A psychologist is sent to a station orbiting a distant planet in order to discover what has caused the crew to go insane.
The Solaris mission has established a base on a planet that appears to host some kind of intelligence, but the details are hazy and very secret. After the mysterious demise of one of the three scientists on the base, the main character is sent out to replace him. He finds the station run-down and the two remaining scientists cold and secretive. When he also encounters his wife who has been dead for ten years, he begins to appreciate the baffling nature of the alien intelligence.
Psychologist Kris Kelvin is sent to a space station orbiting the moon of a distant planet. Once built to hold over 80 people, the station now has only 3 occupants. The space station has long been a troublesome issue with many occupants suffering from delusions while there. Kelvin arrives to learn that one of the three, Gibarian, has died leaving only two others as inhabitants. Soon, Kelvin is also seeing things that cannot be.
Kris Kelvin is a renowned psychologist, about to head to the space station orbiting the planet Solaris. Several years earlier Solaris was the focal point of scientific research. Then a research party met with a fatal accident while exploring the surface and a member of the rescue party reported seeing strange apparitions. This dimmed the scientific community's interest in the planet to the extent that the space station's crew has decreased from 85 to only 3. When Dr Kelvin arrives he immediately senses that something strange is afoot.
This film probes man's thoughts and conscience, as it follows a psychologist who is sent to a space station situated over the mysterious Solaris Ocean. The two other scientists there tell the psychologist of strange occurrences in the station, and the Ocean's eerie ability to materialize their thoughts. After being in the station for a while, the psychologist finds himself becoming very attached to its alternate reality...
When the scientist Fechner disappears in the surface of the mysterious Solaris Ocean, the experienced helicopter pilot Henri Berton crosses a fog seeking out Fechner and has weird visions. His statement is presented to a commission of scientists that believe he had hallucinations. However, the widowed psychologist Kris Kelvin is assigned to the space station that orbits Solaris to check the mental health of the three remaining scientists that are still working there. He first meets Dr. Snaut, who tells him that Dr. Gibarian committed suicide, and later he meets Dr. Sartorius and he realizes that the scientists have strange behaviors. When he encounters his wife Hari, who died ten years ago, in the space station, the scientists explain to Kris that the Solaris Ocean has the ability to materialize the innermost thoughts in neutrons beings. Kris questions whether the appearance of his beloved wife is a curse or a blessing.
- This is the summary for the 169-minute English-subtitled dvd version.
During the opening credits, the chorale-prelude in F minor by Johann Sebastian Bach is playing.
Plants move gracefully through a flowing stream of water. A man, Chris Kelvin (Donatas Banionis), stands silently amidst lush plant life and a rippling lake, observing the living beauty of nature. He walks back through a field, past a lake next to a free-standing wooden house. He washes his hands in the lake as he hears a car approaching. An older man, Berton (Vladislav Dvorzhetskiy), and his young son (Vitalik Kerdimun) get out of the car and are greeted by Chris' father (Nikolay Grinko), who tells them that Chris makes an hour-long walk each morning. While the boy starts to play with a girl already present, inside the house, Berton explains he wants to discuss something with Chris: they are getting confusing messages from a station in orbit around the planet Solaris, to which Chris himself is scheduled to leave the next day. It begins to rain, but Chris remains outside, immersing himself in the falling drops with a background of singing birds and dripping water.
While drying himself in the house, Chris is shown an old video from Berton, one which his father has already seen many times. In the video, a board of inquiry discusses an exploration mission on the planet Solaris. After 24 days, two scientists, Vishnyakov and Fechner, went missing over an ocean in their air vehicle. Due to adverse weather conditions, a massive search was called off, only Berton's craft carried on. When Berton returned to base, he arrived in deep shock, refusing to get near the ocean ever again. The next part of the video shows a young Berton giving his testimony: due to the adverse flying conditions, his craft had entered an extremely dense fog bank. When he finally cleared the fog, he noticed the ocean became still and transparent. A boiling substance arose from the water, and reshaped into many forms and colors, among which an elaborate garden. A film is started, made by Berton's craft, briefly showing the planet's ocean and some boiling white foam, but to everyone's surprise, the rest of the footage shows only the fog that Berton mentioned. One of the scientists on the board mentions that the bio-magnetic current of the ocean, which is hypothesized to be the planet's cerebral system, may have interfered with the camera, but others imply that Berton may have been imagining things. The next part of the video shows an apprehensive Berton describing a twelve feet high shape of an unknown newborn infant appearing on the water surface. The scientists, however, explained away this experience as an elaborate hallucination caused by the atmospheric influence of the planet; however, one of the scientists, professor Messenger (Georgiy Teykh), contends this explanation, and calls for additional probing of the planet. It is implied by his argumentation that many years of study of the planet (called Solaristics) have actually yielded very little understanding of Solaris, as the researchers are painfully confronted with the limits of their knowledge. Despite professor Messenger's argumentation, the board decides to discontinue all research activities on the planet.
