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‘…as philosophical as sci-fi gets, Solaris is a meditation, deeply rewarding on a spiritual level…’

Andrei Tarkovsky is a fairly unique proposition as a director in that his films are so consistent; the Russian director only made masterpieces, and Solaris is probably his best known work, although Stalker is also a useful entry point for novices. Casual viewers should not expect bang-for-your-buck with Tarkovsky, but he’s also something of an apex point for intellectual film-making; don’t leave your brain at the door, but turbo-charge it and bring some cushions to sit on if you hope to navigate his unique approach to ‘scuplting in time.’

Adapted from the 1962 book by Polish writer Stanislaw Lem, and it’s probable that you could read the book faster than you can watch the movie, Solaris is a proper Russian sci-fi epic, although for Tarkovsky that doesn’t mean cute robots and fireballs, but at least ninety minutes of people standing in fields reciting poetry to each other before the action leaves earth.

Patience is rewarded, however, and once psychologist Kris Kelvin (Donatas Banionis) gets into space, the reflection gives way to a confrontation with ghostly figures from the past and the future. These are generated by Solaris, a sentient planet below the space station Kelvin inhabits, and the alien contact he experiences is closely related to his own personal experience.

As philosophical as sci-fi gets, Solaris is a meditation, deeply rewarding on a spiritual level. It’s notable that Steven Soderbergh’s truncated remake with George Clooney, well-intentioned as it is, don’t have the same narrative pull; somehow it’s the lengthy gaps between the words that make Tarkovsky’s vision so enduring. Another enduring mystery is that Tarkovsky’s co-writer on his historical epic Andrei Rublev (1966) went on to direct Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell in Tango and Cash, but that’s an enigma for another day…


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  1. Andrei Rublev surely also deserves a nod. Seem to remember this was a visual intellectual experience more along the lines of 2001 – though without the budget or the music – than Alien.

    • Yes, I think Solaris gets young sci-go fans looking to upgrade from Kubrick. They get that experience, as long as they are patient.

  2. 93 comments as I just looked, and here I am late to the party after having just watched Taken 3. Better than 2. Not as funny as Solaris by any means of course, but the car chase was excellent! 94.

  3. Well I’ve watched the trailer. I thought then that your review must be tongue in cheek, clearly this is a comedy, kind of like a Russian Monty Python movie.

  4. I was watching Solaris in the cinema and thought to myself: Oh, Kubrick’s 2001 copied that idea… but only later did I realise it came out after that movie. Can’t remember which bits though, sorry.

    That ex-wife character is amazing, their love is so haunted, so sad and moving.

    And that ending is so freaky… the twist, the trap, the horror!

  5. Well, I think it’s brilliant. Desert-island disc. Hard to get your hands on a decent English translation of Lem’s book though. I think for some obscure copyright reason the best and most recent is only available as an e-book. The standard English translation is actually translated from a French translation and is apparently very poor.

    Didn’t like the Soderbergh movie at all. Just whiffed on everything that made this special. There was a Russian TV adaptation from 1968 that used to be on YouTube but I think it’s been taken down.

    Are you finally taking requests around here? You still haven’t done Pumpkinhead . . .


    • I’ve got a very old hardback of the original text. If I find it, I’ll mail it to you. Don’t remember it being that awful a translation, but I think it was remaindered from a library in 1980.

      Not doing Pumpkinhead, pumpkinhead. Sigh.

      I’ve always meant to treat myself to a blu ray boxed set of Tarkovsky’s work, because it’s a must have. Different approach to film-making to anyone else, terrible if you want thrills, but a cold glass of water on a hot day intellectually. But totally agree, one for the desert island. Booky’s trenchant notes on watching it while ironing on Sunday should be included in any future Criterion pressing.

  6. As a bona fida “I tried”er, all I have to say is how awfully boring the 30min were that I surveyed.
    I’d have to give this an 8.0 on the Trotsky Scale and one Stalin out of five on the Hail Comrade metrics.

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