Solaris (1971) Poster


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had to watch it twice
Mrs Rainbow19 January 1999
I'm just starting out into the vast world of foreign film and having seen this film on many a video store shelf, and knowing that it was considered a sci-fi classic, I thought it would be a good way to spend an evening. Based on the case I was expecting something along the line of typical American sci-fi. Needless to say I was wrong.

I watched Solyaris twice in two days, because the first time I saw it I knew that I hadn't processed even a quarter of what I knew was there. I was taken completely aback. The second viewing was extremely rewarding.

It was unusual for me, raised as I was on the sledgehammer moralizing and we'll make our point so obvious that there's no way you can miss it because we have no respect for your intelligence way of American film. I'm a huge literature buff, and this was one of the very few films I've confronted that is thoughtful and has so many things to say yet does it in a literary or poetic fashion.

You will get out of this film what you bring to it. I've been to so many movies where the audience is not actually participating, it's being attacked. But true art is not domineering; it woos you.

So to sum up, I greatly appreciated Tarkovsky's unwillingness to manipulate the viewer. It showed that he had respect for me as a thinking soul, and it is this love and respect for humanity which makes this a truly great film.
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A dream-like examination of love and first contact
sowr11 March 2001
Two truths drive this film: the inadequacy of human-kind to understand the Universe, and the inadequacy of human-kind to understand the human heart.

As such, using Lem's original idea, Tarkovsky successfully, explores these themes.

We are drawn in, through hauntingly beautiful imagery, to the internal struggles of Kris Kelvin as he attempts to understand feelings of love for his suicided wife, who has been mysteriously resurrected, presumably as an attempt by Solaris to communicate, or torture.

Of course Solaris is probably the most original alien ever concocted, (no phone-homes here) and as must be, utterly enigmatic and beyond communication.

Be warned, this film is very long, and sometimes slow, but for those who consider themselves science fiction addicts, it is a must view.

One of the top 5 sci-fi films of all time.
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"Nobody loves poetry like a Russian!"
OttoVonB7 October 2005
This line from Dr Zhivago says all you have to know about Tarkovsky. He was a thinker and a poet. An artist who's work was at once smart, engaging and aesthetically beautiful! Solaris is a world that materialized thoughts and absorbs creatures into its own consciousness. "Solaris" is an allegory on man's place in the universe, the twisted concept of reality, the meaning of love, grief and - ultimately - life. Psychiatrist Kris Kelvin goes to the station orbiting the planet-entity to assess whether the madness of it's occupants means all exploration should be discontinued. What he finds there are all the demons he has brought with him. You the viewer shall experience the same thing, for Solaris is an inviting and questioning but never manipulative film. What you'll get out of it depends on what you bring with you.

Solaris is often accused of being slow. This is a common misinterpretation: Solaris makes you anxious, and willingly so. Too many segments are like mirrors that invite your mind to venture off into many uncomfortable a place (the traffic scene comes to mind: an allegory for the space voyage but also for fading life and powerlessness). Solaris also makes you fear, with a sense that something isn't quite right and as with the best horror films, what you dread often isn't even on screen. Solaris makes you heart ache on several occasions as well. It makes you miss loved ones and it makes you feel homesick. every additional minute that separates you from the gorgeous opening shots of nature makes you long for Earth.

Solaris is many things but above all it is simply more than entertainment: it is a voyage for the senses, like a favorite song that binds countless disconnected feelings and thoughts. It is a poem.
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A unique experience
vbertola7 January 2006
It's now been some years since I last watched it. Still, I can't get rid of the impressions of emptiness, absurdity and impossibility to understand (the world, and the human mind) that this movie left into me. It can be violent to your mind, without showing a single violent image (by the way, I often see this movie as a counterpart to Clockwork Orange, even more than to 2001). It can stun you, with ten or twenty minutes of incomprehensible silence. It can deprive you of any certainty in the laws of nature - such as, people only die once - and thus leave you vulnerable and naked.

I know that many friends to whom I've shown this move did not understand it. So I'm not saying you'll like it. But this is possibly the best (non-action) sci-fi movie ever made.

Watch it at night, alone, when everything out of your home is dark, silent, and cold.
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One of the best
McGonigle16 June 2003
This has to be one of the best science fiction movies ever produced. Not because it's filled with gee-whiz gizmos or creepy aliens (it isn't) but because it actually gives you something to think about besides "I wonder how much they spent on *that* shot". When I was a kid, I used to love reading sci-fi because it stimulated my imagination, but as I grew up (especially once "Star Wars" came out), I found that it was harder and harder to find anything remotely resembling imagination or mystery in the genre.

Well, this movie has restored my faith in what is possible to achieve under the guise of "sci-fi" (obviously, it's older than "Star Wars", but I didn't see it until years later, when I had basically written off the whole idea of science fiction movies). I saw it 10-15 years ago when it was re-released in the USA and liked it then, but seeing it again recently has convinced me that this is an all-time classic. As I said, it actually stimulates thought (rare enough in most sci-fi movies), but on top of that, it has a real and profound emotional impact that's far beyond what you find in most "dramas", let alone "kid stuff" like sci-fi. If this movie is intended to be an "answer" to "2001" (I'm not convinced that it is), the main contrast is that "Solaris" concerns itself with real human emotions, whereas the most interesting character in "2001" is the computer.