Berton stops the tape, stating that his story is still ridiculed. He requests to talk to Chris alone, and will be waiting outside. Chris' father laments that he and Chris have seen each other so little over the years, but Berton insisted on coming on this final day before Chris is leaving. Berton's son, playing outside, is scared by the sight of a horse, a species he has apparently never seen before. Chris goes outside to talk to Berton. Berton claims that Solaristics has stalled since all that is done is theorizing. Chris is not interested in speculations, only in facts; all research should either be stopped, or more extreme measures taken to advance the field of Solaristics, like bombarding the planet with high-intensity radiation. Berton disagrees, as he is concerned how immoral science could destroy the planet. When Chris says that all science is, in essence, immoral (referring to Hiroshima), and suggests that Berton may have indeed been hallucinating that day, Berton angrily leaves by car. Father berates Chris for his cold attitude towards Berton, and reminds him that Chris will probably not be back before his own father's funeral.
Chris' mother (Olga Barnet) is watching a program about Solaris; the ocean is still theorized to be a thinking substance, despite lack of conclusive evidence. Although there used to be place for 85 scientists at the station, all but three still remain: astrobiologist Sartorius, cyberneticist Snaut and physiologist Gibarian. The program is interrupted by a video call from Berton's car. Berton has one thing he wants Chris to know. After the incident, he and professor Messenger visited the widow and orphaned son of the deceased scientist Fechner. Fechner's son looked exactly the same as the child that Berton saw on Solaris' surface. Chris is listening in from the next room. Berton disconnects the call, and during his long car ride through a futuristic city, he seems mesmerized and visibly haunted by memories.
Back at his parents' home, Chris is burning all books and papers related to his research which he no longer needs. He will be taking some personal videos. Chris' mother is crying as he puts a picture of a young woman in the fire. He makes one final round through the house as the horse walks by.
Chris makes the trip to the planet, finally arriving at the circular space station that hovers miles above the ocean surface. Once inside the landing bay, there is no one to greet him. He proceeds, to find that the station is in disarray: wires are sticking out of the walls, some of the panels seem to be short-circuiting, and there is junk everywhere. He sees the door to Dr. Snaut's quarters, but there is no response to his knocking. He looks down a hall, and sees a human figure walking away; a children's ball is rolling towards him. He then finds Snaut (Jüri Järvet) in another room, singing. Snaut seems startled at the sight of Kelvin. He tells Chris that Sartorius is in his quarters, and Gibarian is dead by suicide. Chris knows Gibarian and is skeptical, but Snaut says Gibarian was suffering from a profound depression since an unnamed mysterious disorder began. Chris insists on meeting with Sartorius, but Snaut replies that Sartorius is in his lab and is unlikely to let Chris in. He shows Chris out, urging him to pick a room and come back tomorrow; he also warns him not to lose his head if he sees other people on board, but refuses to elaborate. Just before the door closes, Chris sees another man lying in a make-shift hammock.
