One Scene

A Drop in the Ocean: One Scene from Solaris

On Film / Short Takes — May 24, 2011

The first time I saw Solaris was on VHS in the mid-nineties. Even though the film affected me profoundly, I never watched it again until now. The richness of the images, the vividness of the mood, and the depth of the themes are so intense, they have simmered and lived in my mind for more than fifteen years just from that one viewing. Seeing it again, going from VHS to this new restoration, is truly a revelation. It's like owning a pristine 35 mm print.

I like to think of Kris Kelvin, the “hero” of Solaris, as Han Solo, but grieving and with a broken heart. There’s no evil empire for him to conquer, just an apparition of his dead wife to embrace. This is not an enemy he seeks to destroy but one he yearns, more than anything, to be with. To have things be as they were, a mission that can never be accomplished and has no end.

The world of the space station and the planet it orbits is mercurial, fevered, and in a constant state of decay and transformation, so you never have a sense of comfort or knowing what will happen next. The surface of the planet itself is the perfect visual metaphor for this state of mind. Like the recent footage of the tragic tsunamis in Japan, its gargantuan, pulsating surface makes you feel inconsequential and lost, and is a vivid, hypnotic mirror of just how fragile our bodies, and especially our minds, really are.