For those who complain that it's boring, just go see something else. You'll obviously never get it. If the opening shot of water and plant life didn't tip you off to the fact that this movie is intentionally paced a little bit more deliberately than, say, "Buckaroo Banzai", then you should go out and try to get some sort of clue before watching this movie. It's not boring... it's SLOW. It's *meant* to be slow. Some of the scenes exist solely to set a mood, not to advance the plot. If you can't handle that, then this isn't the movie or you. But if you're able to sit still for 3 hours without squirming, and if you're able to enjoy a movie without having every idea spelled out in giant neon letters, then you just might like "Solaris", and find that it haunts you for years to come.
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If a Soul has been given to us then maybe our existence only make sense in retrieving it.
auberus10 August 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Some films are intellectually challenging. Some films need to be thought about afterward. Some films deserve to be re-watched. Solyaris might be among those films as it is in the same time challenging, intriguing and scary. Countless reviews have been written on Solyaris; needless to say lots of them present a feasible explanation for the film.

I am proposing my explanation of Solyaris. Not in the details but in the principle. I don't pretend to understand Mr. Tarkovsky better than others I just think this movie deserves to be understood and I hope my view of this film if not exact will help others understand it and why not appreciate it.

Often and wrongly presented as Mr. Tarkovsky answer to 2001 A Space Odyssey, Solyaris was undeniably an answer from at the time the USRR to the western World and his cinema emissary Mr. Stanley Kubrick. Even if Mr. Tarkovsky was in awe at the technical achievement that "2001 A Space Odyssey" represented in 1968 he was nonetheless in disagreement with Mr. Kubrick's view of Mankind quest for Truth integrating too much Technology and not enough Humanity. As a result Solyaris might very well be the most humanist science fiction story ever put on film.

Stanislaw Lem's novel provided Mr. Tarkovsky with an opportunity to propose his view on this universal and infinite quest for Truth. Mr. Tarkovsky's goal was also to transcend the genre of science fiction as per him a director can not limit himself to a genre. This is one of the many reasons why Solyaris is a difficult film as the audience's references to the sci fi genre are drastically shaken.

Right from the beginning we understand that the story is not going to be an easy one to grasp: the cosmonaut Kris Kelvin receives the mission to reach the space station orbiting the intriguing Solyaris, an ocean like planet. His prerogative is to investigate strange events occurring on the orbital station from where the remaining scientists are observing this ocean. One of them Dr. Gibarian has committed suicide and the other two remaining (Dr. Snouth and Sartorius) are haunting by visions coming straight from their respective past. Soon Kelvin understands that the planet is an intelligent being and is materializing these memories. But when he is confronting with the recreation of his deceased wife Hari, his belief and certitude start to be shaken and never will be recovered…the problem is, ours too…

As Professor Messenger said in the first chapter the protagonists of the films "are probing the very frontier of human knowledge" but is it proper to artificially establish a knowledge frontier? "By thinking it we are limiting our concept of infinity of Man's knowledge" and therefore we forbid ourselves to comprehend events beyond that frontier. In that perspective the risk is not technological failure but the failure of our mind. The consequence is a profoundly childish but nonetheless human reaction: an attempt to destroy that which we aren't capable of understanding in short, the planet Solyaris.

The appearance of the guest Hari created by the Solyaris Ocean reflects on the overall dynamic. Since Kris Kelvin does not understand the reason and the possibility of Hari's presence on the station, he wants to get rid of her by sending her away in a rocket. But when a recreated Hari reappears during the following evening provoking Kelvin's introspection, she by her very presence forces Kelvin to face Truth about himself. However in the same time she allows Redemption. Often left aside, the notion of True Love as a medium for Redemption of the Soul is a theme very much anchored in Solyaris. "Guest" Hari is clearly not Kris Kelvin wife rather a subconscious projection of his own needs of her. Dr. Sartorius's experiment has proved that appearing "Guests" on the station are made of neutrinos elements stabilized by Solyaris force field. However as Hary developed memories, she appears as the most human being among the crew. The cybernetic expert, Dr. Snouth is trapped in his incomprehension of Solyaris, the astrobiologist Sartorius is obsessed by his quest for Knowledge not understanding that pursuing knowledge for the sake of knowledge is indeed vain. The physiologist Gibarian can't reconcile grief and false resurrection. As per Kelvin he seems to be in denial eventually considering Hary as an opportunity to heal his soul.

Stripped of Memories and understanding the impact on the crew and their so called "Human Soul" also because of her genuine Love for Kelvin, Hari chooses to commit suicide as if fatality was inherent to human Destiny. By this very act of sacrifice and ultimate Love, she gives birth to her soul. At the end of the movie and through one of the most enigmatic "zoom in" in history of cinema we understand that an island has formed on the surface of Solyaris. We see Kelvin reconciling with his Past as if the Planet will allow him a second chance, a chance to be Human…

With the film Solyaris Tarkovsky seems to whisper in our ears that Humanity is not bound to a place but to an act. The planet Solyaris creates from dreams and memories and is strangely echoing Men's creations process (eg. Kelvin father's Will of rebuilding his childhood house as per his memory).

The film embarks us in the Search for Ultimate Truth but if this Truth is beyond our comprehension it might be because we are searching in the wrong place. Maybe Truth is hidden inside our very self. If so then finding it is confronting our very Soul. So in essence if a Soul has been given to us then maybe our existence only make sense in retrieving it. In "Voyage in Time" (an autobiographical documentary) Andrei Tarkovsky said he viewed Solyaris as unsuccessful. Allow me to disagree.
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The magic of not knowing where we're going....
mu-kau22 March 2006
Like the majority of reviewers here, I rate this film as one of the most profound viewing experiences I can remember. While the IMDb guidelines recommend avoiding reference to specific reviews of Solaris within this section, I strongly believe that there is much to be learnt about this movie by evaluating those reviews as a whole.

