Solaris

PG13
Stars:   George Clooney, Natascha McElhone, Jeremy Davies, Viola Davis, Ulrich Tuker
Director:   Steven Soderbergh
Screenwriter:   Steven Soderbergh, (a remake of the 1972 adaptation by Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris from the Stanislaw Lem novel)

This film is remarkable for having been made (actually, remade, at this time) because it has the look and feel of a film from another time. Granted, it’s a remake of a 1972 film, but it plays exactly as if it were made back then. Those wanting a rewarding experience need to sit back and take the time to think and feel because it’s not your usual revved up action-oriented, special effects driven or even high-octane drama as we are most used to seeing these days. It’s a cerebral, methodical, slow and thought-provoking psychological drama set sometime in the future on earth and in a space station above the enigmatic planet called Solaris.

I for one, found it intriguing and thoroughly absorbing. The mood and look was that of 2001: A Space Odyssey crossed with Blade Runner but the theme is a search for human identity. Actually, Steven Soderbergh, himself, has described his version as 2001: A Space Odyssey meets The Last Tango in Paris.

The film begins with a cryptic plea for help to psychiatrist Chris Kelvin (Clooney) from a friend at a space station where strange things are happening. Kelvin obliges and takes the next solo shuttle to the station only to discover his friend dead and the two surviving crew members (Snow and Gordon played by Jeremy Davies and Viola Davis) totally unhinged by experiences brought on by their proximity to the planet Solaris that they were sent to investigate.

It seems an energy force from the planet can reach into their minds and create living and loving incarnations of people they’ve lost. These “visitors” have all the memories of their originals, but otherwise appear to be a blank slate. Kelvin has yet to understand the danger that awaits him. But after falling asleep, he gets his own visitor, that of Rheya (Natascha McElhone), his beautiful and elegant wife, who sadly committed suicide some years earlier. He moves to get rid of this facsimile but long haunted by guilt and still in love with Rheya, Kelvin finds himself becoming more deeply involved with trying to rekindle a relationship that can never be. He is at odds with Snow and especially Dr. Gordon who thinks this psychological alien invasion may have deadly repercussions if it makes its way to earth and she has no intention of living a false existence with images from her past.

Lotta says: Solaris is beautifully depicted all pink and blue, hazy, cloudy, mesmerizing. Clooney does a good job as the tormented Kelvin but he’s holding back; there’s a line emotionally that he can’t seem to cross and that’s too bad. McElhone as his wife is better able to play the different levels required of her. I liked Viola Davis as Gordon; she had a quiet intensity. Jeremy Davies is a one-note actor, even though he plays that one note very well. His every role is that of a loon on psychotropic drugs. Direction and cinematography fluidly portray the intensity and mystery inherent to the plot. You will leave the theater with more questions than the film can possibly hope to answer. How many times does that happen? I really liked it!

Reviewed 11/27/02