|Distributor:||20th Century Fox|
A curious mix of science fiction and metaphysical love story, Solaris centers around Chris Kelvin (George Clooney), a psychologist sent to investigate why a space station orbiting an alien planet has stopped communications. The planet has the power to delve into human psyches and re-create lost loved ones—in Kelvin’s case, his dead wife (Natascha McElhone), whom he then wants to bring back to Earth. Director Steven Soderbergh (Traffic, Erin Brockovich) fills almost every shot with faces and bodies, as if to emphasize the human soul rather…
A curious mix of science fiction and metaphysical love story, Solaris centers around Chris Kelvin (George Clooney), a psychologist sent to investigate why a space station orbiting an alien planet has stopped communications. The planet has the power to delve into human psyches and re-create lost loved ones—in Kelvin’s case, his dead wife (Natascha McElhone), whom he then wants to bring back to Earth. Director Steven Soderbergh (Traffic, Erin Brockovich) fills almost every shot with faces and bodies, as if to emphasize the human soul rather than outer space as the movie’s true subject. Unfortunately, the vagueness of the environment—combined with a script that implies more than it shows—serves to dislocate our ability to engage with the characters, rendering Solaris emotionally inert. Jeremy Davies, as a lingering crew member, brings a hint of humor to the otherwise serious-minded proceedings. —Bret Fetzer
Solaris is a remake of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Russian film (often called the “Soviet 2001“), itself an adaptation of the Polish Stanislaw Lem’s novel, and is anything but a typical American science fiction film. Psychologist Chris Kelvin (George Clooney, playing it very cool and introverted) is sent to a space station orbiting the perhaps-living planet Solaris to investigate a loss of communication with Earth, and finds only two survivors: a free-associating neurotic (Jeremy Davies) and a control freak (Viola Davis), along with several corpses and evidence of recent violence. Kelvin is shocked to wake up next to his wife Rhea (Natascha McElhone), who committed suicide back on Earth years ago, and treats her like a body-snatched alien, disposing of the creature by jettisoning her into space. But she comes back again, and Kelvin realises she isn’t a soulless monster out to get him but a genuinely self-aware construct built from his own memories. Though warned against getting involved, Kelvin tries to maintain a relationship with the non-human woman, hoping to avoid this time the mistakes he made that led to Rhea’s death.
Steven Soderbergh, the most versatile and unpredictable director in Hollywood, stages a few big space moments, fascinated by the red and stringy ball of Solaris itself, but mostly sticks to interiors that have a Bergman-esque austerity, with Clooney and McElhone inhabiting their own room and going through deep emotional traumas while avoiding actual outbursts. It may be too interior a film for mainstream audiences, though at a clipped hour-and-a-half it isn’t as hard going for non-devotees as the three-hour Tarkovsky version, but there is a lot of real meat here none the less. —Kim Newman
Barnes and Noble
In this underappreciated remake, director Steven Soderbergh breathes new life into author Stanislaw Lem’s metaphysical sci-fi tale. George Clooney is Chris Kelvin, a psychologist sent to investigate strange happenings aboard the space station Prometheus, which orbits the oceanic planet Solaris. Once aboard, Kelvin finds two of the four crew members dead and the two survivors in psychological shock, and he soon discovers the cause: “visitors,” inhuman manifestations inhabiting various recesses of the Prometheus crew’s memories. Kelvin’s own visitor appears in the form of his deceased wife (Natascha McElhone), and it is here that Soderbergh’s contemplative film truly whirls into the realm of the mind-bending. Less science fiction and more existential relationship drama, Solaris appears to take its cues less from Lem’s original story than from Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1972 film adaptation—not to mention some heavy references to 2001: A Space Odyssey. And while it is less languorous and intense than Tarkovsky’s film, Soderbergh’s beautifully shot picture retains both the intellectual ambition and poetry of the original. Clooney maintains his ranking as the director’s best-used star; his trademark sideways charm is well balanced with a tight-lipped quality reminiscent of Tarkovsky’s leading man, Donatas Banionis. (That Clooney bears a passing resemblance to Banionis helps, too.) Though coolly received at the box office—and understandably so, as this is no Matrix—Solaris manages to respect and recall its source material while achieving its own unique dignity. Tony Nigro