Space madness is real, you guys. The only cure for it is human connection. Therefore, if you ever decide to go to space, don’t be so lonely. Okay? Okay.
If you have a lot of time on your hands and a need to watch a movie that is not so fast-faced, take a look at the Criterion collection and find yourself a beautifully and psychologically epic movie known as ‘Solaris’. Released in 1972, Solaris is a Russian masterpiece directed by Andrei Tarkovsky. It stars Donatas Banionis, Natalya Bondarchuk, Jüri Järvet and Vladislav Dvorzhetsky. The film was nominated for the Palm d’Or at the 1972 Cannes Film Festival and is widely regarded as one of the best science fiction films in the history of cinematography, which is why it is the focus of this week’s Throwback Thursday column.
Psychologist and cosmonaut Kris Kelvin is sent to a space station that is orbiting an oceanic planet known as Solaris. He’s sent to investigate whether or not the space station’s crew suffers from space madness (obviously, “space madness” is expressed way more politely in the film.) Kelvin is also tasked to determine whether or not their study of Solaris should continue.
Kelvin arrives to the station to find out that one of the crew members (and a former colleague) has killed himself and the other two crewmen are acting shifty and elusive. The space station is a mess, a madhouse if you will, and it’s up for Kelvin to decide if the study of Solaris has any viability.
However, it doesn’t take long for Kelvin to start dipping his toe into the pool of space madness. Yours truly begins seeing a woman aboard the space station that looks surprisingly familiar. It turns out this woman is his wife, Hari. However, on Earth, Hari killed herself 10 years ago. Is Kelvin hallucinating? Is he going mad?
It turns out he’s not. Maybe. A colleague on the space station, Dr. Snaut, informs us that the planet Solaris is sentient and knows that it’s being orbited by the space station. As a result, Solaris can read the brainwaves of the station’s passengers and sends “visitors” (“neutrino systems”) as a form of communication. Furthermore, Snaut and the other scientist, Sr. Sartorius, can see Hari, even without Kelvin present.
Kelvin struggles with embracing his neutrino-ized wife. Hari struggles with her identity as being a tad more than a figment of someone’s past. Right now I’m struggling not to delve deeper into the world of ‘Solaris’ without a) giving away spoilers and b) sounding like I’ve taken LSD. Just watch it, m’kay?
‘Solaris’ questions many aspects of the human condition . . . in space. However, it looks at the negative side effects of human exploration. How can we continue to try to find and understand other worlds when we barely understand ourselves? One of my favorite scenes takes place in the library where Snaut delivers a beautiful monologue about the need for humans to understand ourselves before we attempt to understand other worlds. “We don’t need other worlds,” he states. “We need mirrors.”
As a writer for this site, I come across article after article about how space exploration may soon be a reality. However, after watching ‘Solaris’, I can’t help but wonder, are we even ready to explore further? With so much misunderstanding on this planet, how capable are we of adequately exploring other planets? Shouldn’t we solve our own mysteries before we attempt to solve others? Snaut seems to think so, but what do you think?