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Seeing Solaris

Every year the Arsenal Kino in Berlin holds a Tarkovsky retrospective... Except last year when they didn't. This year they're back with a bang! By which I mean they are showing Tarkovsky's films again.

I'd never seen a Tarkovsky film before and all my knowledge of his work comes from reading a review of the video game adaption of Stalker. I didn't even know what era these films dated. So when A told me that this film starred George Clooney, it seemed totally plausible. I was very excited to see an acclaimed sci fi film by a Russian director starring George Clooney.

About 5 seconds into the opening credits, where cyrillic characters sway on crackly old film stock accompanied by a droning organ, it became apparent that George Clooney would not be appearing in this film. From the credits (which felt like they might be from a vampire film from 1920) we go straight to some startlingly colorful shots of the watery folliage, and a sorrowful blue coated man holding a metal lunchbox. Perhaps it was the screenshots accompanying that Stalker review in PC Gamer Magazine, but one thing I really didn't expect from this film was vivid colours, and verdant plant life. It was a pleasant surprise.

Equally surprising was the scene to scene shift from color to a blue tinged monotone. A wondered if this shift might represent dream sequences, it could also reflect the viewpoint of the ocean of solaris. I also wouldn't be surprised to find out that the truth is more to do with the availability of materials.

Eventually our hero (who is not Geroge Clooney) goes to space, meets an alien version of his dead wife, traps her in a rocket, meets another version of the dead wife, falls in love with her, becomes increasingly strange, then eventually decides to live in a memory on the watery planet of Solaris.

The film raises questions about what it means to be human, and whether asking questions like that is worth while. One character claims that the happiest people never think about the 'eternal themes'. The protaganist's behaviour towards the fake version of his wife, and eventual fate, seem to be the actions of someone who's more interested in being happy than thinking about the meaning of his wife's ressurection. But is the purpose of life being happy, or is it instead more important to understand why you are having a horrible time in space?

Open questions

  • what's the deal with the horse that the child is scared of? Why are there so many pictures of horses on the space station?
  • Why all the references to Don Quixote and Faustus?
  • Why is the scene of Burton driving home so incredibly long?

Solaris was very good and you should watch it.


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