Whether you deem it a unique or eccentric virtue, many have condemned Andrei Tarkovsky's "Solaris" on initial viewing. It's a film that contains layers upon layers thematically, and features the auteur signature hypnotic direction (which - in some cases - is extremely tedious). Personally, I wasn't prejudice towards the subject matter, but - and no doubt about it - within this artistic merit, Tarkovsky's style can seem pretentious. However, it's obvious that the Russian film-maker is self indulgent (similar to the likes of Terrence Mallick), and simply strives for an artistic merit from a purely subjective perception rather than the pretentiousness of box-office profit. Demanding repetitive views to unlock its cryptic labyrinthine on love, human nature and the philosophical resonance on ideals; and riddled with provocative imagery and a unrelenting atmosphere, "Solaris" is - without a doubt - a surrealistic experience.
Frequently regarded as the Russian "2001," Tarkovsky's efforts shares one vital difference: his characters are genuinely humanized. However, the comparison is evidently plausible. Both Tarkovsky's and Kubrick share similar direction style; drawing sequences out to their essences, allowing the viewers to immerse themselves within the hypnotic style. Furthermore, both directors share an appreciation of aesthetics, as both films are riddled with vivid, haunting and visceral imagery that resemble a perpetual painting. Also in similar vain, the plot is based upon the novel Stanislaw Lem, which accounts the strange hallucinations suffered by several astronauts when orbiting the mysterious oceanic planet Solaris.
While "Solaris" is an accumulation of themes, its central focus reflects a philosophical diagnosis on the human condition; dealing with abstract emotions that we generally idealize but ultimately never full-fill, along with the slight question of the reality that we embody. However, these thematics are never spelled out, everything is suggested through allusions rather than verbally displayed - which, in turn, demands every ounce of the viewers attention (which is no easy challenge considering the hypnotic style). The central focus is channeled through Kris Kelvin (Banionis), a man who is introduced through a montage of beautiful and subtle images of nature (Mallick obviously gained inspiration from here). Eventually - after long passages of subtle direction - Burton (Dvorzhetsky), a family friend makes Kris watch a video that describes the hallucinatory events in attempts to persuade Kris to visit the mysterious island.
As stated, the first 45 minutes spent on 'earth' contains frames that are degraded to their essence. Tarkovsky continually draws passages to a tedious state; he deploys deliberate tracking shots and various zoom in's and zoom outs with minimal editing that effortlessly oblige to the anonymous atmosphere, along with the utmost appreciation of the quality and virtues of landscapes - displayed through a brilliant juxtaposition of the urbanized landscape towards an organic one. While Kelvin's introductory seems to convey a man that contains appreciation of nature's qualities, his treatment of people is quite impudent and cynical; in fact, many of the characters initially convey a sense of coldness. However, his moral justification is most certainly in for a bombardment.
After reluctantly questioning, Kelvin eventually decides to travel to the mysterious oceanic field. On his arrival, Kelvin meets the lasting survivors as one of the astronauts has committed suicide. Kelvin is greeted by the remaining astronauts, Dr. Snaut (Järvet) and Dr. Sartorius (Solonitsyn). Evidently, both suffers traumas and difficulties in interpreting the events that have occurred within their space station. The space shuttles interior is projected in a circular arc; Kelvin is literally surrounded by the forms of futuristic technology, mysterious adolescence and a midget - all surrealistic elements combine for an unforgettable atmosphere.
Becoming exasperated, Kelvin drifts to sleep. Upon his waking, a strange and mysterious girls appears before his eyes, a woman that he loved and has died a long time ago: Hari (Bondarchuk). After much bewilderment and attempts to get rid of her artificial presence, the remaining astronauts warn Kelvin that Hari's existence stems from the oceanic conceptualizing powers. Hari's presence is subject of contentiousness. Her existence stems form the subconscious of Kelvin's memories, a woman that has been deceased for decades. Being no stranger at representing his characters internally rather than externally, Tarkovsky's adored expressing such notions, but what really makes Hari the epitome of these notions, is that she is an illusion that develops a self-conscious; a woman that doesn't exist (but does anyone exist?) but has gained, fundamentally, genuine emotion - as I said, a contentious subject no doubt. Furthermore, Hari's presence is another striking contrast between Kubrick's 'Monolith': both are two entities that metaphorically represent the power of space against the fragility of humanity - while Tarkvosky may of disagreed with the humanization that Kubrick portrayed, they obviously believed in one thing: if life does exist upon space, then we, as the human race are surely not ready for the mysteries its dark canvas' contain.
As stated, "Solaris" on first appearance may seem perplexing; similar to all great films and their mysteries, it's viewing that deserves repetitive viewings to unlock its layers. And while I am only providing it with 70%, I dare say this initial score will change in the future. Nevertheless, Tarkvosky's entry into the Sci-Fi genre makes for an authentic experience; a world that is riddle with an unrelenting atmosphere (in the vain of Kubrick's other feature "The Shining"), philosophical questions that range from the questions of the human existence, the abstract notions of love, mans pursue of knowledge and ideals, the anonymous power of space, and existential experiences of the subconscious. Tarkvosky's thematics and subtle approach evoke the power of this genre, and along side Scott's "Blade Runner" and Kubrick's "2001," Tarkvosky's "Solaris" is another shining example of the power contained within Sci-Fi. If you're looking for a space opera, you will not find it here.