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.
To be honest, I hate 2001, because I think it tells its relies so heavily on its message that there's almost no story to tell. It keeps repeating its messages, that we have already recognized from the get-go, throughout its running time. Adding insult to injury, it tries to be riveting by showing how wonderful the camera work is,how mesmerizing the cinematography is, how fascinating the production design is, how masterful the editing is, etc. While all these technical points made this movie the most beautiful movie I've ever seen, instead of relying on the technical aspect, I think it should have engaged us with the use of narrative elements, such as a dramatic plot, well-wrought and fleshed-out characters, or in a worst-case scenario, a mysterious event or even character.
Fortunately, I think Solaris is way better than 2001. It has a fair share of metaphors, and also has fully-developed characters, a coherent plot, and powerful messages. The result is a movie that has a very comprehensive and engaging story that tugs at your heartstrings. Needless to say, the acting is great, the direction is masterful, and the cinematography and the production design are nothing but art!
It's just the slow-pacing that sometimes I felt it wasn't necessary. Specially, before the climax as this should exactly be the time when I should be entirely focused, but I found that I get a little bored.
Some may find the messages are presented in a direct way and somehow in your face, but that was completely intended. It's the first Tarkovsky film I watch, but it's obvious that presenting the message in the dialogue is kinda his trademark. The characters don't reveal the message to put an end to the story. instead, they keep involving the viewers with the messages they discover along the movie.
Can't wait to watch The Mirror and Stalker!
But I sure liked it. Loved it actually. First of all, how cool it is that you can travel in space with a leather jacked and fishnet t-shirt? The future is great!
But no more spoilers and let's talk about the feeling I got. The feeling as I've said is very good. It reminded me "2001: a space odyssey". Those kind of movies that make you scratch your head so many times thought it, and at the end you are taken and you don't know exactly why! It's an oneiric piece of work, slow but powerful, weird but at times so clear. Meditative I would say. After Andrei Tarkovsky's "Stalker" I was scared to start this one. "Stalker" never took my attention, too slow, too complex. "Solaris" is definitely not fast either, but I was pulled into it from the start until the last scene. It's not an easy watch but if like me (and many others apparently) you are taken from it, then you will want to watch it again and again.
One of the greatest movies of all time.