Cast & Crew
The cosmonauts on a space station have strange hallucinations which seem to originate from the planet they are orbiting.
Solaris - SOLARIS - Andrei Tarkovsky's 1972 Sci-Fi Epic
Lem's scientific investigation of an enigmatic planet has been pared down to the subjective experience of one very perplexed cosmonaut. Psychologist Kris Kelvin (Donatas Banionis) makes the journey to a space platform orbiting Solaris to help decide if the station should be shut down. The scientific investigation called Solaristics has reached a dead end because all previous observers have lost their objectivity. Although all still believe that the oceans of Solaris may be a gigantic living being, all who has journeyed to the station have suffered from hallucinations. The unhappy Berton (Vladislav Dvorzhetsky) claims to have seen the ocean 'communicating' via huge plastic sculptures that erupt from the planet's liquid surface.
Kelvin expects to find three scientists at the station, but his old friend Dr. Gibaryan (Sos Sarkisyan) has killed himself. The remaining two, Dr. Snauth and Dr. Sartorius, are living with people who appear to be humanoid simulacra created by the ocean below. As neither scientist will discuss the phantom beings, Kelvin is unprepared to be suddenly confronted by his own wife, Hari (Natalya Bondarchuk), who simply appears in a locked room. Since the real Hari committed suicide ten years previously on Earth, Kelvin doesn't know how to react to this living, breathing copy -- that is indeed synthetic. Kelvin's mysterious visitor can't drink or eat, and wears a dress with no provision for unfastening. And she's desperate not to be separated from Kelvin.
Solaris was considered a perplexing, mysterious Russian response to Kubrick's film. Tarkovsky gives us some very impressive space station sets and a number of dreamlike visions of the liquid surface of the planet below, but viewers hoping for 2001- like technology will be disappointed. Tarkovsky shows no interstellar space ship; most of the voyage to Solaris is covered in a single static shot of stars. The lonely void of space is instead suggested by long pauses, and odd scenes such as a POV car ride into a city on a complex freeway system. The futuristic city is a simply a present-day metropolis in Japan.
Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke's lonely astronaut travels to the end of the universe to find that our entire race is the pawn of god-like extra-terrestrials with a master plan for our 'Childhood's End'. Tarkovsky's film brings Kelvin and his colleagues face to face with an intelligent life form so different from our own that it defeats all attempts at communication, analysis and understanding. Earthly instruments of observation are useless with a "sentient ocean" that operates beyond our range of comprehension. This ocean's form of communication is to create physical things from our own thoughts and memories. All of the cosmonauts are joined by artificial people apparently conjured from their own memories. Science fiction readers will recognize this idea from Ray Bradbury's novel The Martian Chronicles or even the inept space opera Journey to the 7th Planet, stories in which alien intelligences defend their turf by confronting Earthly invaders with hallucinations extracted from their own minds. 2001's alien Overlords do this as well by constructing a "non-threatening" habitat for astronaut Dave Bowman, an ornate room-prison.
But the Solaris ocean creates living beings, not hallucinations. Kelvin's 'visitor' is a duplicate of his lost spouse, a clone. She appears from Kelvin's sleep, as if he had to be unconscious for the ocean to reach into his mind for the Hari blueprint. This detail resonates with the sinister Pods of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, organic invaders that copy humans while they sleep. Although the long-dead "real" Hari committed suicide, Hari #2 has almost no memory beyond her love for Kelvin, and cannot bear to be separated from him. When a metallic door gets in her way, she rips through it, seriously cutting herself. Kelvin is shocked when her wounds heal themselves in a matter of minutes. Convinced she's a lamia up to no good, Kelvin packs her away in a rocket, only to have a Hari #3 soon materialize out of nowhere, as in a Tex Avery Droopy cartoon. Each new Hari seems to have a memory of the last, and is capable of more human reactions. She's a product of Kelvin's guilty memory, yet not a phantom -- when the first duplicate is disposed of, he's left with an extra shawl and dress.
We only see glimpses of the "visitors" co-habiting with the other scientists. They cannot be hallucinations, because Gibaryan's 'visitor' was a young girl whose image is recorded on videotape. The other, mostly unseen visitors are troublemakers that physically abuse their hosts. Kelvin's colleagues theorize that the visitors are reflections of their deepest personal issues. Sartorius has photos of children in his room and his visitor is briefly revealed to be a dwarf. Did the ocean fail in its first attempt at creating a human child? Hari and the other visitors are aliens, or agents of the alien consciousness, through which Solaris learns the nature of Man.
