Solaris (2003)

Solaris2002-PosterArtThe film “Solaris” poses some interesting questions about life; How much of life is reality and how much is illusion? How much of life is illusion we’re not aware of, and illusion we prefer to endure for the sake of going on in life? When someone dies, how much of their memory that we store in our minds is real and how much is distorted by the way we preferred to see them as? And, finally, one of the truly provocative questions: Do we ever really know someone? Do we know their flaws and personality inside out or do we just create our own images of them.

For the Steven Soderbergh directed “Solaris” based on the original film from Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1972 film “Solyaris”, George Clooney stars as scientist Chris Kelvin, a widower who’s been called aboard a vessel to investigate a series of strange events near a mysterious planet named “Solaris.” Chris is warned by the hostile remaining crew members that the planet Solaris is giving off weird vibes though he’s never told what is exactly happening and experiences it for himself when he wakes from sleep only to be beside his wife who died years earlier. Is she real? Is she a ghost? Is she an entity or some odd reincarnation from the star? He’ll dare to explore the answer and will be forced to come to grips with his turbulent past with her.

For the record, let me pose a common misconception with the viewers of the film; If you’re expecting a shoot ’em up alien film with laser guns and rebels, move on, If you’re expecting outer space battles and some guy dressed in black with a lightsaber, move on, and if you’re even expecting a spooky ghost story, move on yet again. This is a film about a broken character who finds fulfillment in the most unusual sense, a character who comes to grip with his own reality as brutal as it may have been, a character who discovers what his life is, was, and shall be until the day he dies. Natascha McElhone gives a truly sad performance as Rheya, the doe eyed woman Chris met simply out of impulse and instantly began an unusual relationship with; she returns from where she once was from the help of the strange events on the ship forcing Chris to come to terms with his tortured relationship with Rheya.

I was very fascinated with the questions and philosophical debate this film might bring to the table of the audience and I was interested to discover what would happen between the two. We never get to know much about Chris at the opener of the film except that he’s a widower still recovering after many years after his wife died, then he enters the ship and instantly senses something may be wrong and soon becomes one with the events learning firsthand what everyone warns him about in the beginning. Chris had a turbulent relationship with Rheya and the two often clashed with their differing personalities; one being a social intellect, the other being a basic outcast.

The resurrected Rheya has no idea who she was in the previous life and mostly relies on Chris’ help. She remembers certain aspects of their romance and her first impulse is to become close to him, but Chris must inform her on the life they had together and she realize that he’s not the person she thought he was. “What you remember about a person isn’t exactly true, most of the time it’s what we chose to see,” one character declares, and it becomes obvious upon Chris’ reminiscing of Rheya who seemed mostly isolated from their relationship and never really gave herself a chance to know Chris, but when she learns that she was pregnant with a child and Chris instantly rejected her after the announcement she committed suicide which he attributed to, an aspect of his memories of her that he didn’t remember or chose not to see.

When she attempts it again she rises back to life learning there’s really no escape from Chris or the ship which hovers over Solaris. Each of the characters learn something about one another, something they either didn’t see or chose not to see when they were alive. By the end of the film, the character Chris realizes that his memories of Rheya weren’t exactly who she was, and he begins to realize maybe he didn’t know her at all. We, the audience after watching him comprehend such a notion learn we never get to know the true character of Rheya at all either, and her true character and her personality is basically up in the air and we’re left simply to our imaginations of whom she may have been.

The final moments of the film are truly heartbreaking and somewhat ponderous posing a question to the audience that will prompt many to choose the route Clooney’s character chooses in the film, and that brings about some heart wrenching thoughts. What would you do to be with the person you loved in life? What lengths would you go to? You might surprise yourself. As far as raising some interesting questions about existence and reality, this film has little to offer audiences. This isn’t a conventional science fiction film, but a romance film that takes place in the future aboard a space ship. I found little reason or logic behind setting the story among a space ship when it could have easily have been set among a another more conventional setting.

There’s really not a lot of reason to put these sets of characters among each other in this space ship when there’s not much purpose for it in the first place. While I tend to appreciate Steven Soderbergh’s films for what they are, he’s not too particularly talented in his approach towards a science fiction film. There’s little substance in the directing and scenery with such a story that’s dripping substance. All the actors in the film look bored with the material and act almost wooden including George Clooney who’s usually good in most of his films but seems out of place in this among the gadgets and unlimited depths of space. Natascha McElhone also looks bored in this film and there’s never really a moment in the film that grabs the audience pulling them through.

Despite being truly mind boggling, there’s no aspect that grips us; we’re mostly given the chance to know these two characters and their romance through long and drawn out flashbacks of them on Earth as they struggle with each other but ultimately find true love in spite of their differences. I wasn’t interested in the flashbacks and wondered, despite being essential to the story, what little impact it would have if they weren’t featured in the film. In the end, the film remains low-key despite very good special effects and the audience leaves the film with not much except wondering why Clooney is naked in one scene. Soderbergh’s remake is a thought provoking, fascinating and heart breaking glimpse into characters that must come to grips with their past.


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