I never saw this film, or the 2002 remake with George Clooney (which is what everyone I spoke to thought I was watching today). I also honestly didn't know anything about the story at all, so it was nice to go into it totally blind. I always heard that it was some sort of vaguely important or famous movie, but otherwise, I knew nothing about it. I like it when that happens, and you can actually watch a movie without any thoughts about it yet.
The movie is a long, psychological journey, focusing on Kris Kelvin, a psychologist tasked to go figure out what's going on aboard a space station researching the planet Solaris. Kelvin heads out after one of the scientists dies mysteriously, and the other remaining two are creepy and secretive. Things feel off about everything, especially when Kelvin discovers that his wife, who has been dead for years, is on the space station with them. I want to keep this vague, because I thought it was so nice to see this movie without knowing any part of the plot, and it was so fun to see something that genuinely felt so new - I don't want to spoil too much of it!
It was for sure hard to watch this movie because of the length and pace of the movie, but I can't imagine it without those things. Part of what I loved about this movie was that it was an experience to watch. I felt like I was in the space station with Kelvin, and I felt like I was really experiencing the weirdness of the planet. The pace was not what myself or most people are used to watching, but it captured what the pace of life was on the space station. Ultimately, the awesome feat of making me experience what it might be like to be on a space station with my dead wife was, to put it simply, was worth how difficult it was to watch this movie.
I thought it just had such a great atmosphere and tone. There were so many unsettling scenes with Kelvin and his wife. She always seemed to just appear in frames when the camera would pass by, sometimes with an eerie blank expression on her face. I actually felt sort of sick during the scene where she "resurrects" after being frozen from drinking liquid oxygen. It was great acting, but it was helped by how the camera lingered on these moments. It didn't rush anything or pull away, there was no editing to try to up the excitement or emotion - we were just observers, and I loved that aspect of the movie.
I really liked the story, too. I can't really talk about too much, but the idea of it was simply incredible. It brings up really interesting concepts and ideas that I can't stop thinking about, even now, when I'd rather just be in bed. Vague spoiler - later in the film we find out that it's not really Kelvin's wife - Solaris has the ability to materialize people's memories and feelings. This is so interesting to just contemplate. Is his wife not real because she is just composed of his memories of her? Ebert brings up the point that sometimes we are more in love with the our idea of someone than the actual person. Does this make his wife real? Is she actually a more ideal lover for him now, or is it worse? Can she feel? Does that change things? I love this. I love science fiction that is moody and meandering and pensive, and this movie certainly fits the bill.
It reminded me a bit of 2001: A Space Odyssey, but also of one of my favorite more recent films, Moon. If you like movies like this, you'll probably like Solaris if you haven't seen it already. As much as I loved this movie, I can see it being tough to watch and unlikeable. It's not an easy style to watch, for sure, and I won't lie and say that I didn't struggle to sit through some of it myself. For me, the ending, the plot, and the whole tone of the film was worth it for me. I was frustrated while watching it, but once it ended, I was just in awe of what the director had done that I didn't care how annoyed I had been. But I'm a pretty big film dork, and not everyone is going to be happy they spent 3 hours of their life just so they could experience a unique tone, you know? It's streaming on Hulu, so if you check this movie out, let me know!
Have any thoughts on Solaris? Share them in the comments!
Ebert's Great Movie Essay on Solaris
Buy it on Amazon