Kelvin's waking nightmare is a dilemma straight from Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo. Permanently demoralized over the original Hari's death, he nevertheless "murders her again". Just as Scotty Ferguson created a new Madeleine, Kelvin is given multiple chances to recreate his lost relationship. The character of Hari/Solaris is one of the better female roles in Science Fiction. The spectacle of the frozen woman jerking back to life in a spasmodic frenzy is simultaneously disturbing and erotic. Kelvin likewise warms to Hari and is willing to accept her for what she is, ignoring Snauth's warning that she'll cease to exist should he attempt to return her to Earth. But Hari #3 eventually recovers all of Hari #1's traits, including the original's disillusionment and despair.
Author Stanislaw Lem reportedly complained that Tarkovsky's film had substituted a humanist theme for his story's scientific riddle. The film's dialogue scenes are slow philosophical discussions. There are several allusions to Don Quixote and the cosmonauts quote Cervantes' poetry on the subject of sleep. Compared to the alien ocean, the film seems to say, human beings are limited creatures imprisoned and isolated in physical bodies. As researchers, the aliens appear to be learning a lot about our limitations and self-defeating, destructive social organization. The only research idea that mission control suggests is to blast the ocean with X-Rays, and "see what happens".
Tarkovsky's slow pace will be stultifying to average audiences. Scenes play out in uncut takes, often minutes in length. On Earth, Kelvin stares endlessly at underwater reeds that sway with the rhythms of the liquid surface of Solaris. At one point we watch Kelvin sleep for more than a minute. Viewers will also need to stretch their imaginations to understand the changes happening in the space station. We begin by wondering where the fresh fruit and flowers are coming from. After a few minutes, observant viewers will notice that the sets shift character and reality like something out of a Philip K. Dick novel. Artifacts from Kelvin's Russian home show up, including a religious Icon accompanied by Andrei Rublev- like music. When Kelvin hallucinates, anything goes: a painting of a snow scene becomes confused with his memories and old home movies.
The Russian actors playing the scientists do a fine job of withholding key information. Just what does Snauth have hidden in his room? A giant toad? Brigitte Bardot? Leading player Donatas Banionis is soulful and sober, although we would be gratified if he smiled just once or twice. But the film's emotional center belongs to the captivating Natalya Bondarchuk. She's heartbreaking as a devoted zombie who slowly evolves into a woman with a full personality. Yet she is also a manifestation of a potentially benign alien intelligence that might be trying to help Kelvin as well as study him.
Criterion's Blu-ray of Solaris is a substantial improvement over their DVD special edition from 2002, with better color and a more stable image. We're also informed that monochrome sections left neutral or tinted sepia in the earlier disc are now corrected to the film's original light blue. With the added resolution of HD, the views of the Solaris ocean are fascinating. They look like high-speed photography of oils or in a large pool.
As with all Criterion upgrades, the original extras have been retained. An insert booklet contains an essay by Philip Lopate and an article by Akira Kurosawa on his trip to Moscow. A good commentary by Tarkovsky authors Vida Johnson and Grahame Petrie points out dozens of production details and puzzling inconsistencies in the film's logic.
Interviews are included with the cinematographer, the art director, the composer and Natalya Bondarchuk, who was 18 years old when filming began. A too-brief excerpt from a Polish docu on Stanislaw Lem shows the author shoveling snow and griping about the liberties taken with his book. And finally, nine deleted or altered scenes are present. It's hard to tell what the differences are in some of them; the only obvious one is a text opening that the director deemed unnecessary. Unlike any science fiction film made in the West or in the Soviet bloc, Solaris is a heady philosophical meditation, and a key film from the visionary Andrei Tarkovsky.
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by Glenn Erickson
Solaris - SOLARIS - Andrei Tarkovsky's 1972 Sci-Fi Epic
Like many things about Solaris the plot might seem deceptively familiar when summarized. Solaris is a distant planet, composed mostly of water, which is circled by a space station. When one of the three scientists on the station dies mysteriously, investigator Kris is sent from Earth to find out what happened. He discovers that the station is poorly maintained and the two scientists left aboard are uncommunicative. The situation grows stranger still when Kris's ex-wife, who's been dead for seven years, begins to appear before him.
When Tarkovsky finished Andrei Rublev he probably didn't know it would take five years to get it released, a situation that interrupted his development of future film projects. Still, Tarkovsky pitched an idea to Mosfilm, the Soviet film bureau, for an autobiographical film based on his mother and his own childhood. It was rejected though it later became the basis for his film The Mirror (1975). So instead Tarkovsky turned to the idea of a science fiction film, a genre in some favor at the time. He chose a 1961 novel by the noted Polish writer Stanislaw Lem called Solaris which had previously frustrated a French filmmaker's attempts to get the rights. Translated into about 30 languages, the novel is a modern classic. Tarkovsky pitched the idea in late 1968 and working with Fridrikh Gorenshtein finished the first draft of the script by June 1969. That's when he ran into some trouble; Lem objected to the inclusion of a love triangle and some other changes that he felt reduced the film to a mere soap opera. Many of the objections were given consideration and, in the end, Tarkovsky adhered more closely to Lem's novel; the major changes in the finished film are the addition of Earth scenes (the novel takes place entirely aboard the space station) and the removal of extraneous scientific detail which held little interest for most audiences.
