Frequently Asked Questions
Yes. She was in complete physical form, could be physically touched, and seen by all, not just Chris.
The "psychological effect" of the planet Solaris is what keeps her alive on the ship. However, as she continues to regenerate (she's killed a number of times while on the ship), she begins to realize that she is not actually real and could not exist in life back on earth.
It's not completely explained, however it could create something of a paradox ripple effect since there would be two metaphysical worlds: one with the real Rheya being dead, and one co-existing with the Solaris version of her alive.
Another reason is that it could cause mass hysteria or panic back on Earth as people would either condemn her presence, or want to travel to Solaris to bring back a loved one themselves.
Or possibly she would disappear, as she is part of Solaris.
Depending on how you take the ending, maybe DID Chris went back to Earth in the first place, but Rheya, after becoming self-aware of her own existence, manifested Chris back to Solaris, where they both will die soon.
Chris was sent to the ship to analyze why the crew stopped responding to calls from Earth. Solaris did not trick your mind, but actually made everything real while you were in its grasp. Knowing Rheya was dead, Chris did not believe at first that the Solaris "Rheya" was real, and immediately disposed of her through the escape pod. However, as Solaris continued to recreate her, physically putting her in his presence, he began to believe she was 'real enough': the 'visitor' Rheya was in almost every way a perfect physical copy of the old one, up to her memories and behavior. Chris knew of course that she was not the original Rheya (who is dead), but decided that visitor Rheya came close enough to Rheya as he once knew her to accept her.
The point that the movie seems to be making is that the distinction between 'real' and 'fake' can loose all meaning for imperfect beings like humans. Compare it to a philosophical statement from The Matrix (1999): "What is real? How do you define 'real'? If you're talking about what you can feel, what you can smell, what you can taste and see, then 'real' is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain." We therefore define objects and people through our senses and memories, so any 'object' that is copied perfectly enough can be acceptable for us; even for a very well trained mind.
The actual human scientist named Snow had been dead for an unspecified length of time when Kelvin arrived on the station. The character named "Snow" that Kelvin, Rheya and Gordon interact with throughout the film is in fact one of the Solarist Visitors.
Around the time the scientists began to notice the Solaris phenomena, Snow was visisted by a Solarist copy--either of himself or of a [twin] brother, as the Visitor later tells Kelvin. Startled, Snow went to attack the Visitor with a knife, only to drop the weapon in the struggle. Acting in self-defense, the Snow-Visitor grabbed the blade and used it to kill Snow, later hiding the scientist's corpse above the ceiling tiles of the morgue (dried blood can be noticed above Kelvin's head when he inspects the bodies shortly after arriving).
The Snow-Visistor then proceeded to act as the real Snow so as not to elicit suspicon or accusation from Gordon. However, there must have been some discrepancy between the actual Snow's behaviour and the Snow-Visitor's impression, as Gordon announces her suspicions have been confirmed when she and Kelvin discover the body.
As to the identity of Snow's visitor, one may never know. While it's possible that Solaris created a copy of Snow himself, this doesn't seem to fit with the other Visitors, whom had established a pattern of impersonating other people in the person's life (Gibarian's son, Rheya, etc.) Likewise, it is not certain that the Visitor truly is of Snow's brother, as at the time the Snow-Visitor mentioned this he was still hiding his own identity.
Solaris is the third adaptation of Polish author Stanislaw Lem's novel of the same name, the first two having been a Russian TV movie and a Russian feature film, the latter of which was directed by Andrei Tarkovsky. Like the other two adaptations, Solaris maintains the basic premise, plot and character types of the novel but diverges from the source in many respects, in particular its themes and how the characters are presented. This comparison will examine only this film and the original novel, and not the two previous adaptations.
Both the novel and film focus on a psychologist named Chris Kelvin (Kris Kelvin in the novel), who lost his wife Rheya to suicide a few years before the story begins. Both the novel and film depict Rheya killing herself after Kelvin leaves her, though the film elaborates by depicting Rheya as bipolar and having an abortion in fear she would pass her illness onto her child. Kelvin leaves in a rage after finding this out. Kelvin is summoned to a space station orbiting the distant planet Solaris in a message from Gibarian, who in the novel is Kelvin's old instructor but in the film is shown to be a colleague and friend. Upon arriving at the station, Kelvin discovers that Gibarian has killed himself in the intermittent period.
The Solarist scientists have been visited by entities created by the planet below, these "Visitors" being constructed from each scientists' memory and replicating a person they have known in their life. Gibarian's Visitor in the novel is an unidentified, Amazonian black woman, wherein the film it's a replica of his young son. The two surviving scientists have Visitors of their own, though both the scientists and their Visitors differ between the novel and film. While both versions of Snow are receptive towards Kelvin, the novel depicts him as an older, possibly alcoholic scientist, and the film portrays him as young and eccentric. Snow's Visitor in the novel is never described, but in the film "Snow" is revealed to be a Solarist Visitor himself, presumably taking the form of the real Snow or his brother, who kills the scientist in self-defence and assumes his identity an unknown interval of time before Kelvin's arrival. The novel's other scientist is Sartorius, a reclusive and analytical individual whose Visitor takes the form of a child or dwarf. In the film, the other scientist is Gordon, a similarly reclusive female scientist who holds a fearful and antagonist relationship with the Visitors and whose own Visitor is never revealed.
The planet Solaris differs vastly between the film and its source material. While the film portrays it as a gaseous-electrical planet with hints of sentience, the novel delves deeply into the planet's construction and history, describing it as oceanic and capable of making massive, highly symmetrical structures beyond human understanding and seeming to be actively conscious.
