The original 1972 production, not the remake. Certainly an interesting time-capsule view of world perception, Soviet-style, circa 1971- the incredibly long interlude in which Berton drives through the "futuristic" city is pretty telling. The scene was shot in Japan and all the little Toyotas and Datsuns zipping through concrete tunnels made me think of my 1970s Boston childhood when we had a Datsun.
Here's the setup: The Soviet government sent a mission to Solaris decades before. There is a space station hovering over the planet's sea. Weird things happened, and it is all hush-hush. Most of the people who were living on the space station have come home. Three scientists remain, but they seem to be unraveling. The government sends in Kris Kelvin, a psychologist, to find out what is going on. Upon arrival he discovers that one of the scientists has killed himself after being plagued by some sort of apparition. The remaining two scientists are also plagued by apparitions, and it is believed that these "guests," as they call them, are a product of Solaris' ocean. Soon after arriving Kelvin encounters his long-dead wife, a woman who killed herself more than a decade earlier in response to his lack of love for her. In the ensuing decade he has grown to love her, and now that he has her back, he seeks to make amends.
The film poses some interesting questions about the nature of existence and the definition of humanity. Is the Hari on the station human? She is more than a figment of Kris' imagination- the others see her, she has a phyisical presence- but she does not possess many of the characteristics of humanity. She is immortal, she kills herself over and over and always comes back. Is she a wish? Or is she a lingering guilt?
But it took three nights for me to get all the way through the three + hour film because most of it is so boring. Kris is so emotionally detatched that it is impossible for the audience to become truly interested in his story. Why should I care how he deals with his guilt? Many of the sequences are incredibly, and seemingly pointlessly, long. The audience spends five full minutes riding wordlessly in the car with Berton- who, mind you, we will never see again- and yet it takes about thirty seconds of celluloid for Kris in his leather & mesh, uh, "spacesuit" to get to Solaris. Best comment from the film profs who do the DVD commentary was in reference to a scene late in the film where Tarkovsky suddenly closes in on Kris' ear. We looked at each other like WTF is this with the ear? The commentary? "This closeup of Kelvin's ear defies interpretation."
The opening scenes of the grasses flowing in the river and of the natural world are beautiful enough to almost make it worth renting the DVD. I understand that these kinds of scenes are common in Trakovsky, so I'm willing to give his other work a try. Also, Solaris works fine as a natural seditive. Watch with a cup of camomille tea and you'll be out like a light.