Critics Consensus

Solaris is a haunting, meditative film that uses sci-fi to raise complex questions about humanity and existence.



Total Count: 58


Audience Score

User Ratings: 27,079
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Movie Info

Based on a novel by Stanislaw Lem, Solaris centers on widowed psychologist Kris Kelvin (Donata Banionis), who is sent to a space station orbiting a water-dominated planet called Solaris to investigate the mysterious death of a doctor, as well as the mental problems plaguing the dwindling number of cosmonauts on the station. Finding the remaining crew to be behaving oddly and aloof, Kelvin is more than surprised when he meets his seven-years-dead wife Khari (Natalya Bondarchuk) on the station. It quickly becomes apparent that Solaris possesses something that brings out repressed memories and obsessions within the cosmonauts on the space station, leaving Kelvin to question his perception of reality. Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the 1972 Cannes Film Festival, Solaris was remade by Steven Soderbergh in 2002.


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Critic Reviews for Solaris

All Critics (58) | Top Critics (13) | Fresh (55) | Rotten (3)

Audience Reviews for Solaris

  • Aug 22, 2018
    Kris Kelvin (Donatas Banionis) arrives at a station hovering above the planet Solaris, which has been studied and debated for years. Its life form, essentially the planet's vast ocean, is very different from anything else encountered or conceived. It seems intelligent, but its actions and the swirling, fantastic structures it can create are hard to decipher. There are new developments following some rogue experiments on the part of some scientists stationed there, which have resulted in the ocean sending "visitors" to the station. The visitors are highly personalized to Kelvin and the two men still there (Jüri Järvet and Anatoly Solonitsyn), and conjured from the recesses of their minds. In the case of the others, the visitors are so embarrassing they don't want anyone else to see them. In the case of Kelvin, it's his dead wife (Natalya Bondarchuk), who on Earth poisoned herself after their relationship deteriorated. Is the ocean creating these beings out of some malevolent intention? Once Kelvin figures out it's not really his wife from a few subtle clues, the non-functional buttons on her dress and a fact she knows one of the scientists (but obviously couldn't know him), he reacts with fear, tricking her into a rocket and blasting her into space. However, as the visitors are simply re-spawned when the men sleep, she soon returns, and over time gradually becomes closer and closer to the original. In producing these visitors, is the ocean trying to communicate with humanity in the only way it can? If so, it's doing a better job of it than the other way around, because after decades of study, one scientist simply bombards the ocean with high radiation X-rays, a classic human response - blind, simplistic, and possibly lethal. Is the ocean a type of God, capable of creation? And perhaps a God, as author Stanis?aw Lem put it, that is imperfect not because it has human characteristics, such as the ones from the Old Testament or Greek mythology, but because of just how randomly it creates, without understanding the consequences of its acts? If you're looking for clear answers (or a lot of action for that matter), this is not the science-fiction movie for you. In fact, part of its point is to ponder the limits of mankind's understanding. It does this while at the same time reminding us of the need to focus within, understanding mankind and oneself, at least as much as outer space, and creatures we find there. "We don't need other worlds. We need a mirror," one says. Isn't it interesting that they go all that way out into space, find this vast sentient creature that they can't understand, and then end up dealing with things from their own minds? The film also explores the most human of truths. Life is transient, and loss is inevitable - the loss of one's parents, of one's childhood home, of one's loved ones, and of course, of oneself - everything ultimately has its time and passes. It explores the nature of love, and what it means to be happy, even if happiness is artificially created. There is a sentimental and highly personal feeling to the film, amplified by Kelvin's introspection, and not seeing much of the other men's visitors. In the face of all these weighty questions, I absolutely loved this exchange: Dr. Snaut: "When man is happy, the meaning of life and other eternal themes rarely interest him. These questions should be asked at the end of one's life." Kris Kelvin: "But we don't know when life will end. That's why we're in such a hurry." Dr. Snaut: "Don't rush. The happiest people are those who are not interested in these cursed questions." All of the actors turn in solid performances, but it was Bondarchuk's performance while gradually gaining self-awareness, becoming despondent, and chastising the men for their cruelty which was most compelling. The scene where she is automatically resuscitated at one point is fantastic. I also liked the brief weightless scene, which had such a lovely ethereal quality to it. I've read that author Stanis?aw Lem was not happy with Tarkovsky's adaptation, but I thought it was quite faithful to it, and Tarkovsky really magnified the power of the final scene. One of the flaws in Lem's book that Tarkovsky wisely avoided was too much of the various debates from different camps of scientists studying Solaris over the years. The mind boggles at how long this film might have been had he included it, and the resulting tedium. On the other hand, Tarkovsky's film is flawed as well, in that he is far too deliberate in some of his shots, such as the much-commented-on drive through tunnels in Japan, and several others, mostly in part one. I think his point may have been to show us these things for long enough that we actually start seeing them in another way, as if for the first time, like how we may see something alien for the first time, or may ponder the big questions in life. Regardless, he goes too far, irritating some viewers and causing others to doze off. Even for a film that is highly introspective and philosophical, which probably calls for some of this, pace is an issue here. My advice is to keep an open mind, caffeinate yourself, and stick with it.