After picking a room, Chris goes to Gibarian's quarters. There is a child's drawing titled "human being" on the door. Gibarian's room is a giant mess, but there is a note addressed to Kelvin taped to a video screen. Chris starts the video and sees a recording of Gibarian (Sos Sargsyan) speaking to him. Gibarian assumes that the others have already informed Chris about his death. He has a warning for Chris, but can't explain what is happening; he fears it is only the beginning, and everyone will be affected. He assures Chris he has not gone mad; as for the research, he agrees with Sartorius that they can only break this deadlock and communicate with the planet by bombarding its oceans with high-powered X-rays, before it draws Chris in too. The door of the apartment starts to open; Chris becomes anxious, getting aware of another presence, takes the recording out and goes into the hallway towards the lab. He is drawn to a window and looks outside, but there is nothing in the vast darkness of space. He proceeds to the lab and knocks on the door, trying to reason with the doctor. Sartorius (Anatoliy Solonitsyn) agrees to come out, on the condition that Chris not enter. Sartorius is as nervous as Snaut, mentioning that Gibarian may just be the first victim. He had expressed his wish to be buried on Earth, in the dirt. Sartorius mentions that Fechner died a magnificent death in his search for truth, whereas Gibarian died a coward. Chris scoffs that such courage is mere inhumanity. Suddenly, the lab door opens and a dwarf runs out; Sartorius quickly picks him up and puts him back into the lab, stating that Kelvin is overemotional and should adapt.
Kelvin leaves, noting that the windows, which were dark just before, are suddenly filled with light. Through them, he can see the ocean swirling below. A young woman in a short vest (Olga Kizilova) suddenly passes him by. He follows her through the station into a refrigerated room where he finds the dead body of Gibarian on a slab. He leaves again and returns to Dr. Snaut's quarters, telling him about his unfriendly talk with Sartorius. Chris asks if there are more people on the station, and if the young woman he saw was real; Snaut seems paranoid and asks Chris if he himself is real, refusing to answer more questions. Chris assures the doctor he doesn't believe him to be insane, but Snaut retorts that insanity would actually be a blessing.
Chris leaves to his quarters, barricading the door from the inside. He resumes Gibarian's video message, in which the doctor voices his suspicions that the others think he is going mad. The young woman who Chris saw aboard appears next to Gibarian, but he pushes her away. He makes a paranoid impression, expressing his fear of the other two doctors and saying he 'has to do it'. When Snaut and Sartorius are heard knocking on the door in the video, urging Gibarian to come out, Gibarian picks up a syringe. He states he has not gone mad, his conscience is simply torturing him, implying the girl has something to do with it. He finally laments that Chris did not come earlier and stops the recording. Chris lies down on the bed, keeping a gun next to him, falling asleep. When he wakes up, he finds a woman (Natalya Bondarchuk) sitting in a chair nearby. She wears a mantle which she takes off, and puts it over a chair. She walks over to him and they kiss, but Chris is confused, unable to believe what he sees and asks her how she found him. The woman seems unaware of any problem with her presence. She finds a framed picture of herself among Chris belongings, and only realizes it is her while looking in the mirror. She seems not to remember having this picture taken. She asks if he loves her, but Chris, calling her 'Hari', says she already knows that. He asks her to stay behind for a short while, but she wants to stay with him at all times, despite his objections. She says he is as nervous as Snaut, confusing Chris even further. He invites her along, but asks her to put on a suit. She asks him for help with her dress: Chris finds that the dress won't open, and there is a tear in it at the arm, with a puncture mark in Hari's skin. He uses scissors to cut the dress open. Hari notices Chris' anxiousness as he sees that his door is still barricaded from the inside.
Chris takes Hari to the landing bay, where he readies a rocket from the station for departure. He urges her to enter it first under the pretense that he has to enter last to close it. After she has entered, he quickly traps her inside and starts the lift-off sequence. Despite her screams and pleas, Chris tries to leave but finds that he is locked inside the room. He tries to take cover underneath a blanket, but sustains some burns on his suit and face from the launch. Disturbed by his own action, he returns to his room and douses himself under a shower. Snaut enters, implying that he knows Chris had company and probing him about his response to the event. He seems to know fully well what Chris did with Hari and tells him not to panic 'next time'. Chris tells him the woman had died 10 years earlier. According to Snaut, she was a manifestation of his perception of her. The manifestations started after an experiment where X-rays were applied to the surface of the ocean. Snaut says that Chris is fortunate that his manifestation is a figure from the past, because it can also be an imagined person. Apparently, the ocean has probed the scientists' minds and extracted isolated parts of memory from it; more Haris will probably appear. Chris asks why Snaut did not warn him this would happen, but Snaut replies he would not have believed him anyway. Chris admits he was scared and acted wrongly, but quickly focuses on his task of liquidating the station, asking for Snaut's support. Snaut implies that this encounter with Hari is just what Chris may have always wanted. He attaches some paper to the air vents, an idea of Gibarian to simulate the sounds of leafs, as on Earth. He urges Chris to rest and meet him in the library later, to give him some books.
