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May 3rd, 2004, 12:42 PM
Recently I saw the Soderbergh film and was quite impressed with it.

Pasting here I review I put up on my site:

I clarify at the outset that I haven't read Stainslaw Lem's original novel nor seen the celebrated 1972 film adaptation by Tarkovsky, so I can't make any comparisons as to how this one stacks up.

Plot:Prompted by a very unusual pre-recorded request from a friend on-board, psychologist Chris Kelvin (George Clooney) goes up to find out what happened to the crew of a space mission to explore the planet Solaris. Played with touching understatement by Clooney, Kelvin is a loner himself, having lost his wife years ago, and his agreement to go alone on a potentially hazardous rescue mission stems as much from a need to find meaning in his vacuous existence as to answer the distress call. Aboard the craft, he finds mostly silence and corpses of the crew including his friend. There appear at first to be only two surviving crewmembers, including mission leader Viola, both in shock and reluctant to describe what happened to them. But things change, and one night Kelvin wakes from a series of flashback dreams to find by his side his 'long-dead' wife...or is she? It is then dawned upon him that she is a simulacrum generated by the planet using his memories...as would have happened with the original crewmembers, and likely the cause of their deaths. His shock propels him to eject 'her' into space, but she is returned, or rather regenerated. Kelvin then begins to relive his romance, accepting the illusion of his wife. He runs into a clash with Viola who wants to destroy the simulacrum and return to earth.

Right from the opening scene the thing that strikes you about Solaris is the minimalist tone that Soderbergh sets for the film: there are no 'action' moments, no grand drama, no cues from the soundtrack telling you what to feel at a particular moment; just a gradual, deliberate unraveling of the plot, leaving you to draw your own conclusions. The characters even when arguing speak in controlled tones. The cold metallic imagery of the space station is reminiscent of a storage freezer or a morgue. Save for the occasional moments of new-age score, only the drone of air-conditioning mars the pervading silence, accentuating the feeling of isolation. The planet Solaris bears a swathe of gas nebulae colored in sometimes soothing sometimes agitated hues. Apart from some exterior shots, it is seen mostly through terminals and airlock screens, lurking in the background as it slowly takes over the minds of the characters.

The film's most brilliant aspect is its depiction of the simulacrums - they are self-aware and have thoughts, memories, feelings, but not like actual people because these are cobbled up from the recollections of the person they are created for. A strong dilemma is presented, more moral than intellectual, on the nature of their existence. Kelvin feels protective towards his simulacrum while Viola (we're never told what had been conjured up for her) wants to destroy all of them. The film ends on a very ambiguous note.

Kudos to Soderbergh and his team for a bravura effort. Solaris is an experience demands your patience, but rewards it with absorbing narrative and characters that you want to know more about.

May 4th, 2004, 10:52 AM
Impressive! I am going to brave and say that although I found the film a fascinating journey, and could appreciate its delicacy and charm, it did not have the depth of feeling that Contact had for me. Contact was a very similar film, but focused on religion rather than death, and I felt that it succeeded in a way that Solaris could not. Though I find George Clooney and his co star (forgotten her name) were marvellous, I did not get much past the clausterphobia and fragmentation that the film in its entirity portrayed. It was good, but as I say, it did not hold as much for me as Contact did.

May 4th, 2004, 11:12 AM
Lem is one of my favorite authors, but I must admit, that I really did not like Solaris as a novel. It was a neat idea, but I really had to struggle to get through it. As for the film, sadly, I could not even watch it all. I just couldn't get into the characters and the disjointed nature was confusing. Yet, it has received much praise, both in print and film, so obviously, I am not normal. :p

May 4th, 2004, 12:16 PM
It did not have the depth of feeling that Contact had for me. Contact was a very similar film, but focused on religion rather than death, and I felt that it succeeded in a way that Solaris could not.
I loved the film Contact as well, got Sagan's book but haven't as yet read it.

I think the films are different in their theme. As I see it, Solaris is about the illusion that the protagonist is presented with, him knowing that it's an illusion, but still choosing to remain in the illusion because its easier than to go back to a lonely reality. In that sense one could even see it as a pessimistic film.
In Contact, I would say the debate is about the illusion itself (was it an illusion or did it really happen?) and the effect it has on the REAL LIFE of the protagonist, on her views about God and Faith.