own father’s loneliness.
Arriving at the space station, which the authorities have contemplated closing down (but not before subjecting the planet’s surface to a final, exploratory burst of radiation), he finds the vessel in a ramshackle, near-deserted state.
Two of its resident scientists, the cynical Sartorius and the elderly Dr. Snouth, are unresponsive to his questions and take refuge in their laboratories. Kris then learns that a third cosmonaut, his old friend Gibarian, has committed suicide and left behind a cryptic videotape, in which he denies any imputation of madness and suggests that his death has some unmentionable connection with the convoluted surface of Solaris.
The amorphous surface of the planet turns out to be a living entity that does not communicate directly, but rather materialized fantasies from human lives.
For Kelvin, Solaris conjures up a perfect double of his late wife, Hari (Natalya Bondarchuk), who had committed suicide after the failure of their relationship. Although Hari is only a hallucination, Kelvin tries to redress his mistakes in the past and renew his commitment to her. Delving even deeper into a fantasy world of his own moral conflicts,
Kelvin sees at the end of the film an image from his childhood that suggests reconciliation with the conflicts of his past: He and his father stand in front of the family cottage, arising out of the surface of Solaris.
As a moral parable, Solaris has been interpreted in different ways. British critic Philip Strick sees the planet as a “turbulent metaphor as much for an imperfect deity as for the psychoanalyst’s couch.”  For him, “Solaris” is “the nearest the cinema has come to capturing the complexities of science fiction, with its intermingling of time and memory, acute uneasiness, and emphasis on elegance and style.”
Intellectually Accessible, ravishingly beautiful and charged with a real poignancy, Solaris is one of a kind
In 1989, Kino International for the first time in the U.S. released the original167 minute director’s cut to revival theatres, museums and colleges.
Stay away from Soderbergh’s disappointing American remake of “Solaris,” starring George Clooney, in 2002. IT
Natalya Bondarchuk as Khari
Donatas Banionis as Kris Kelvin
Jüri Järvet as Dr. Snauth
Vladislav Dvorzhetsky as Berton
Nikolai Grinko as Kelvin’s father
Anatoli Solonitsyn as Dr. Sartorius
Olga Barnet as Mother
Vitalik Kerdimun as V. Kerdimun
Olga Kizilova as O. Kizilova
Aleksandr Misharin as A. Misharin
Bagrat Oganesyan as B. Oganesyan)
Tamara Ogorodnikova as Aunt Anna
Sos Sarkisyan as Dr. Gibaryan
Valentina Sumenova as V. Sumenova
Georgi Tejkh as Professor Messenger
Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky
Written by Fridrikh Gorenshtein and Andrei Tarkovsky
Produced by Viacheslav Tarasov
Original Music by Eduard Artemyev and Vyacheslav Ovchinnikov
Non-Original Music by Johann Sebastian Bach
Cinematography by Vadim Yusov
Film Editing by Lyudmila Feiginova
Production Design by Mikhail Romadin
Costume Design by Yelena Fomina
Edited by Nina Marcus
Running time: 167 minutes
No MPAA rating