Soviet Union, 1972
Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky
Written by Andrei Tarkovsky and Fridrikh Gorenshteyn
Based on the novel by Stanislaw Lem
Available to stream on Hulu Plus
I can lay out under the stars for hours, wondering what’s out there, thinking about the vast mysteries of the universe. I often think about alien life and the possibility that there is some creature millions of light years away laying down, stargazing just like me. I think about humanity, and our place in the grand, unknowable cosmos. It’s amazing where the human mind will go if you give it the right inspiration and enough time to meditate.
Andrei Tarkovsky provides a similar inspiration with Solaris. It’s one of the greatest movies ever made–a story that opens up endless possibilities. It follows Kris Kelvin, a psychologist sent to a space station orbiting the distant planet Solaris. The station’s crew has gone insane, suffering from vivid hallucinations. It’s Kelvin’s job to figure out why. After some time, he sees his wife on the station too. The problem is that she’s been dead for ten years. It seems mysterious signals have been sent from the planet–signals which cause the memories of the crew to become real. So, Kelvin’s wife is basically a copy. Only she doesn’t know herself at all, so she relies on Kris to fill in the details. He tries to do so, while struggling with his own fear of going mad and the strange feeling of speaking with the dead. This storyline allows an examination relationships and love. What are our loved ones to us? Bodies? Memories? Souls? What makes that love?
For me, this was the most profound exploration in Solaris, but there are plenty other philosophical musings to feast upon in its 3 hour runtime. Everything draws inward, probing the human consciousness. It is necessarily slow, drawn out, and very intentional. As it scans the range of human emotion there are moments of shock, beauty, fear, and most importantly silence. Tarkovsky built a sci-fi movie with the breathing room that it desperately needed. Like laying out under the stars, or taking a break from a sci-fi novel, it allows the viewer to take a step back and see themselves as part of the picture.