KLAATU YOU (15)
April 8, 2020
One in a weekly series of enthusiastic posts, contributed by HILOBROW friends and regulars, on the topic of our favorite pre-Star Wars science fiction movies.
SOLARIS | d. ANDREI TARKOVSKY | 1972
It’s not exactly a love story. It’s not exactly horror. It’s only science fiction because of outer space. But whatever it is, Solaris, which I first saw on a scruffy, low-res VHS copy, in a scruffy, low-res Berkeley hippie shack, is much more than the sum of its gaps; it’s an existential black mirror from which it is impossible to look away.
Based on the novel by Stansiław Lem, Solaris concerns humanity’s troubled first contact with extraterrestrial life. Kris Kelvin is a cosmonaut, psychologist, and “space fixer.” After being brought up to visual and expository speed by a strangely lengthy drive along orbital overpasses, a scientific briefing, and an uncomfortable, Bergmanesque encounter at the family dacha, Kris travels to the planet Solaris and is met with chaos. The space station is a mess. The other cosmonauts hide behind closed doors, muttering incoherently; one has committed suicide. There is a sense that someone – or something – is lurking just around the corner. And then Kris runs into his ex-wife.
Arrayed in earth-tone maxi suede, Hari seems not at all surprised by her unlikely residence. This is jarring enough. But Kris discovers, both to his horror and fascination, that Hari is actually an alien: specifically, an extruded, independent part of Solaris. The real Hari took her own life back on earth. This “new” Hari is, ironically or conveniently, unkillable, something emphasized as Kris tries to launch her into space, resulting only in her immediate reappearance. The other cosmonauts also have their own “visitors”: Solaris reaches into the mind and sculpts the strongest emotional memory it finds into humanoid form. It is revealed that the planet has been making golems out of itself for eons, yet only now, in encountering its “own” extraterrestrials, has it had anything outside itself to work with.
And this copying, paradoxically, makes the planet our existential mirror. How much can we know of one another? How much of what we see is a copy of an idea, a projection of our own thoughts? Certainly this has been Solaris’s experience until the humans showed up, and it was arguably Kris’s experience in his marriage. Is it also Kris’s relationship with Solaris? Is it copies all the way down? Or does the encounter with an alien Other finally offer a way out of our universal solipsism?
Not so fast: Lem’s Solaris, after all, is only a story. And Tarkovsky’s Solaris is only a movie. And movies function by way of a perceptual error – our mind filling in the gaps between static images to create the illusion of movement. Perhaps Solaris does the same, filling in the gaps between static forms, creating the illusion of relationship.
The final scene reveals Kris back on the family property, walking slowly towards the dacha and his unfinished business. But where is he exactly…? The camera zooms out and we realize Solaris has made a copy of the dacha, and Kris has left the station for the surface.
Perhaps it is a love story after all.
KLAATU YOU: INTRODUCTION by Josh Glenn | Matthew De Abaitua on ZARDOZ | Miranda Mellis on METROPOLIS | Rob Wringham on THE INVISIBLE MAN | Michael Grasso on THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN | Gordon Dahlquist on 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY | Erik Davis on DARK STAR | Carlo Rotella on THE OMEGA MAN | Madeline Ashby on KISS ME DEADLY | Adam McGovern on SILENT RUNNING | Michael Lewy on THIS ISLAND EARTH | Josh Glenn on WILD IN THE STREETS | Mimi Lipson on BARBARELLA vs. SINS OF THE FLESHAPOIDS | Vanessa Berry on THE FLY | Lynn Peril on ATTACK OF THE 50 FOOT WOMAN | Peggy Nelson on SOLARIS | Adrienne Crew on LOGAN’S RUN | Ramona Lyons on THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH | Kio Stark on THE STEPFORD WIVES | Dan Fox on FANTASTIC PLANET | Chris Lanier on IKARIE XB-1 | Devin McKinney on IDAHO TRANSFER | Mark Kingwell on THUNDERBIRDS ARE GO | Luc Sante on THE TENTH VICTIM | William Nericcio on DEATH RACE 2000 | Rob Walker on CAPRICORN ONE | Gary Panter on ANGRY RED PLANET | David Levine on THE STEPFORD WIVES | Karinne Keithley Syers on ALPHAVILLE | Carolyn Kellogg on IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE | Sara Ryan on ESCAPE TO WITCH MOUNTAIN | Lisa Jane Persky on PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE | Adam Harrison Levy on BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES | Gerald Peary on CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON | Susannah Breslin on A CLOCKWORK ORANGE | Seth on WAR OF THE WORLDS | James Hannaham on GOJIRA/GODZILLA | Lydia Millet on VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED | Matthew Daniel on FANTASTIC VOYAGE | Shawn Wolfe on ROLLERBALL | Erin M. Routson on WESTWORLD | Marc Weidenbaum on COLOSSUS: THE FORBIN PROJECT | Neil LaBute on 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA | Vicente Lozano on DAY OF THE DOLPHIN | Tom Roston on SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE | Katya Apekina on A BOY AND HIS DOG | Chelsey Johnson on THE BLOB | Heather Kapplow on SPACE IS THE PLACE | Brian Berger on THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS | Anthony Miller on THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL.
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