This is clearly either a love or a hate movie. Those who love it describe in detail its effect on them, the feelings it evokes, its significance and the depth of its philosophical enquiry. Those who hate it largely describe it as too slow-paced; boring.

What matters to me about this film which I first watched as mesmerised 15 year old is that it is almost entirely the antithesis of Classical Hollywood cinema. It came from behind the Iron Curtain (that dark place whose strange and hidden 'otherness' has, like the plot of any modern movie, now also been laid wide open by capitalist 'democracy'). Its actors were unknown - more like real people than the celebrities the West populates its movies with. Its pace was slow, mesmeric, hypnotic and atmospheric. It was completely free of the kind of 'good triumphs over evil' motif that riddles Hollywood film-making, where 'good' is white-ness, wealth, youth, Westernness and so on.

The pleasure of Solaris was that I didn't know what I was watching. I didn't know who I was watching. I didn't know the culture it reflected and - most importantly - I didn't know what was going to happen.

Perhaps its only in re-watching the 1971 Solaris that it becomes apparent to me that somewhere along the way we have been stripped of the right to not know; robbed of the true narrative thrill of being led into the dark, magical forest of the unknown.
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There's something about this movie, I just can't put my finger on it...
Movie-Man-Bob26 May 2005
The thing that generally stands out most about this movie is that it is long. Very long. And Russian. Very Russian.

It raises a lot of interesting questions about the nature of humanity, conscience, love, etc. which, honestly, I'd never thought to ask before, and don't care enough to answer now that they HAVE been asked. (Will Shame really save humanity? Who knows? Maybe. How will it do that? Haven't a clue. Now what's for lunch?) That's not to say I didn't like the movie. I did. It's very beautifully shot, such that I think it would be worth purchasing, even if I never sit through the whole thing again, just so that I can have scenes like "City of the Future" on hand as a reference for my own film-making endeavors.

Speaking of which: "City of the Future" is a very long scene consisting entirely of one character driving through the streets of Japan. It's supposed to look like, well, a city of the future, but to modern American audiences, it won't very much. It just looks like a guy driving his car through a series of tunnels, and past a series of skyscrapers, as day turns gradually into night. It goes on for five minutes.

But here's the thing, the paradox of this film: It didn't bother me that there is a five minute sequence consisting of nothing but shots of traffic. In fact, I loved it. It's an amazing scene, really quite beautiful in its own way. And a lot of the film is like that. It's slow and confusing, but still, it's never boring. Even once Kelvin gets aboard the Space Station, wherein 90% of the decor looks exactly the same. It's still fascinating to look at.

And the weird thing is, I can't figure out why. I mean, when I tried to watch 2001, another very long, beautifully shot movie set largely in space... I was bored literally to tears in the first 10 minutes, and had to shut it off. (No offense to fans of the film; I realize how incredibly crass I am for failing to recognize the genius of 2001. It's something I will just have to come to terms with on my own.) But for some reason, while watching Solaris, even when absolutely nothing was happening, I could not tear my eyes away. I have the strangest feeling that, if I were indeed to watch the movie again--without the subtitles--it could become one of my all-time favorites.

I don't know if I can recommend this film to others or not, because I have no idea if anyone else will share my sentiments. I don't know who will understand it and who won't, or who will even think it's worth trying to understand. There are, of course, some people who absolutely love it, and probably even some who understand it (or think they do), because... well, it's a classic, and a movie doesn't become a classic if nobody likes or understands it. But there are probably just as many people who hate it, because... well, it's a three-hour Russian movie.

At any rate, though, I think it's at least worth a look. If you find it boring, slow, incomprehensible, whatever... just turn it off. No big deal. But, on the other hand, if you find yourself inexplicably compelled to keep watching, unwilling or unable to tear yourself away for a single frame... well, then, you're welcome.
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All time favourite film
Gary-1611 February 2000
This is my favourite film and possibly the best film ever made. It's impossible to put into words what I feel about this beautiful poem. Certainly it is uniquely brilliant artistically and seems to be different every time you view it, the dynamics and emotions of the characters shifting hypnotically. It has the feel of a painting in a gallery and the photography is almost expressionist. It really has to be viewed at the cinema only.

There was a very clever ad campaign to this film stating it was the Russian 2001. So us ten year olds went to see it thinking we were going to see a special effects extravaganza, and instead we saw, what seemed as a child, interminable shots of lilly's and weeds. It went over our heads but I never forgot the score and its haunting melancholia. Apparently Tarkovsky had a bad time making this film and fell out with his cinematographer. Stanislav Lem also disliked the way Tarkovsky changed the book's theme of optimism in exploring space to one of scepticism in the film. Tarkovsky felt that finally what mattered was the theme of love, that is, doing moral good in the universe, love of family or country, or the place of one's birth. The beginning of one's journey which one always returns to in one's mind which was evocatively shown in the film's climax by the lake, surely one of the great movie moments ever and terribly moving. His ultimate concern was the question of a man's soul which he is unable to deal with while striving for technological betterment. Ultimately he hoped man would reach a stage where he would solely be able to explore his spirituality.

I think with all this polemic Tarkovsky missed the fact that this film works as a beautiful love story. If you could turn the clock back there would be no moral life. But in giving Kelvin a second chance to find a greater truth, Tarkovsky also allows us a rare glimpse of love's majesty before it is sullied. The scenes where Kelvin begs Khari's forgiveness and levitates in her arms are the film's great triumphs. His use of Bach is also unforgettable. Unfairly accused of being po-faced, there is also a lot of wise humour in this film if you care to look for it.

