Solaris, a review

This is about the 2002 Steven Soderbergh film starring George Clooney and Natascha McElhone.

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I read the book this film is based on some years ago and I was impressed. It was written originally in Polish by Stanisław Lem and has been translated into many languages, including English obviously. It's about scientists investigating a world that is completely covered in an oceanic alien life-form.

The book and this film part company from each other for the most part. There's common elements; a doctor named Kris Kelvin, a woman named Rheya, a planet called Solaris, etc, and many of the same events occur in both, but it diverges a great deal.

Image capture from Solaris

Image capture from Solaris

Image capture from Solaris

Kris Kelvin, a psychologist capably played by George Clooney, is called to the world Solaris in response to a plea for help by a friend of his, Gibarian. In the book, the station is located on Solaris's surface, in the film, it's in orbit. Kelvin answers the call, as he has nothing on Earth left for him any more (his wife is dead), and he travels to Solaris. That's when the weirdness starts...

Kelvin finds Gibarian is dead when he arrives, a victim of his own suicidal hand, and Kelvin then sees a little boy run away. Little boys shouldn't be on space stations; it becomes apparent to Kelvin almost immediately that things aren't what they should be.

A lot of the film is played in flashback, as Kelvin reminisces over times he'd spent with his wife Rheya (she's his girlfriend in the book), about how they met, how they interacted, how they fought and how she ended up committing suicide.

Image capture from Solaris

Image capture from Solaris

The early part of the movie portrays well the meaningless grind Kelvin's life has become and his guilt over the loss of Rheya. So, he's probably a little relieved to get Gibarian's distress call and head off to Solaris, as I alluded to.

The film has a creeping and subtle sense of eldritch about it that didn't connect too well with some audiences. It's a little bit on the side of Strange Cinema to be sure, what with its softly chiming soundtrack and odd character interaction. The flashbacks to the earlier stages of Kelvin and Rheya's relationship hinder the sense of continuity, although they do provide the necessary story as to why Rheya is re-created by Solaris. She's quite a sad person, just like she was in the book. There's a vague sense of detachment, as if the characters and events are somehow moving in between the strands of reality; not quite there with the rest of us, no matter where we may be.

Kelvin's sojourn aboard the space station isn't a solo one. Two other people are there as well (there were more in the book, and none of them female). He's joined by Snow, played by Jeremy Davies and Gordon, played by Viola Davis. Both of them are experiencing their own personal demons as well, as created by Solaris. Both are well portrayed, especially Davies who plays his part with a nervy and edgy manner that's invigorating to watch.

I guess this film is about loss and redemption and the grasping of second chances. The book definitely wasn't. In the end Kelvin accepts Rheya as the opportunity come around again that she is.

The ending is a little too cute for my liking.

Overall, it's a moody and eloquent film that probably won't appeal to a majority of people. In fact, if you read many reviews out there, a lot of them simply didn't get it.