Finally, the novel and movie explore different themes. With the book, Lem attempts to craft a truly alien culture, with the planet Solaris seeming to be a massive, sentient organism in its own right with thought processes and modes of communication and expression that perpetually boggle human researchers; as such, the novel focuses on the impossibility of contact with a truly alien culture. The film uses the Visitors to explore relationships, namely Kelvin's attempt to understand his wife's suicide and even attempt to make changes, though he is unsuccessful in this regard, as this "Rheya" is a copy of his memories of his deceased wife and not actually her. While the novel ends with Kelvin unsure of how to pursue his future, the film has him opt not to return to Earth and instead let the planet consume him while on the station. Kelvin ends up in a sort of afterlife modeled on his apartment, where he is finally reunited with Rheya.
First of all, the Sodenbergh version (2002) is over an hour shorter than the Tarkovsky version (1972), but it has a much faster pace. Both versions share many of the same scenes, but there are some differences.
Just as the 2002 version, the 1972 version starts with Kris (not Chris) Kelvin's life on Earth. However, instead of showing his day-to-day routine and him being summoned to Solaris, Kris is already preparing to go to Solaris, and spends his last day on Earth saying goodbye to his Earth life and his father at his childhood home. There he is visited by Berton, a scientist who was once stationed at the space station orbiting Solaris. Berton warns him about some strange effects of the planet, by relating a story of one of his survey missions of the planet; Berton saw how the planet manifested the image of a child, who was the son of a colleague who was lost on Solaris during an earlier mission.
While arriving at the space station, Kris' first encounter is with an unknown woman, whom he follows into the morgue where he finds his friend (also called Dr. Gibarian) dead. There is no blood, but the station is heavily neglected. The two remaining scientists are Dr. Snaut (Snow in the 2002 version) and Dr. Sartorius (male in the 1972 version, female Dr. Gordon in the 2002 version). Dr. Sartorius is as reclusive and suspicious as Dr. Gordon, but he and Kris are not as openly antagonistic towards each other. Sartorius' 'Visitor', a small dwarf, is briefly seen.
The 2002 version mentions an earlier intervention team that travelled to Solaris, and wasn't heard from again. There are two bodies in the morgue. According to Snow, the second belonged to a third scientist who was killed by the intervention team when he refused to leave the station, explaining all the blood.
Kris' first encounter with his wife (called Chari instead of Rheya) is practically the same: Kris panicks, lures her into a rocket (not a shuttle) and sends her flying into space. Snaut then tells him about the 'Visitors' each scientist has encountered onboard, Gibarian's apparently being the unknown woman. Gibarian's son does not feature in the 1972 version at all.
In the 1972 version, after Chari's second appearance, Kris accepts her presence, but then locks her inside his room. She panicks and tears through the metal, severely injuring herself, but the injuries heal before his eyes. The door incident occurs much later in the 2002 version, and is combined with Rheya's failed suicide attempt by liquid oxygen.
The Rheya in the 2002 version gets much more exposition: she suffered from depressions and a tough childhood, and terminated a pregnancy without informing Chris; a furious Chris then left her, causing her to commit suicide. Most of this background information is not in the 1972 version.
After Chari's accident, all aboard have several meetings and a birthday party where they discuss the degree of humanity of the Visitors, how they are created and how to get rid of them (largely condensed into one meeting in the 2002 version, where the scientific theory and weapon to permanently dissolve the Visitors differ slightly); however, no one reveals to Chari that Kris killed the first version of her.
Several more technical talks and philosophical conversations about the nature of humanity, love and suffering occur in the 1972 version. Snaut sends Kelvin's brain patterns towards the planet, in the hope that it will understand and stop creating the disturbing manifestations; Sartorius, however, proposes to attack the planet with radiation.
There are no elaborate dreams and flashbacks of Kris' time on Earth before Chari's suicide; instead, Kris shows her some home videos of himself as a child, and of her during their marriage, during which she starts to realize she only has Chari's memories, but not the emotions that normally accompany them. She later learns from Sartorius that the real Chari committed suicide, forcing Kris to tell her the story. After realizing she is not human but merely a copy, she attempts suicide by liquid oxygen, but is regenerated. These sequences are somewhat different in the 2002 version: Rheya remembers her suicide by herself. Gordon is much more paranoid and distrusting of the Visitors; she reveals to Rheya that Chris killed the first Visitor, and berates him for getting emotionally attached to the second. Rheya escapes later that evening, attempts suicide and is regenerated. It is revealed that both Gordon and Snow have witnessed the death and resurrection of other Visitors as well. Chris locks himself in his room and tries to stay awake in order to protect Rheya from Gordon.
Kris has no dream about Gibarian telling him that they may be misinterpreting Solaris' intentions in the 1972 version. Instead, he has a dream about his mother who is concerned about his emotional state. He falls asleep and after waking up, he learns that Chari has escaped again and requested the others to permanently kill her with the weapon; she has left him a suicide note (a similar course of events happens in the 2002 version). Snaut mentions that since sending Kris' brain patterns, the Visitors have stopped appearing; instead, there are islands forming on the surface of Solaris.
One of the biggest differences is the revelation in the 2002 version that the real Snow has been dead for a while; a Visitor killed the real Snow in self-defense and now pretends to be him. This Visitor warns Gordon and Chris that the station is being pulled into Solaris, and that they should leave. Chris, however, chooses to remain at the station with Gibarian's son, as the planet finally dissolves the station. In the ambiguous epilogue, we find him back in his Earth environment, but this time, he has the capacity to regenerate, just like a Visitor. He is joined by Rheya, and they appear happy now. In the 1972 version, we find Kris back on Earth at his father's house, but the final shot shows the house to be situated on one of the islands on Solaris, revealing that Kris has chosen to stay on a manifestation of Earth.