This film inexplicably does not appear on many, if any, all time great lists. It does have some Sci-Fi nonsense of the day about bombarding the ocean with radiation, whatever that's supposed to do, but does not prevent this film being one of the great masterpieces of cinema. Recently Time Out or Sight and Sound did a survey of the all time top 20 directors and Tarkovsky did not appear but Woody Allen did! There ain't no justice.
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One of the greatest
strannik88817 December 2002
If you compare this movie to the Lem's novel there are a lot of differences. But don't compare them. The novel and movie have their own lives. I personally prefer movie. Tarkovsky is going beyond the limits described by Lem. It is not only the problem of Solaris planet and the relationship between main heroes. Tarkovsky reminds everybody that the origin of our problem is us. And all kind of the most important life keys you can find inside yourselves. The great Swedish director Ingemar Bergman said, that Tarkovsky is in the "room" where I just started to knock. You should see this movie if you want to know what is real you and what you really want. The movie is not the answer, but it is the step to your new understanding of your life.
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A gem of sci-fi & much more...
KGB-Greece-Patras5 October 2004
Haven't seen any other Tarkofsky. I hear that this is the film he is least fond of. I intend to see more of him.

As some other reviewer said, I had the feeling through the first one hour or so that some scenes went on for too long, or seemed a bit unnecessary and that it was too slow for the message to clearly be presented. But after a while, the slow pacing DID have a positive impact on the context of the film and on the "dialogue" between the film and the viewer. Anyway, after its plain & simple beginning, when the "action" is taken to the space station things get more and more interesting. No spoon-feeding here, as well. If you want all the mysteries in a film to be solved and explained, then you might not wanna see this, because the film is up to the viewer to think and dive in deep. Anyway, it ended up satisfying and leaving one in thoughts.

I am so glad I got to see this fabulous thoughtful movie. It's full of nice visuals and context. A recommendation to all who are fed up with Hollywood crap - but even Hollywood geeks could find many in this, if they can tolerate with the slow pace...
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A few comments on how to watch it
toshikk23 March 2003
Warning: Spoilers
One of the users in his/her comment to the 2002 adaptation of Lem's novel said that this types of movies should be given a new rating, BRBV (or Brain Required Before Viewing).

Unfortunately, I have not seen the Sodebergh's version of "Solaris" (I'm pretty sure it can't beat this one, but, given what other people think about it, I can tell that it's worth seeing), but I can assure you that the same can be applied to this movie too.

Guys, it's not boring; it is SLOW. There's a huge difference between the two. Boring movies (Daredevil and Attack of the Clones, for instance) make you fall asleep, good slow movies make you think. If you are a kind of person that comes to movie theater just to see some blood and guts on the screen while chewing on buttery popcorn (popcorn eaters are, probably, my biggest pet peeve when it comes to going to the movies here, in the US - there's always some guy sitting right next to you, eating it so loud that you can't hear a darn thing...), this is not a movie for you. And as for those of you who don't fall into that category - well, you also have to be in the right mood for it. If you are constantly thinking about something important that you have to do or if there is a lot of people making a lot of noise around you - don't watch it; you're still going to like it, but you'll lose a lot. You have to concentrate on the movie, it should be the only thing on your mind. Just sit back and... no, not enjoy. Think. Then you'll enjoy it.

I am not going to restate the entire plot of the movie, for a lot of people have already done it. Instead, I'm going to try to give you a few clues about some confusing moments in the movie. (Yes, SPOILERS, if that's what you want to call them).

1) Oh, that "boring, boring, boring" car ride scene. Attention, popcorn lovers - this is not 21st century Moscow (in fact, it's never mentioned, where the "Earth" part of the movie takes place - it can be Japan as well...). This is not supposed to give you the insight of what the future is like. It is there for one simple reason - to show you that the astronaut in the car, as well as all other characters in the movie, has got nowhere to go. It's all just an endless road.

2) Seaweed - it just stands for nature, Earth, as the characters know it. It's there for a reason too, not just to bore the hell out of you.

3)The final scene - Kris is not on Earth. He's on Solaris. He himself is a part of the planet's giant "thinking" Ocean now, just like Harey was.

Once again - forget about this movie if you like action the most. Go watch Daredevil or wait till the new Matrix comes out. For all others - watch it, it's a sure 10/10.
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What do we need the unknown for?
N. N.2 June 2007
Lem wrote a book about this question, Tarkowski made a film. And unlike stated by Lem about Tarkowski, Tarkowski did not demonise the unknown, but brought forth Lem's own opinion in Lem's own words, that the unknown is of very little use for a creature as preconditioned as the human being is.

I almost heard Immanuel Kant behind it. But what surprise? The main character of this film is an ocean on a planet called Solaris, about which we have reason to believe that it owns some sort of intelligence, which then makes itself apparent to us by apparitions. Yes... what exactly said Kant about God? An idea we cling to, because that is our duty, to examine the world as if it were created by an intelligent and benevolent being. Where the world is the medium through which our existence becomes filled and thus becoming able to develop itself. Any similarities with this film and Lem's novel are of course completely... coincidental? I don't think so, no. But the originality of the concept is of no importance anyway. Who understood Kant? And who understands this film? The naivety and clarity of view that Tarkowski proves here are what make this film an unparalleled masterpiece, a one of a kind. I cannot say how much I enjoyed it.

