Solaris came out in the year 1972 and was the third film of the legendary director Andrei Tarkovsky. Similar to his other films, Solaris was a meditation on humanity and asked several questions such as what it means to be human. With a running duration of 166 minutes, the picture has a significant number of extended takes that put the audience’s patience to the test.
Solaris vs. 2001: A Space Odyssey
Many people consider Solaris as “The Russian answer to 2001” when in reality, the films could not be more different. Kubrick’s 2001 tells an epic story of humanity from its dawn to the time it’s capable of reaching the far reaches of the universe. It’s a positive outlook on space exploration and shows western expansion as an integral part of our evolution.
On the other hand, Solaris takes an opposite approach to 2001 and shows a man diving deep into himself. The film is an exploration of the unknown in us all and the horrors of the space of our consciousness. It also deeply explores certain questions, such as what makes us human. The disconnect from nature humanity faces as technology gets more prevalent is another theme in the film.
The premise of Solaris unfolds from the eyes of its protagonist, Kris Kelvin. The film begins by showing Kris as a brash man who is rather insensitive towards others. He’s tasked with traveling to the space station near the planet Solaris and judging whether the mission to explore the planet stays active or not. From there, we see several tropes that have been used in several space horror flicks. The space station is entirely empty save for two cosmonauts, with one dead cosmonaut and an air of eerie and paranormal everywhere.
A sense of unease starts forming up in our minds, and we soon see Kris’s dead wife, Hari, alive again and in front of him. Kris quickly pushes her into a rocket and throws her out of the station. From here, we understand what exactly is wrong with the mission. The planet is actually a sentient being, which can create beings from the minds of the cosmonauts. Due to this, the cosmonauts get driven insane. We even see Kris collapsing into his own grief and guilt as he interacts with Hari more and more.
In conclusion – What Solaris tells us about ourselves
Every film needs a conflict, and Solaris has several of them, with them ranging from the inner conflict of Kris to the thematic conflicts such as individual vs. collective. Through these conflicts, we get a reflection of our own consciousness. Hari’s manifestation forces Kris to confront his guilt about Hari’s death, and in turn, also his views about humanity. Throughout the film, we question whether Hari is real or not, and if she is, what exactly makes her real? Is it just her being in a body like everyone else, or is it because Kris deems her as real?
No correct answer is given to the audience in the Solaris to any of the questions, probably because no correct answer actually exists. Maybe this entire conflict of our consciousness that the film presents is the correct answer, and maybe questioning its veracity is what distinguishes any of us.