Mysterium Pictorum 04 - SOLARIS
Listen to our full discussion of this classic on our new podcast series Mysterium Pictorum! Available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts and everywhere else, too!
In an abandoned underground city at the Spanish coast, near Malaga, I found a USB stick containing 300 random movies from arthouse to weird, from obscure to notorious. Now, in Lockdown, it is time to watch and discuss them all in an international podcast project. Two Turks and a German, two filmmakers and a mystery man - Welcome to Mysterium Pictorum!
SOLARIS - BOOB-DEATH!
"Solaris" is shrouded in a reputation of mystique. Back in 2002, when 11-year-old-me would religiously read free movie-ad-magazines to stay informed about what movies I wasn't allowed to see but was planning on watching as soon as I would find a way to do so, I remember the description of a new George Clooney movie as weird and cryptic and being a remake of an obscure Russian arthouse thing that nobody could ever hope to understand at all.
In film school, a lecturer echoed those sentiments, saying that Solaris was so unbelievably cryptic and boring, not even the American remake by his personal god Soderbergh made any sense.
I was thus really surprised by how straightforward and simple the surface story of "Solaris" really is. Sure - There are layers of meaning and symbolism to ponder, but you don't really need to do that to understand or enjoy the movie.
On the planet Solaris, there is a sentient ocean. Our protagonist gets send up there to a space station, as a psychiatrist, to have a look at what's going on. Before he goes, he visits his parents, who have an old friend over, who has been to Solaris years before and told a creepy story about his encounter with the ocean (it involves a 10-meter-baby) to the authorities, who never took him seriously. Despite the fact that by now it seems like his report has been somewhat accurate, our protagonist still dismisses the old guy, who is so afraid of that ocean, he wants to bomb it.
The psychiatrist goes to Solaris and finds the space station in disarray. It's a proper haunted house set up. Being built for 85 people, the station now only houses 2 scientists, plus mysterious "visitors" the ocean seems to materialize for them. These visitors are manifestations of their guilty consciences, which makes them both quite depressed and mad.
The protagonist, too, gets such a visitor - An embodiment of his dead wife, with which he starts to have a kind of romance. In the end, they manage to communicate better with the ocean, which starts to form islands to make the planet habitable for the astronauts. Our protagonist decides to stay.
It's really not very cryptic. In between, the characters philosophize and there's brief attempts at scientific explanations, but none of that gets in the way of understanding what's going on - On the contrary!
Of course, there is all kinds of psychological and religious subtext to explore, if you're into that, but that's not absolutely necessary to understand and enjoy the movie. "Solaris" is, and I know this is a cliché, a sort of meditative experience. It gives to time to think about what you see, get to your own conclusions, form your own opinions. It also has everything an exciting space adventure needs: A love story, a weird, potentially evil alien, mad scientists, gruesome deaths, boobs, a dog and a horse! Don't let anyone tell you this movie is "difficult", "boring" or "indecipherable". It's not. Yes, it's long and it can feel exhausting, but it's never boring and an all in all very rewarding experience that will seem a lot denser when looking back on it than while watching it.