Besides, there's more than a conceptual link to Kant, there are two Baltic Actors involved (playing Kelvin and Snaut) and Tarkowski has the same love for nature that Kant had, so, things just match.
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delacroix28277 March 2006
Tarkovsky's Solaris has been a profound and inspirational film for me and I have really appreciated reading the novel as well as watching the Criterion edition of the film. I specially appreciate the use of Bach's organ Choral prelude throughout the film, particularly during a scene where Kelvin and Hari (Rheya) are reminiscing. The picture and sound quality of the Criterion edition are remarkable and make the film a treat to watch. Donatis Banionis' and and Natalya Bondarchuk's performances were exceptional and this film has left lasting impressions on my mind. Bergman's 'Persona' and Kurasawa's 'Dreams' inspired me similarly and I look forward to watching Tarkovsky's 'Andrei Rublev'.
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The least successful of all Tarkovsky's works.
Graham Greene29 December 2007
Warning: Spoilers
I'm a great admirer of Tarkovsky's cinema, having discovered films like Mirror, Ivan's Childhood and the Sacrifice a few years ago, and been seduced by the poetry of his imagery, the power of his themes and the depth of his writing. In the entire lexicon of 20th century cinema, he is largely unsurpassed in terms of vision, philosophy and ideology, and easily ranks alongside other genius filmmakers such as Bergman, Kieslowski, and Wong Kar-Wai. When we think of his most-astounding works, like Andrei Rublev, Mirror, Nostalgia, etc, we think of deep, metaphorical angst, internal and external drama, and an intense dedication to his character and an exploration of the world that they inhabit. With these factors largely absent in Solaris (aka Solyaris), one can only come to the conclusion that this is, without a doubt, Tarkovsky's least successful film.

Now, I'm aware that this may be something of a controversial opinion (with many hailing Solaris to be amongst the greatest films ever made), however, I'm merely stating my personal view of the film as both a fan of Tarkovsky and as a fan of world cinema in general. I've also seen this film four times and on each subsequent viewing, I've failed to find anything new or invigorating about it, besides those gorgeous and reflective first few scenes on earth. The rest of it hardly feels like a Tarkovsky film at all, but rather, some clinical (post-modern) attempt to re-imagine Kubrick's watershed-work, 2001: A Space Odyssey, only with a more rigid narrative. This, for me, is Tarkovsky's first mistake. You see, what has always set Tarkovsky apart from his peers is his use of narrative, which in his world, doesn't so much unfold, but rather, bloom like a flower (with each petal offering a new interpretation of the events for us to follow). This film has a more classical approach to narrative... sure, there are a few moments of quiet reflection and a nice metaphorical use of memories and recorded emotions, but unlike his two masterpieces that would bookend Solaris, there is simply no conflict between the internal (guilt, depression, love, loss) and the external (ghosts, memories, illusions) ideologies of the script. Plus, there is no multi-layered character history (like the kind we would see in the later film, Nostalgia) and, much more disappointingly, there are no real games being played with the narrative.

Solaris is as straight as Tarkovsky's cinema gets, even down to the use of cinematography, which here seems clumsy, forced and amateurish... a real disappointment after the elegant compositions and visual exploration of time and space found in his most enthralling works (think about that scene with the burning house in Mirror, or those closing black and white moments from Stalker, then compare them to the realisation of the space-station here). It isn't quite the ponderous and enigmatic work of cinematic tedium that some have labelled it - as it does offer is a fair amount of tension, atmosphere and grand-design - but, at the same time, it's not the life-altering work that Tarkovsky is capable of (and the original book unarguably is!!). I blame this on two factors, firstly, Tarkovsky seems to have remained faithful to the overall narrative flow of Lem's great book (creating a clear beginning, middle and end that dreams and nightmares can then invade)... however, he has subsequently missed the point of the book and jettisoned many important moments and details that would have clarified the proceedings. Because of this, the film comes across as muddled and at times highly detached; something that is not helped by the lack of emotion and feeling demonstrated by the performers.

The other problem is Tarkovsky's lack of understanding when it comes to the science-fiction genre, which, by design is geared around storytelling; something that Tarkovsky has regularly shown little interest in. He also strains to visually over-emphasise the workings of the space station, with lots of close-ups and cut-aways, which simplifies Tarkovsky's usually grand poetic vision, and is a real waste of the cinema-scope process that the filmmaker was here using (it would be the last time he would work in cinema-scope, with subsequent films employing the more traditional 1.66:1 academy ratio). Still, Tarkovsky would re-attempt science fiction several years later with his great film Stalker; a deeply existential trawl through the remains of a post-apocalyptic city, and one man's damaged soul. Stalker succeeds over Solaris because the director could internalise the science-fiction elements and transform the story from technical exploration into the notion of personal redemption. Lem's book is more evasive in terms of the character's intentions and diverts his emphasis onto the plot - rightly so for a novel - which has seemingly forced Tarkovsky to compromise his trademark style.