Chris goes to sleep and has vivid dreams. He awakens thinking Snaut has entered the room. However, it is Hari who is back. She takes a pair of scissors and opens her dress herself, and puts her mantle over the chair, seemingly not surprised by the mantle and dress already present. Chris takes her in bed and acts as if everything is normal. Sometime later, Chris takes her mantle and dress, and exits the room, leaving Hari sleeping. He closes the door, but Hari immediately starts to pound on it from the other side, pushing herself through the metal door and severely lacerating herself. Chris quickly stuffs the dress and mantle in a corner and carries Hari onto a bed. He picks up something to tend to her wounds, but to his astonishment, the wounds on her arms have already closed within seconds. She sits upright and says that she panicked when she noticed that Chris was not around. There is a call on the phone from Snaut: he asks about the situation and says that Sartorius has summoned everyone to the laboratory. Hari has also noticed that her wounds have already healed, and is deeply disturbed by it.
Snaut and Sartorius see Chris approaching as he shows Hari around the station. He lets her introduce herself. Sartorius explains that, while people are made of atoms, the Visitors are made out of neutrinos. Neutrino systems are inherently unstable, so the planet must send out a magnetic field that keeps them stable. Sartorius calls Hari an 'excellent specimen', but Chris really considers her his wife. Sartorius suggests that Chris take a blood sample from his so-called 'wife' to clarify some things.
Chris finds out that Hari's blood keeps regenerating itself, as if she is immortal. Sartorius implies that Chris should try an autopsy on Hari, reasoning that the Visitors are inferior to lower animals on Earth. Chris is shocked, indicating that Hari feels pain as any human being, and warning Sartorius to stay away from her. Sartorius admits that he is somewhat jealous of the emotional contact between Chris and his Visitor. Chris sarcastically comments that this makes him feel guilty, and leaves.
The liquid surface of Solaris is swirling violently. Chris shows Hari a home video made by himself and his father. It shows Chris as a boy, a woman and a man in a snowy landscape around their house. The film jumps several years ahead, showing an teenage Chris and his mother in the same setting during spring. It then shows Hari in winter, wearing the same dress and mantle as the Visitor Hari. After the film is finished, Hari looks in a mirror and says she does not know herself; as soon as she closes her eyes, she cannot remember her face. She suddenly remembers that the woman in the video hated her. Chris tries to assure her that this woman already died before he met Hari, but Hari is not fooled, as she remembers vividly how the woman told her to leave the house. Chris reveals that after that event, he was transferred for his work, and Hari refused to come with him; something she also remembers.
Hari sleeps, but Chris can't. Snaut knocks on the door, and while bandaging his hand, he tells Chris that the rate of regeneration has slowed down, so they will be rid of the Visitors for 2 or 3 hours. He reasons that since Solaris extracts the Visitors from the scientists' minds during sleep, they should send their waking thoughts towards the planet by X-rays, which will hopefully stop the apparitions. Although Chris does not like the experiments with X-rays, Snaut proposes modulating the beam with the brain waves of Chris. However, Chris fears that the planet may read that he wants to get rid of Hari, and it will kill her. Both men do not realize that Hari is awake and hears everything. Snaut mentions that Sartorius is working on another project, something called the 'Annihilator', which can destroy neutrino systems. Chris feels this is blackmail, to get him to cooperate with the brain wave project. In order to make up, Snaut mentions tomorrow is his birthday, and that all are invited. He notices that it is worrying that Hari already knows how to sleep. He invites Chris to come with him to Sartorius, leaving Hari to sleep. As Chris leaves, Hari seems to sob under her blanket. At the lab, Chris suddenly says he forgot something, and returns to his quarters. He grabs Hari, hugs her passionately and asks her to forgive him. They kiss as clouds roll over the liquid surface of Solaris.
