My 7 Dinners With Andrei #3: Solaris

Science fiction…double feature…(with something else in between)…

Where Andrei Rublev manages to stuff a whole lot of content into its three hours of running time (and possibly more of it depending on which version you watch), Solaris is content to just watch life happen, and focus on the human face without moving while the older movie roved around and captured everything in sight. We see some water, some plants, a man…the man washes his hands in the water, looks around. No dialogue for about seven and a half minutes. It is also the first full color film of Tarkovsky’s, and the palette is not designed to be appealing to the eyes (this admittedly may be a restoration issue). There is a very lengthy scene of an astronaut who has been to the planet describing his experiences to an inquisition board as our lead, Kris, watches with his parents before he himself goes to the station, with a series of lengthy philosophical conversations dragging us over the half hour mark. Then we get a very long scene of driving so that we hit the 43 minute mark, finally taking us on board the ship. Hopefully by this point, you can understand my skepticism and sleepiness over the goals of Solaris even if I was fully aware coming in that it was the longest and arguably most difficult work of a filmmaker who was supposedly a tough sit at all times.

But something remarkable happens: things get freer and looser, albeit relatively speaking with a camera that still moves slowly and deliberately. We slowly learn that the crew has been going insane and what causes it. Hallucinations of deceased loved ones who do not retain their memories and only appear to the person in question. Kris’ dead wife appears and promptly vanishes in various ways. You can totally understand why this master of imagery felt it was his weakest work, as there is a sense of frustrated reaching to capture a unique spirit when what is in reach is still fairly exciting, and influences the material in a way that is quietly beautiful. Natalya Bondarchuk bursting through a metal door but healing herself of her wounds before exclaiming in terror “What’s wrong with me?” is a beautiful encapsulation of what my reception to this bizarre masterpiece was. Boring is a lazy adjective that implies bad things, but it works so well in this tedious piece of amazing art. It’s homework but not the lazy kind.


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