If you're adamant about watching Solaris, then by all means do so... but don't feel obliged to proclaim it a masterpiece when, in comparison with the filmmaker's other works, it clearly isn't. I don't mean to sound quite so arrogant about it, but this film, for me, really doesn't standout as anything wholly life-affirming, in the way that other Tarkovsky films can be. It just seems to lack the emotional impact of Mirror and Nostalgia, or the human element so prevalent in Ivan's Childhood and The Sacrifice. It also lacks the epic quality of the vast historic piece, Andrei Rublev, which pretty much-defined Tarkovsky's cinematic style...which is perhaps why Tarkovsky himself considered it the least successful of all his films. Really, if you're looking for an introduction to Tarkovsky's work that might just succeed in changing your life, then try Mirror, Nostalgia, or the epic Andrei Rublev.
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the dream language
jannikewilloch28 January 2003
I don't know any other film which moves me like this film does. The first pictures when Chris moves in and out of the picture, and the water flowing, has the mark of a genius work. And when he wants to taker her dress off, and he has to cut it with scissors, or when he makes her go into the space ship, I don't know any other film which can show the language of our dreams like this film, and the language of mourning. A masterpiece from the master.
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stevesevilempire20 October 2006
The book has been translated so many times and each of the translations have given me a different insight into the story and the philosophy of Solaris, but this only creates a literal equivalent of schizophrenia, strangely with this film i have found a dynamic that is similar to horror movies, the stillness creates anxiety, the slowness almost brings fear and the sheer beauty of the imagery causes conflict. I guess that it is in that conflict that Tarkovsky scores because I found the journey through this story emotional, ( who knows maybe my ancestors were Russian?)All in all as a fan of the book i expected this to be a let down but was really shocked to almost find yet another translation.

So even though this film is in my personal top twenty I really do not know if I can recommend it to others, possibly because one of its issues is that Humanity wants mirrors not aliens, but if you want an alien experience then I can recommend this.
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Just my kinda thing...
Polaris_DiB20 September 2005
Warning: Spoilers
If it's long, drawn out, and doesn't make a lick of sense, it has a special place in my heart.

I write this review after the first viewing, which means it's probably not a good one as this is one of those movies that requires multiple viewings so that things start falling into place. Years of Lynch and Kubrick movies have taught me to take the first watch a little easily, and to let things come together on their own accord in subsequent viewings.

Thus, the surface review: Solaris is a project. Somewhere in space and time exists an Ocean (capitalized) which has a manned satellite studying it. Historically, this scientific mission has been controversial because not only has it completely failed to progress, it actually tends to digress scientific progress and cause the scientists on the duty to sometimes as much as go insane.

A psychologist named Kris Kelvin (played by somebody whose name I could never hope to pronounce or spell) goes to the satellite after one of the remaining three scientists (in a station built for 85) kills himself. There he meets Hari, his dead ex-wife. Romance, philosophy, and the meaning of life ensues, revolving around the significant "Other" (this time related as a significant other, haha) so important to science fiction.

This movie is very thick, and very Russian. Being that it's like a Russian 2001: A Space Odyssey, I feel pretty safe in saying, "This isn't for everyone." However, if it sounds right up your alley, here's the things you can come to expect: 1) Beautiful imagery. Absolutely amazing from frame one to last moment.

2) Great directing. I can see why this guy's mentioned almost as much as Eisenstein when someone brings up the subject "Russian directors." 3) Creepiness. Mirrors, stuff moving out of the corner of your eye, all that stuff that keeps the relatively slow exposition rather harrowing for the viewer sitting there thinking, "It's just a simple matter of WHAT THE HECK IS GOING ON?" (I thank you, MST3K).

And more... Just be prepared for three hours of cinema, and you're good to go.

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Sci-fi romance at its very best
cmcastl21 December 2016
If I could rate Solaris (not the 2002 American one!) on my own scale I would give it 1000 out of ten!

It is the doomed sci-fi romance which gets to me and frankly makes my lip quiver. Solaris, the sentient ocean, sends Kris a simulacrum of his dead wife Hari but the longer she and her subsequent copies companion him the closer she gets to being his former wife resurrected. There is this poignant scene where they have this conversation about how he has got on after his wife's suicide, almost as if they were having the normal conversation of couples but, in this case, in the most strangest and tragic of contexts. What is now almost perfectly his dead wife is asking her husband how he has got on after she killed herself. But this is no ghost. What started out as an alien experiment to contact mankind is turning into one man's formerly dead but now living wife with whom he has begun to fall in love all over again. The most moving, magical and surreal romanticism is at work.

It took Andrei Tarkovskiy to achieve this. Americans, or in the case of Stanley Kubrick, Canadians, can produce sci-films of epic production qualities but they are often schmaltsy or with Kubrick clinical. Natascha McElphone was severely beautiful in the American version but could not begin to project the soulfulness of the glorious Slavic (actually Ukrainian) beauty Natalya Bondarchuk. Donatis Banionis (Lithuanian) wears a marvellous dead-pan existential angst throughout the film. This film, although based on the novel of Polish sci-fi writer Stanislaw Lem, sports almost how Leo Tolstoy would have written a sci-fi screenplay. This is an absolutely classic sci-fi film with a beating human/alien heart.

