Movie Review: Solaris

You should see Solaris. There are a lot of movies which are important parts of film history but which I can’t really recommend because they’re obtuse or extremely dated (Birth of a Nation comes to mind), but Solaris is both an “important” film and an eminently watchable one. This movie, like director Andrei Tarkovsky’s other major film, Stalker, is out in a beautiful 4K restoration now, making it the perfect time to watch this masterpiece of science fiction.

Solaris is set in a future of indeterminate date in which humanity has devoted years of study and exploration to a fictional planet from which the film derives its name. However, the pursuit of Solaris’ mysteries is abandoned after an incident in which the living, telepathic ocean which makes up the planet’s surface swallows one pilot and gives another vivid and horrifying hallucinations. Kris, a psychologist send to verify whether the scientists remaining in orbit above Solaris are mentally competent to continue their stay there or if the space station must be shut down for good, is the protagonist of the film. To go into further details on the plot would ruin the film, which largely depends for its drama on the psychological shock of the revelations which Kris experiences in the space station.

This is probably one of the most gorgeous movies ever made, from a visual standpoint. Tarkovsky is a master of composing shots and each frame could practically be a still life (and, in fact, a Flemish painting by an unknown old master painter is used as a motif in the film). In addition, the actors manage to capture the nightmarishness of the drama happening onscreen without being maudlin or hammy-this is a masterpiece of psychological realism in film. The ending, too, is a bleak and darkly comic take on  the foibles of humans experiencing love and grief. Like StalkerSolaris is the closest I think a film can get to my idea of a perfect movie; it is technically flawless, thematically resonant, and psychologically astute. That’s my way of saying you should definitely get out and see this movie, even if it doesn’t seem like your thing. You won’t regret it.