Friday, February 06, 2004

Solaris (2002)

Vacuum Energy rating: 2 stars
Background information about "Solaris" is available at The Internet Movie Database.

"Solaris" is a movie that is ultimately about the nature of human sanity. The planet Solaris is seen to be a great mysterious swirl of colored mists and energy arcs. But the crewmembers of a space station in orbit around it find that the planet can bring people from their pasts back to life. We see the process of confusion and pain at work in the character of Dr. Chris Kelvin, a psychiatrist sent to the station on a last desperate mission to negotiate with the crew, and his discovery that his wife Rheya, dead by suicide, can be reincarnated by his side.

At first, it appears that Kelvin is an honorable man with a normal life. His friend Dr. Gibarian, looking haggard and perhaps paranoid in the space station's final transmission, calls on Kelvin to come to Solaris as the one person whose experiences and background makes him trustworthy. Kelvin journeys to Solaris despite the danger, and yet, the shock of a dead wife brought back to life in bed beside him is enough to drive him into murdering her by casting her adrift in some kind of escape pod to asphyxiate. But she cannot die, and is brought back by Solaris to be with Kelvin again. Even another suicide by Rheya, whose strangely remote memories lead to her discovery that she is merely a memory made real (and suicidal because Kelvin remembers her as suicidal) only leads to another resurrection.

And yet, the movie seems to say that it is not really the rebirths of a loved one, even through the creation of copies of memories, that is maddening. Madness comes through the need to question and understand a process that is inherently incomprehensible by a human mind. Kelvin seems to confront this limit to the human need to apprehend when he sees Dr. Gibarian, himself now only a construct. When asked to explain why Solaris wants something from them, Dr. Gibarian can only help his friend by replying "Why do you think it has to want something? This is why you have to leave. If you keep thinking there's a solution, you'll die here." But we see Kelvin keep questioning, and eventually realizing that he must stay to understand even if it means dying there, even though he knows that the only conceivable rational thing to do is to leave a space station that he knows will be abandoned.

Of course, the little red pills that he starts taking to stay awake and guard Rheya might have had something to do with his mental state.

The other surviving crew are just as crazy or worse. The scruffy hacker Snow seems completely detached from his existence and moves only along the path of least resistance. On the other hand, the physicist Dr. Gordon seems obsessed with defeating the plans of Solaris and destroying the constructs, to the point of accidentally throwing the station into a death spiral through the misuse of "Higgs anti-boson" rays used to kill the constructs. And yet, they all can seem calm and rational, and even sensibly discuss their mental states and the situation on the space station. It's only that slip of saying or doing something way beyond reason in the most nonchalant way that makes their insanity apparent. Each character, in his or her own way, has slipped into the same trap that has ensnared Kelvin and part of what makes "Solaris" an intriguing movie is the process of discovering how that trap has irrevocably changed their lives.

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