As far as I am concerned the American 2002 Solaris is stuck on the launchpad while the Russian version soared into the infinite.
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One of the most interesting, hypnotic pieces of science fiction ever made.
Sebastian196621 November 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Solaris works on the level of dreams and nightmares; not always making perfect sense after awakening, but very believable within the time-frame it occurs. Director/co-screenwriter Andrei Tarkovsky creates a lengthy 40-odd minute prologue on earth that is not in the book (by Stanislaw Lem); but feels organic to the story nevertheless. And it establishes the kind of cynical man Kris Kelvin (played in layers by Donatas Banionis) is before he goes to the Solaris station. Which orbits a planet with a living, sentient (and utterly alien) ocean. The ocean was subjected to illegal experiments with x-rays, and it responded by invading the minds of the space station's crew. Conjuring "visitors" created by neutrinos from the crew's subconscious. Kris boards the station to find two survivors, Snaut and Sartorious. Each are grappling with their own visitors when a confused Kelvin encounters them. But then, Kelvin's own visitor appears in the form of his dead wife Hari from 10 yrs. before. And for Kris, the lines between reality/fantasy, humane/inhumane are soon forever blurred. That's the short description of the plot, but this is a film that is less about plot and action (it's not Star Wars!) and more about introspection and the possibility of losing oneself in a illusionary world. The station itself is at times cluttered and dirty, and then sterile and surreal. A remarkable production design. The alternating sunlight (for different times of day) shining through the portholes reminds us of time moving forward, even when the characters cannot. The actors are believable all around, especially Natalya Bondarchuk as Hari in a performance that suggests an alien intelligence that first mimics, and then slowly begins to understand humanity. I also enjoyed Yuri Yarvet as the burnt-out Professor Snaut. A world-weary, tired, shell of a man; always a bit drunk to some degree. The brief scenes depicting the "living sea" itself are slightly psychedelic and remind me just a bit of the "light-trip" landscapes of 2001. Many have called this film the "Soviet 2001," but that's not really a valid comparison. It's like comparing "Star Wars" and "Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind" because they're both major sci-fi films that came out in 1977. It's not a fair comparison. One aspect Solaris DOES have in common with 2001 (and it's something I miss in modern sci-fi) is that it takes time to lull you into its world by letting images and moods linger, in worlds without time pressure. Solaris also alternates between black and white and color (a Tarkovsky trademark) to great effect. Especially for day/night or video/viewer transitions. Ultimately, the movie is a rich, but melancholy examination of the natures of reality and humanity, with the alien ocean acting as a mirror we hold to ourselves. It's a film experience that demands (and richly rewards) repeat viewings, but it's NOT for short attention spans. Or for those who like their sci-fi with straight lines and clear-cut solutions and answers. Solaris is about all the messiness and meanings between the lines, where humanity truly exists!
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Russians in Space A Science-Fiction Parable on the Nature of Mankind
Prokievitch Bazarov6 September 2006
Warning: Spoilers
A nation's image of outer space reflects itself. Jules Verne's moon train was a small wagon-lit. American science-fiction movies stress the gleaming pipes and dials, a kind of hi-fi waterworks. Andrei Tarkovsky's "Solaris," gives us Russian outer space.

I say Russian rather than Soviet because this complex and sometimes very beautiful film is about humanity but hardly at all about politics.

In any case, the space station on the planet Solaris has an absent-minded neglect about it that could have come straight out of Dostoyevsky's study. There is a suspicion of rust on the pipes, and the furniture would look at home in the Omsk railroad station. One has the feeling that wrappers of half-eaten sausage are lying just out of sight and that a samovar is at work. Outer space is shabbiness, lots of tea and urgent philosophical discussions that leave no time for shaving.

Nothing that's visible matters very much—except for nature: shots of a pond of water weeds of a running horse—and life's surface are quite unimportant. Because of it, the blockish camera work, the egg-like colors and the general visual poverty are almost irrelevant. What matters is the conversations, the problems they raise, the faces that reflect them, seen blurrily as if at the end of an all-night session.

Mr. Tarkovsky, who is known here for a truncated version of "Andrei Rublev," made "Solaris" from the novel by the Polish writer Stanislaw Lem. It is science-fiction in the formal sense of the word; in substance, it is a parable about the nature of mankind.

Set in some future time, it is about the voyage of Chris Kelvin to the space station on the planet Solaris. The Academy of Sciences has found no profit in the long studies made of the planet. Chris's mission is to talk with the three scientists at the station and to report on closing it down.

The surface of Solaris is something like a sea, a great pulsating mass. A previous scientist, Burton, has come back in severe nervous shock; he believes that it may not be a sea but a superior order of consciousness, a great brain, in fact. Chris, a haunted but practical man, a missioner of human progress, is prepared to order a final experiment: a massive infusion of radiation into the "sea."

Burton, now older, is horrified. "You must not destroy what you don't understand," he says. Chris's father, a solitary, severe man, is also appalled. "Space is too fragile for your kind," he says.

The whole long, strange trip develops the theme. Mankind, with its aggressive expansionism — intellectual as well as material—destroys more than it finds. Chris is the practical man who, by the film's end, will be converted.

He finds that the space station, that summit of technology, is a heart of darkness. All three scientists there have been shattered by encountering the mystery of the planet. Solaris is, in fact, a great consciousness. Thought is made reality there, including the deepest thoughts of its visitors.

One has killed himself, leaving behind an obscure message on videotape for Chris. As he explores the decrepit space station—almost visibly rusted by the presence of a greater reality—Chris finds the other two. Sartorius, who will not accept what he can't understand, barricades himself in his laboratory surrounded by dwarfs—his thoughts made substance. Snouth, more innocent and hopeful, drinks a lot, but his visitors are children.

Chris has arrived with the suicide of his wife, Hari, on his conscience. Hari begins, nevertheless, to visit him. She is not an apparition; she is a yearning that the Solarian sea has given substance and built—the other scientists explain—of neutrinos. But she becomes more and more human until, in an act of abnegation, she asks to be destroyed so Chris can return to earth.

Put in summary, the plot may seem ludicrous. "Solaris" has its problems. Its rhythm is slow, and sometimes is extinguished altogether. The narrative can be difficult to grasp. Finally, as the film draws into conclusion, the parable seems to unclothe; the sense of wonder that Mr. Tarkovsky has created yields to a certain didacticism.