    Antonius B Super Reviewer
  • Apr 29, 2014
    Andrei Tarkovsky's Solaris is a masterwork of Science Fiction cinema that ranks up there with some of the finest in the genre. Solaris is a simple idea, but the way it's handled is exceptional. In Tarkovsky's hands, the subject is grand, and the result is bold, Sci Fi epic that is visually stunning and brilliantly acted. The film is breathtaking in its execution and director Andrei Tarkovsky vision is uncompromising and he delivers a picture that is a definite classic of the genre, one that is ambitious in its ideas and it is a movie is unforgettable. I said that the idea is quite simple, and it is, but the way the concept is expressed on-screen, it makes for a truly engrossing form of storytelling and with phenomenal set designs, So0laris is truly a beautiful looking film. This picture should be seen by any film lover that wants a truly compelling story mixed with stunning visuals. One of the reasons that Solaris stands out among other Science Fiction films is that it uses the bare necessitates to create something grand, and the end result is a flawless piece of cinema that ranks among one of the finest Science Fiction films ever made. Along with 2001: A Space Odyssey and Star Wars: A New Hope, Solaris has helped define the genre for many years to come after its release. While using a simple plot, director Andrei Tarkovsky was able to get the most out of the film by focusing on a unique style that is simple unforgettable. This film is a must watch for any genre fan, and I highly recommend it to viewers who are looking for a truly grand film to watch, then Solaris is that film. Solaris is a truly unique picture to watch, relying and terrific visuals to elevate its story, and boasting phenomenal performances from its cast; it has earned its place among the genres finest works, and is like its contemporaries a ground breaking effort in Science Fiction cinema.
    Alex r Super Reviewer
  • Aug 14, 2013
    "2001 II: The Russians Take Space"! I can make that joke now, but back in 1972, discussions regarding the Russians winning some kind of a space race were all too real, and apparently not even the Russians were taking too kindly to their leaders' questionable actions, as this film tells you... I think. Sorry, but this film is a touch too dull to be consistently engaging, but still, the point is that this film kind of toned down all of the excitement of the Cold War, and not just because it offered some good old-fashioned sci-fi escapism, yet hardly anyone saw it, partly for political reasons and largely because they didn't feel like promoting a film this slow all that much. Seriously though, by 1972, if the Russians topped the Americans in no other type of space race, it was the race to see if you could make a space film that is duller than "2001: A Space Odyssey". No, "2001" was good, and this film is just fine, but hey, you've got to give credit to the Soviets for their having the guts to make things longer and drier... before submitting the final product into Cannes Film Festival in France. Oh man, as much as Russia was trying to make everyone Communist, we probably should have paid attention to this film back in '72, as you couldn't have been too sure that the Soviets meant nothing by their giving the French a piece of Russian "entertainment" that you know they were going to love, what with its being all foreign, and arty, and, well, dull. Forced jokes regarding long-gone political conflicts aside, this is very much a critic's art flick, complete with a questionable beat for most every strength. I go and on joking about how this film rips off "2001: A Space Odyssey" or something, but this film appears to not want to be too derivative of the Kubrick classic in question, so much so that it ends up being derivative of other sci-fi films along these lines, having more than a few refreshing moments, but also plenty of moments that are too formulaic to keep predictability at bay, especially when predictability goes reinforced by a degree of superficiality. The film holds a great deal of potential for depth, and it does this potential a fair bit of justice more often than not, yet I can't help but feel as though there's something undercooked about this drama, which explores much of its dramatic and thematic weight rather superficially, maybe even heavy-handedly, while putting only so much more beyond the minimum of attention into expository depth, thus making for a film that could have been deeper, but ends up taking a long time to say only so much, and I really do mean a long time. At about two hours and a quarter, this film asks for quite the investment of time, and I can't say that it pays off as much as it should, bloating itself with excess material and repetition, but not entirely, as the film is just as dragged out by those classic artsy meditations upon nothing for overlong period of time, which boast a moderate air of pretense, and take the film's narrative down a more unconventional path that doesn't really break from the conventional as organically as it should, resulting in unevenness in storytelling style. To be honest, by biggest fear when entering this film was not necessarily its being slow, but its specifically being slow in that artistically misguided fashion that the critics love in European films for the sake of seeming like intellectuals, rather than misguided by their own right, and I'm very relieved to find that this film keeps its artistry under control enough to keep engagement value and decency going, though I would be more comfortable with the final product if it didn't still get carried away and uneven with its meditativeness, which would, in turn, be easier to forgive if director Andrei Tarkovsky's atmospheric pacing wasn't faithful to plotting's structural pacing. On top of being draggy, the film is very dry, with a chilled atmosphere that is pretty bland, if not just downright dull, and, believe it or not, borderline consistent, and for a whopping 167 minutes no less. The film is rarely