Solaris (1972 film)  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Solaris is a 1972 Russian film directed by Andrei Tarkovsky. It is based on the novel of the same name by Polish science fiction author Stanisław Lem. The film features Natalya Bondarchuk, Donatas Banionis, Jüri Järvet, Nikolai Grinko and Anatoly Solonitsyn and has a soundtrack by Eduard Artemyev.

Solaris is a meditative psychodrama that is set mostly on a space station in orbit around a planet called "Solaris". The scientific mission on the space station has fallen into a crisis. Psychologist Kris Kelvin travels to the station to evaluate and explore the situation, but soon experiences the same kind of hallucinations that have befallen the other crew members. The film concentrates on the thoughts and the conscience of its characters and is a "drama of grief and partial recovery". Solaris and its complex and slow storytelling has sometimes been contrasted with Western science fiction films, which rely on special effects and an imagined version of the future.


Psychologist Kris Kelvin (Donatas Banionis) spends his last day on Earth reflecting on his life while walking by a lake near his childhood home, where his elderly father still resides. Kelvin is about to embark on an interstellar journey to a space station orbiting the remote oceanic planet Solaris. After decades of study, the scientific mission at the space station has not progressed, with the crew sending confusing messages that appear to be gibberish. Kelvin is sent to evaluate the ship as it orbits the planet and determine whether the venture should continue.

Henri Berton (Vladislav Dvorzhetsky), a former space pilot, visits Kelvin. They watch film footage of Berton's own testimony years before, in which he recounts seeing a four-meter-tall child on the ocean surface of Solaris while searching for two lost scientists. However, the cameras of his craft recorded only clouds and the flat ocean surface. As such, the majority of scientists dismiss Berton's report as hallucinations. After failing to convince Kelvin of the reality of his experience, Berton angrily departs, only to contact him by videophone from his private car. He explains that he recognized the being he encountered as identical to the child of one of the lost scientists he was searching for on his failed mission.

Before departing Earth, Kelvin destroys most of his personal mementos in a bonfire. In his last conversation with his father (Nikolai Grinko), it becomes clear his father will probably not live to see him return. Though Kelvin readily accepted the mission, it is a choice that weighs heavily upon his conscience.

Upon his arrival at Solaris Station, a scientific research station hovering above the oceanic surface of the planet Solaris, none of the three remaining scientists bother to greet Kelvin, and he finds the space station in dangerous disarray. He soon learns that his friend among the scientists, Dr. Gibarian (Sos Sargsyan), has killed himself. The two surviving crewmen are uncooperative and evasive. Kelvin also catches fleeting glimpses of others aboard the station, who were not part of the original crew, though their appearances are transient. Upon entering the late Gibarian's room, Kelvin finds a rambling cryptic farewell video message from his friend addressed to him warning him about the station.

After waking exhausted from a restless sleep, Kelvin finds a woman with him in his quarters despite the barricaded door. To his surprise, it is Hari (Natalya Bondarchuk), his late wife. She is unaware of what has happened or how she got there. Terrified by her presence, he lures her into a space capsule and launches the replica of his wife into outer space. In his haste to be rid of her, he is scorched by the rocket's blast. Dr. Snaut tends to his burns and explains that the "visitors" began appearing after the scientists attracted the attention of Solaris, seemingly a sentient entity. Dr. Snauts observed that Solaris' attention regarding the spaceship was drawn particularly after the nuclear experiments made by some of the scientists on its surface, as a desperate move to obtain some scientific advance regarding the 'Solaristics'. So, the nuclear experiments, which were in fact prohibited, provoked a negative responde of Solaris' regarding the scientists and the spaceship.

That evening, Hari reappears in his quarters. This time Kelvin calmly accepts her and they fall asleep together in an embrace. Kelvin later causes her to panic by suddenly leaving the room and shutting the door behind him. She hysterically tears her way through the room's metal door, severely cutting herself. Before he can give first aid, her injuries spontaneously heal before his eyes. Dr. Sartorius (Anatoli Solonitsyn) calls for a meeting, and Kelvin introduces Hari as his wife. In their symposium, the scientists explain to Kelvin that Solaris created Hari from his memories of her. The Hari present among them, though not human, thinks and feels as though she were. Sartorius theorizes that the visitors are composed of "neutrino systems" but that it might still be possible to destroy them through use of an offscreen device known as "the annihilator".

Kelvin shows Hari films of himself and his parents when he was a boy and, later, of his wife. While she is seemingly asleep, Snaut proposes beaming Kelvin's brainwave patterns at Solaris in hopes that it will understand them and stop the disturbing apparitions. However, Sartorius suggests a radical attack of heavy radiation bombardment.

In time, Hari becomes independent and is able to exist away from Kelvin's presence. She learns from Sartorius that the original Hari had committed suicide ten years earlier. Sartorius, Snaut, Kelvin and Hari gather together for a birthday party, which evolves into a philosophical argument, during which Sartorius reminds Hari that she is not real. Distressed, Hari kills herself again by drinking liquid oxygen, only to painfully convulse in a spontaneous resurrection after a few minutes. On the surface of Solaris, the ocean begins to swirl faster into a funnel.

Kelvin goes to sleep, only to wake up agitated and running a fever. He gives a monologue to Snaut on the subject of suffering and universal love, then falls asleep again. He dreams of his mother as a young woman, caring for him and expressing concern. As she tends to his burns, he notices that he also spontaneously heals, similar to Hari. When he awakens back on the station, Hari is gone, and Snaut reads him a farewell note she left behind, in which she describes how she petitioned the two scientists to destroy her. Snaut then tells Kelvin that since they broadcast Kelvin's brainwaves into Solaris, the visitors had stopped appearing and islands began forming on the planet surface. Kelvin debates whether or not to return to Earth or to remain with Solaris.

The scene then abruptly changes, and Kelvin finds himself outside a frozen lake at his father's house. His dog runs towards him, and Kelvin happily walks the path to his home. He realizes something is peculiar, however, when he notices his father oblivious to water raining down on him inside the house, though outside it is clear. They embrace at the doorstep as the camera slowly pans out, revealing the building and his father as neutrino recreations on one of Solaris' islands, recreations that apparently come from his dreams or wishes. Then it could be suggested that Solaris itself had materialized Kelvin's dream or wishes on one of its islands in neutrino forms, as the effect of 'reading' Kelvin's brainwaves. If it is so, the film suggests that Solaris' powers would involve not only materializing thoughts necessarily connected to someone's existence, but also 'reading' someone's brainwaves so as to give them an 'independent' (and temporary?) life on its surface. Has Kelvin chosen to stay behind, alone with his memories on the ocean planet Solaris?

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