Hari is standing next to the bed as Chris is waking up. She is apparently confused about her origin and claims Chris does not love her. Chris does not understand, so she explains that the real Hari poisoned herself, meaning she must be someone else. She is saddened that it Sartorius who told her the night before, and not Chris himself, and she does not want to continue this way, fearing for Chris' well-being. She asks him to tell her about the real Hari. Chris explains that at the end of their relationship, they quarreled a lot, and Chris left, even though he often thought of her. Chris implies that Hari threatened with suicide, but he left anyway, until he remembered that he had left an experimental liquid in the fridge. He went back, but Hari had already injected herself with this poisonous liquid. Visitor Hari is distressed when she sees a needle mark on her arm as well. She asks Chris why real Hari did it; Chris believes that she incorrectly thought he did not love her anymore. Visitor Hari says how much she loves him; he urges her to sleep, but she says that even her sleep feels unreal.
In the library, everyone is waiting for Snaut. Sartorius, who is immersed in his books, says Snaut may be delayed due to more Visitors. Snaut arrives an hour and a half late, much to Sartorius' chagrin, and once again makes a very incoherent impression. He hands Chris a book from a pile for him to read out loud, while giving Hari a kiss on her hand. It is an excerpt from Don Quixote, where Sancho praises the blessings of sleep. Sartorius proposes a toast to Snaut's courage and devotion to science. Snaut responds that science is a fraud, and claims their present scientific problem won't be solved. He says mankind has no ambition to conquer the cosmos; Man simply wants to extend Earth's borders, wanting no others worlds, but only mirrors to see his own in. Attempts at contact with extraterrestrials is doomed to fail, as the goal is one mankind fears and does not need: "Man needs Man", he concludes. Instead, he proposes a toast to Gibarian, who was fearful. Chris does not agree, stating that he thinks Gibarian committed suicide because he thought he was alone in what happened to him, seeing no other way out. Sartorius counters this, claiming that nature created Man to gain knowledge in search of truth; he criticizes Chris for only showing interest in lying in bed with his ex-wife all day, and Gibarian for being contemptible. Snaut quickly quells the argument. Hari is visibly disturbed by the exchange of words; she claims that Chris is the only one displaying some humanity under inhumane conditions, whereas the other two do not seem to care and regard their Visitors as external enemies. She claims the Visitors are their conscience, and Chris may indeed love her, or show a humane reaction at the very least, unlike the others, who she resents. Sartorius becomes confrontational again, questioning her right of existence, as the real Hari is dead and she is a mere reproduction or copy. Hari acknowledges this, but says she is becoming human; she can feel and love, and can exist independent from Chris. She walks away, hurt by Sartorius' cruel words, and knocks over a chandelier. She tries to take a drink, but cannot swallow it, breaking down in tears. Chris tries to comforts her, much to Sartorius' disgust, who leaves. Snaut says that all the quarreling makes them loose their humanity and dignity. In tears, Hari says that each of them is human in his own way, and thats why they quarrel. Chris thanks Snaut for his continuing kindness. Snaut is inebriated; he says he is completely worn out and starts a walk with Chris. He says that he is entitled to get drunk for all the sacrifices he has made for the mission. He likens Sartorius with Faust, as he is seeking a way against immortality. They walk through the station, Snaut singing and talking gibberish about communicating with the planet. Chris wants to return as he left Hari alone in the library. Snaut warns him that the station is shifting orbit, so there will be 30 seconds of weightlessness at 1700 hours.
Chris returns to the library, finding Hari sitting and smoking, lost in thoughts. She thinks of voices as she looks intensely at a painting in the library, depicting a lively winter landscape back on Earth. She has a brief memory of Chris as a boy, standing in the snow as well. Chris awakens her from her trance. Objects as well as Chris and Hari start to float due to weightlessness. They share a short moment of happiness amidst the art in the room as the gravity comes back.
