Thursday, October 27

Looking Back in Anger: Solaris - Solar Is - So... Laris?

There is good reason to believe that Steven Soderbergh's Solaris (2002) could have easily been called George Clooney's Ass In Space, and probably would have netted the same box office profits.  Actually, maybe even more, considering they only snagged $6.7m opening weekend.  The film had a lot going against it when it released -- the book upon which it is based's author decried its overemphasis on the human conundrums in the film and Andrei Tarkovsky's 1972 film is often regarded as a science fiction masterpiece.

But they made it anyway and today I finally watched it.  And honestly, I liked it.  It struck a chord in me in the ways it addresses serious problems of modernity and identity that plague us not just as a society, but on a frighteningly individual level.  And in the end, after posing countless questions, the film merely shrugs its shoulders.  This, no doubt, frustrated people, but what more can you ask today?  Perhaps it wasn't quite as resonant in 2002, but in today's mediate climate, where every political, social, and cultural move is met with endless questioning and a demand for an answer, our endless yearning for emotional finality often IS met with perplexing suspension.

The worst place to fart.

No, this film does not have the answers.  And if that bothers you, then don't watch it -- you won't miss the greatest film of the era by any means.  But you can never count out Soderbergh to offer you something patient and beautiful, which Solaris most certainly is.  There is a symbolic focus on poetry in the film, no doubt because the hour and a half of the film plays like an ode to lost loves.

If you're not familiar with the plot, then go read a synopsis because I don't care enough to rewrite it here. It's not overly complex, and the 'twist' at the end barely even plays like one.  Soderbergh isn't really trying to mislead anybody, here.  But the construction of the film's final act, albeit initially confusing, is structured to best capture the film's penultimate question: "What now?"  The characters make choices in this film, but do they come with consequences?  Maybe not.

It's a lot like earth, only covered in purple Kool-Aid

If this film rant sounds at all ambiguous, that's because it is, because so is the film, and I liked the ambiguity.  The meditative tone of this intensely vibrant, masterfully scored, and radiant (pun intended) film will, at the very least, leave you entranced.  It doesn't hurt that Clooney and Natascha McElhone knock their respective roles out of the park.

Regardless of whether or not you identify with these characters (and you probably won't because they're all very sad and, with any luck, your life doesn't seem quite as pointless), the planet of Solaris will pull you in with the same mysticism it holds over the main characters.  And when it leaves you with questions, just remember that this is the entire point.

(PS - Now I really want to see Solaris [1972], so you best believe there will be a follow-up to this post)