All of these drawbacks must be cited provisionally. "Solaris," whose mystical, totally nonmaterialistic character has won it no other favor in the Soviet Union than the permission to exist, is on DVD in a severely truncated form. The original was reportedly four hours long; a second version, shown in Cannes and elsewhere at the time of its release, was 2 hours and 47 minutes. The version we are seeing is down to 2 hours and 12 minutes and the distributors, who received it that way, say they don't know whether Mr. Tarkovsky supervised the cuts before his death.

Obviously it is impossible to judge the pace, the rhythms and the clarity of a film that is cut nearly in half. It is like a fresco partly eaten away by rising damp.

The result must be viewed actively and with some effort. But if it is, the result is extraordinary enough to compensate. The film's great metaphors—the faces of Donatis Banionis as Chris, Natalya Bondarchuk as Hari and Yuri Jarvet as Snouth—involve us totally in the difficult mysteries. Like his Solarian sea, Mr. Tarkovsky has made ideas walk, breathe and move us.
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What a beautiful film
Angus Gulliver21 December 2009
Shame on me for not realisng the 2002 film with George Clooney was essentially a remake of a Russian film made 30 years previously. I ought to have known, I am that sort of person.

So comes December 2009, and Film 4 show both Solaris films. I sat transfixed by the Russian film. Visually it is a thing of beauty, and it is a rare thing - a film which requires input from the viewer. This movie requires you to think for yourself...and some people find that difficult.

I enjoy a rip-snorting entertaining action movie as much as most people, but rare films like Solaris leave me feeling so much more fulfilled. There are ambiguities, not so much loose ends untied as dots which the viewer is required to connect for himself.

Try Solaris. If you find yourself twiddling your thumbs after 15 minutes then its probably not for you. If you find yourself glued to the screen then you know how I feel about this film.
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Here's to you, Mr. Tarkovsky...
kostasxrysogelos11 March 2007
This is simply one of the greatest movies ever made.

Many people shall disagree with that statement: For them, "Solaris" is a slow, boring and meaningless movie. If you, dear reader, find yourself among this group of people, please read my arguments against this theory.

First of all, the cinematography is simply sublime. I hope no-one argues with that point. The visual beauty of this film was surely ground-breaking for its time -in on some aspects, it still is.

Secondly, the actors are amazing. All of them.

Thirdly -and here lies the crucial question: does the movie has anything to say?- the movie has indeed a lot to say. But what is it? And how does it show it? OK, I think we need to get some things straight: In an art movie, there are two things one should notice: What does it say, and, much more than this,how does it say it? Art doesn't intend to actually say something. Her role is to show. If there is a message, it exists in 1,000,000 different forms -one for each spectator. Therefore, in my opinion, the famous 'car scene' (and every black-and-white scene in the movie), in my viewing aspect, shows the following: every time one feels lonely or has too much on his mind, the screen becomes colorless. Is there a message? In my opinion: Let loose of your subconscious, your dreams, your consciousness. These are the things no-one can steal from you.

Is this the best movie ever made? Probably... but there's also "Stalker"...
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Simply extraordinary
jlongstreth-129 December 2009
I have seen this film twice in the past two weeks and I cannot wait to add it to my collection.

It's so very Russian, and so very beautiful. It reminds me of Dr. Zhivago in the scope and otherworldliness of the lingering shots. The meditative nature of this film is likely beyond the attention span of many viewers who are accustomed to Mission to Mars and Avatar type movies but in my mind, this film is the essence of science fiction-the search without to find the truth within.

The acting is top-notch. The cinematography is miraculous. The effects are few and not much needed in any case-the scene is set and explained with no bells and whistles, only one fiery explosion, and no green-skinned alien monsters whatsoever. If only more filmmakers set their ambitions this high!

Highly recommended, but watch when you have plenty of time and patience. A pot of tea, a cold winter afternoon, and a clear mind will help you understand and appreciate this work of art.
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Voyage to the Unfamiliar
tedg10 June 2003
Warning: Spoilers
Spoilers herein.

Tarkovsky is on my very short list of transcendental filmmakers. Some of his films have changed my life. Those masterpieces balance an overall structured ambiguity with complex visual meditations. One would think this film would similarly transform, but it doesn't. It is not as big a failure as `Sacrifice' but it fails for the same reason.

That reason is because he travels from the worlds he creates and controls. Here it is science fiction in general and Lem's world in particular. With `Sacrifice' it was to the west in general and Bergman's world in particular. In both cases, the alien world would seem a natural fit for Tarkovsky‘s underlying concerns of mind creating realities and yearning for greater perfection based on invented pasts (inexactly called nostalgia by some). Future invented image drawn from past invented image presented through a synthetically imaged present.

The problem is that science fiction (and Bergman for that matter) are too bound to narrative for Tarkovsky's imagination. He likes to capriciously weave huge strands while fraying small ones. He NEEDS to particularize in the instant at the same time he untethers physics. This the is exact opposite of how it works in the worlds he visits.

A relatively insignificant result is that the created future is not convincing as a different world where abstractions are skewed. A larger defect is the general problem of us as viewers working too hard to make sense where we think there might be some instead of just gliding emotionally as we can through `Rublev' and `Mirror' and `Nostalgia.'

Yes this has some fine moments, but that's never been what he is about. I see this as proof that the man was an artist because he wasn't afraid to venture too far and try on unfamiliar environments.

Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 4: Worth watching.
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