so cold that it's tedious, but it challenges your investment with bland spell, after bland spell, after bland spell, dragged out by overly steady plot structuring, and rendered barely worthy of your upmost patience by conventional and often superficial storytelling, thus making for a final product which runs a very real risk of collapse into underwhelmingness. Well, as what may very well be sheer luck may have it, the final product prevails as genuinely decent, taking a lot of damage, but meeting its blows with undeniable strengths that can be as light as strong musicality. Now, when I say that this film is quiet, oh boy, do I mean it, so much so that the film does only so much exploring of Eduard Artemyev's score, which also gets to be too somber to be all that striking at times, but is still worthy of appreciation when it does finally come into play, as Artemyev's fusion of electronic style and tastefully minimalist classical sensibilities is both unique and lovely, as well as complimentary to the tone of this very arty sci-fi flick. On an audible level, Artemyev unevenly used efforts breathe quite a bit of life into the film, and on a visual level, cinematographer Vadim Yusov's efforts are about as impressive, having more flat moments than the snooty critics would like to admit, but still plenty of moments that strike with a rather dated, but still warm kick to color, explored pretty deeply with nifty plays with nifty color palettes that range from handsome to borderline stunning. The film looks good, and when it actually produces some kind of a musical note, it sounds good, so in terms of artistry that extends beyond storytelling style, this film excels about as much as it can to be a relatively cheep early-1970s atrt piece, yet is hardly stylistically sharp enough for artistry to be enough to carry the final product to the decency that is ultimately achieved. What really saves the integrity of this seriously flawed film is the substance that gets hit the most by flaws, - which range from conventional and uneven storytelling to bland dragging - but is not so watered down that its potential is completely obscured, because as superficial as this film gets to be with its handling of dramatic and thematic weight, the depths of this story concept are still pretty fascinating, touching upon very human subject matter in a manner that would be more effective if the film's storytelling was more inspired, or at least more focused, but remains pretty thought-provoking. Director Andrei Tarkovsky stands to be more extensive as the teller of this interesting tale, or at least stands to be livelier, seeing as how the intrigue of this film goes challenged by some serious bland spells, but Tarkovsky doesn't get so carried away with his misguided artistry or other shortcomings that you can deny a certain degree of immediate intrigue, spawned from a weighty story concept, and reinforced engaging performances. Being so undercooked, this film doesn't give its performers too much to work with, but when the talents step up to the occasion, they help greatly in keeping things going through subtle dramatic punch that I feel is heaviest within the show-stealing performance by the lovely Natalya Bondarchuk, whose emotional intensity anchors much of the human weight which drives this meditative drama. Bondarachuk is something of a supporting player, but she still raises a standard for inspiration that I really do wish was touched upon by more driving forces of this film, both onscreen and off, yet where the film could have taken that extra step into messiness which leads into mediocrity, there is enough justice done to intriguing concept to make the final product a decent one, just not one that I cannot recommend to those less patient than myself. In closing, storytelling not only gets to be formulaic, but superficial, if not heavy-handed, in its handling promising material, telling you only so much, and taking to long to do so, thanks to excessive dragging and a little bit of inconsistency to narrative style, whose being made all the more grating by many an atmospheric dull spell leaves the final product to run the risk of collapsing into mediocrity, which is challenged enough by lovely score work, handsome cinematography, intriguing subject matter and strong acting - especially from show-stealer Natalya Bondarchuk - for Andrei Tarkovsky's "Solaris" to stand as a decent artistic meditation upon humanity's meeting advancement with shortcomings, even if it itself has plenty of shortcomings. 2.5/5 - Fair
    Cameron J Super Reviewer
  • Apr 23, 2013
    I decided to watch again one of my favourite movies of all time because I actually never reviewed it! Originally, as a kid I read the novel Solaris by Stanislaw Lem which was very popular in the old Yugoslavia where I lived at the time and I was so fascinated that had to watch the movie as well. Of course didn't take long to start adoring Andrei Tarkovsky as a director. It was fascinating in the 70's and it is even more now to watch this meditative psychological drama about a stalled out scientific mission on a space station where psychologist Kris Kelvin travels to evaluate the situation. But he is not immune to the strange phenomena happening above the ocean of thought... If you love sci-fi movies, be prepared for something completely different! This is completely opposite to the American science fiction films... there is no fast narrative pacing, special effects, weird gadgets and talk to communicate character psychology and an imagined future... nothing like that. Slow paced, psychologically complex story is taking us on a journey of deep thinking which will be enjoyable the whole 2 h 46 minutes. Unforgettable cast: Natalya Bondarchuk (Hari), Donatas Banionis (Kris Kelvin), Jüri Järvet (Dr Snaut), Vladislav Dvorzhetsky (Henri Berton), Nikolai Grinko (Kris Kelvin's Father), Olga Barnet (Kris Kelvin's Mother), Anatoli Solonitsyn (Dr Sartorius), and Sos Sargsyan (Dr Gibarian), made this experience even better... and there is no question that this was the best movie in 1972... Cannes Film Festival's Grand Prix Spécial du Jury was a proof for that.
    Panta O Super Reviewer

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