The planet surface starts to make boiling movements. There is a sound of something shattering as Chris finds Hari lying dead on the floor in the main corridor, having immersed herself with liquid oxygen. When Snaut enters the corridor, Chris tells him she killed herself out of desperation. Snaut says that it will get worse as she gets more human from being around Chris. Chris intends to wait until she revives, but Snaut warns him that Hari cannot live outside the station. Chris says he has no choice, as he loves her, but Snaut tells him that what he loves is just a scientific anomaly that can be endlessly regenerated, and implies he should do something about it. As he leaves, he says he could never get used to the continuous resurrections. The shock of the revival is apparently agonizing for Hari, as she convulses and realizes to her horror that she is alive again. Chris tries to calm her down, assuring that even if her presence is a torment from the ocean, she means more to him than all science ever could; but Hari goes into hysterics, repeating that she should not exist. Snaut suddenly runs past them with a box.
Clouds evaporate from the swirling ocean. Chris puts Hari on the bed, and assures her he will stay with her on the station. They embrace and Chris falls asleep. He awakens, soaked in sweat. As if in a dream-like state, he wanders through the central corridor, finding Snaut looking outside. He says that the ocean seems to be more active due to Chris encephalogram. Chris makes some incoherent philosophical remarks about life, souls and suffering, and the nature of love as something inexplicable and perhaps the reason of human existence. Apparently feverish, he stumbles on, supported by Hari and Snaut. He surmises Gibarian did not actually die out of fear, but out of shame. "The salvation of humanity is in its shame", he proclaims. He is put to bed and has feverish dreams of his parental home, Hari, his mother as a young woman and his dog aboard the station. He has a conversation with his young mother in her home, as if he has just returned to Earth. The painting in the station's library is hanging on a wall in the house, and there are plastic sheets covering some of the walls. Chris tells her he almost forgot her face, and says he is unhappy and alone; his mother asks why he never called them. She asks him why he is seemingly neglecting himself. She notices stains on his arm, which she washes off. The reunion causes Chris to cry. He then awakens to the sound of Snaut boiling water. Snaut gives him a letter, saying Hari is gone. Snaut reads out her letter: she is sorry for deceiving Chris, but she saw no other solution. It was her decision, and none of the others are to blame. Snaut adds that she did it for him. Chris is shocked and asked how it went. Apparently, the Annihilator caused an explosion of light, and then a breath of wind. Chris tearfully reminds himself of all his quarrels with her the past few days, and asks why they are so tormented. Snaut replies that it is because Mankind, unlike his primitive ancestors, has lost his believe in greater Cosmic powers, and draws a parallel with the myth of Sisyphus (a Greek king punished by the Gods for his treachery and cruelty by having to do a task that he could never complete). Since Chris' encephalogram was sent down to the planet, the Visitors have stopped appearing, and now, islands are appearing on the ocean's surface. Chris believes that the planet may finally understand them now.
Chris and Snaut continue their philosophical talk in the library. Chris asks if Snaut feels a clear link with the life below after so many years on the station. Snaut cryptically remarks that the meaning of life and other eternal questions only interest unhappy people, and such questions should be asked at the end of one's life; Chris still sees Hari's cloak hanging on a chair, and mentions mankind is always in a hurry since they never know when their life will end. The happiest people are the ones who never ask such questions; we question life to seek meaning, yet to preserve all the simple human truths like happiness, death and love, we need mysteries. Not knowing the date of your death practically makes one immortal.
As clouds roll by, Chris is immersed in thought, narrating that his mission is over. There is now the option to go back to Earth and let everything be normal again, to resume his life. But he also thinks that is no longer a reasonable option. The other possibility is to stay, even for an imaginary possibility of contact with the ocean, which his race is desperately trying to attain. And perhaps hoping for Hari to return. But he has no more hope and can only wait for a new miracle.
In the station, Snaut tells Chris that he thinks it is time for Chris to return to Earth. Chris questions this opinion, smiles and looks at the box which Snaut was carrying earlier. It contains a growing plant.
Once again, plants are gracefully moving through a flowing stream of water. Chris is back on his parents' land, observing the lake which is frozen. He returns to the house where his dog is running to him. The fire outside where he burnt his books is still smoking. Looking inside the house, there is water dripping inside the living room. Chris' father is sorting books; as he moves under the drops of water, smoke comes off him. The old man notices Chris and goes outside. As Chris gets on his knees and hugs his father, the camera pulls back through the swirling clouds, revealing that the house, the lake and the surrounding land are lying on a small island amidst the vast ocean on Solaris.