by Natasha Theobald
I think it's okay not to understand everything about this movie. In fact, I think that is part of the point. I saw James Ellroy talking about intricate stories this morning and how, as an audience, you have to be willing to trust that the author or storyteller knows where they are going. What complicates this in the case of "Solaris" is that there is no distinct destination. You have to trust enough to let go, knowing you aren't necessarily meant to come back with answers. There are no answers, only choices.In the first few scenes, we only seem to see Chris Kelvin from the back. Maybe the reason is simple, that there is just something he isn't able to face. Maybe there is no reason at all. We meet him in the midst of his daily life, which seems like the lives most of us probably lead, completing a series of mostly meaningless tasks to carry us from one end of the day to the other, thinking little about any of it, sort of coasting along. He lives in a reality of dim light and muted colors, alive with no real spark.
"Immerse yourself in the experience."
Chris is contacted by a friend who has traveled to Solaris to estimate its potential as a commercial property. It seems that the planet has caused something questionable to happen with the crew, and they are having difficulty finding their way home. The friend is hopeful that Chris may be of some help, as he is a therapist and has some experience with emotional pain. Chris accepts the challenge and travels via Athena to the group. He arrives among what seems to be a crime scene and finds the members of the crew who are left to be behaving oddly. It is only after he sleeps in this environment that he is able to understand the exact nature of their distress, but, before Chris can help them, he must come to grips with a past that will confront him whether he is ready for it or not.
The characters spend a lot of time in darkness, brushed only briefly with natural light -- moments of clarity. The other light on the ship has been created, a human construct masquerading as real light, the safety and seeming certainty of it, the starkness of the institutional and structured. Solaris itself has real light and color. It is ethereal and vibrant. It lives and breathes. It is creative energy. But, it is also the unknown.
Chris awakens to the dream of being human, the tenuous nature of knowledge, the fallibility of memory, and the absurdity of naming things in an attempt to give them boundaries, to categorize and box them away as if it made them easier to explain and understand. Perhaps, for him, there is a place beyond naming, beyond boundaries, where all things are on one spectrum that doesn't require definition. That would be a place where death would have no dominion. If a person could just find a way to reach out, to connect, to share energy with other energy, there would be no need for understanding, no need for classification or descriptive language. The connection would be enough.
George Clooney strips himself of his natural cool to expose a character made raw by circumstances. The movie rests on him, and he gives it everything it needs. In the supporting roles, Natascha McElhone is beautiful and bewildering, Jeremy Davies is, as always, weird and wonderful, and Viola Davis is smart and, as necessity dictates, strong. Writer-Director Soderbergh has confidence to let the power of the presence of his actors speak as loudly as any words. All elements are strung together, never forced, to create a singular and unique experience at the movies.My reaction to this movie was equally emotional and intellectual, which, honestly, was a welcome change from how most movies choose to engage an audience. If you appreciate a story that challenges your assumptions and moves you out of your comfort zone, "Solaris" is worth a visit.
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originally posted: 12/28/02 18:39:52