Psychologist Chris Kelvin (George Clooney) is summonsed to the space station observing the enigmatic Solaris, after a series of strange events which the ship’s commander, Gibarian (Ulrich Tuckur) cannot explain to his old friend. When Kelvin arrives, blood stains alert him to unknown dangers, and then he discovers Gibarian is dead. But he gets an even bigger shock when his wife Rheya (Natasha McElhone) appears in his cabin. She had committed suicide some years earlier. Now she herself is not sure what’s going on, but Kelvin hopes this is another chance for their relationship. The ship’s remaining crew (Jeremy Davies & Viola Davis) are no help to solving the mystery of visitors such as Rheya. Is it Solaris itself, playing mind games with the earthlings?
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Although both George Clooney and Natasha McElhone deliver outstanding performances and it looks like an American film – with indie sensibilities- you have to approach this film with its author firmly in mind. Stansilaw Lem was born in the Ukraine, and his sociological terms of reference, not to mention his psychological touchstones, are different to most western writers. The East European intellect loves to play with audacious, existential and otherwise complex ideas for the sheer hell of it; it’s mind-gym. Lem’s Solaris is a big ‘what if’ – not about space or an ‘intelligent’ planet like Solaris which can latch on to your best formed thoughts and make them real. That’s just the vehicle; his question is about human nature, deep inside, not deep in space. It doesn’t give away any crucial plot points to say that the final line of dialogue holds the key to the writer’s deeply felt motivation for this story. “Everything we have done is forgiven. Everything.” This is the powerful emotional and psychological foundation on which the premise is built. Rheya and Chris were lovers, married, and then dislocated from each other, spinning out of control as one bad mistake led to another. We see this in short, almost sketchy flashbacks, Soderbergh working with immaculate sensitivity for the material and his characters. The realisation of how misunderstanding each other led to the catastrophe is absolutely riveting cinema; simple, true, effective, economical and powerful. This is a love story with a melancholy romanticism through its broken heart. And the close ups make sure we’re always in there with them, in their tight quarters. Amazingly, a team like Soderbergh and producer James Cameron have managed to adapt a work from another culture, using American idioms and filming techniques, without destroying the original ideas and feelings. And as if to make sure this baby didn’t get dropped between its carers, Soderbergh wrote, directed, photographed and edited it all himself. It really is a Steven Soderbergh film.
Review by Louise Keller:
A moody, multi-dimensional love story and sci-fi mystery, Solaris is a thought-provoking, haunting film that allows the seeds of the imagination to germinate. Set in an undefined and unlimited time frame, Steven Soderbergh’s interpretation of the classic Stanislaw Lem novel is pensive, lingering, at times pretentious, but it somehow engages us, albeit often at arm’s length. Presenting us with this eerie chance at a second chance, the concept is at once confronting, yet invigorating, with guilt, regret and hope seeping out of the vast universe like rocket ships unsure of their destination. The cast is tiny – there are only five characters, with most of the accent on George Clooney’s brooding, widowed psychologist and Natasha McElhone’s vulnerable, unstable Rheya. Soderbergh concentrates much of the time on tightly framed close ups, so that we feel as though we have entered into Kelvin and Rheya’s psyches. Clooney is eminently watchable – his charisma enhancing his dashing good looks. It’s a strong and silent characterisation, and we connect with him. McElhone’s beautifully photogenic features are striking in close up, and there’s plenty of magnetism between the two. Rheya’s character is a mirror image of Kelvin’s perception of her, and that in itself offers its own confrontations. Jeremy Davies is effectively annoying as the brilliant scientist whose affectations and mannerisms take over the performance. The reality created is claustrophobic, with a score filled with monotones and prolonged discords. Soderbergh’s cinematography is superb, always putting the camera in the most effective place. His editing is sharp, at times edgy, and there’s never time to be bored by the simple lines of the production design. Don’t be misled by its sci-fi genre, Solaris is a love story, whose contemplative, cold tones may not please everyone, but offers an open invitation to those who are fascinated by theories of life, death and beyond. It may even make you reconsider your perception of your loved one.