Sometime before actual filming began Tarkovsky saw 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) but was unimpressed by Kubrick's fascination with technology at the expense of human concerns. One result is that Tarkovsky and his co-workers decided to put more emphasis on the daily life and cluttered environment of the space station workers.
By spring 1970, Solaris was ready for casting and, at one point, Tarkovsky considered Bibi Andersson (Persona, 1966) for a key role. That never happened but Tarkovsky did bring back his Andrei Rublev, Anatoli Solonitsyn, who would also appear in the director's later Stalker (1979) and The Mirror. For the wife's part he used Natalya Bondarchuk, daughter of noted director Sergei Bondarchuk (War and Peace, 1968). Dr. Snauth was played by Juri Jarvet, noted for the title role in 1969's King Lear (and recently in the cult film Khrustalyov, My Car!, 1998). According to some reports, Tarkovsky even toyed with the idea of using his real-life wife in one role.
Unfortunately, prior to filming, Tarkovsky saw his budget progressively cut until it was about half of what was originally planned. Nevertheless, he started shooting in March 1971 and had the entire film ready for an official screening by the end of the year. Within a month Mosfilm gave Tarkovsky a list of 35 requested changes, some reflecting political policy (removal of religious references) and others more personal (such as fewer sexual references). Tarkovsky made a few minor changes but left most of the film untouched. (He had intentionally shot additional footage for certain scenes in anticipation of the requested cuts by Russian authorities.) Surprisingly Solaris was given official approval and finally released at Cannes in 1972 where it won the Grand Prize of the Jury and the FIPRESCI Award. Like many of Tarkovsky's films, it fared much worse in the US where half an hour was cut before release. TCM, however, will be showing the restored, uncut version. It has been reported that Steven Soderbergh is currently working on a remake of Solaris with James Cameron as producer (he owns the rights) but no production date has been announced yet.
Producer: Viacheslav Tarasov
Director: Andrei Tarkovsky
Screenplay: Fridrikh Gorenshtein, Andrei Tarkovsky, based on the novel by Stanislaw Lem
Art Direction: Mikhail Romadin
Cinematography: Vadim Yusov
Costume Design: Yelena Fomina (listed as Nelli Fomina)
Film Editing: Lyuba Fejginova
Original Music: Eduard Artemyev
Principal Cast: Natalya Bondarchuk (Harey), Juri Jarvet (Snauth), Donatas Banionis (Kris), Anatoli Solonitsyn (Sartorius), Vladislav Dvorzhetsky (Burton).
BW & C-165m.
by Lang Thompson
Man was created by Nature in order to explore it. As he approaches Truth he is fated to Knowledge. All the rest is bullshit.- Dr. Sartorius
The movie is based on the novel by Polish author Stanislaw Lem.
A number of sources claimed that Soviet officials withheld the 165 minute version from export. Mosfilm did issue this version for export and subtitled prints were being shown in the United States in 1973.
This was the most widely seen of Andrei Tarkovsky's films outside of the Soviet Union. However, Tarkovsky himself reportedly considered it the least favorite of the films he directed.
A print was screen at the Cinema Village theater in New York City in the mid-1980's that combined an English-dubbed version of the film, with sequences from a Russian-language print. This version also featured cheesy, 1970's era titles. Around this time, this was considered the most complete version of 'Solaris' available in the United States. It was not until the re-opening of New York's Film Forum theatre in 1989, that the complete and uncut Russian-language version was shown theatrically in the States.
Released in United States 1976
Re-released in United States February 7, 1990
Re-released in United States September 6, 1990
Re-released in United States September 15, 2002
Re-released in United States November 22, 2002
Re-released in United States May 12, 2017
Released in United States on Video July 31, 1991
Released in United States November 1972
Released in United States September 2002
Released in United States 1976 (New York City)
Re-released in United States February 7, 1990 (Los Angeles)
Re-released in United States September 6, 1990 (New York City)
Re-released in United States September 15, 2002 (Walter Reade Theater; New York City)
Re-released in United States November 22, 2002 (Nuart; Los Angeles)
Re-released in United States May 12, 2017
Released in United States on Video July 31, 1991
Released in United States November 1972 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (Contemporary Cinema) November 9-19, 1972.)
Released in United States September 2002 (Shown in New York City (Walter Reade Theater) as part of "Tarkovsky at 70" retrospective September 13-27, 2002.)