Ground control has been receiving strange transmissions from the three remaining cosmonauts aboard the Solaris space station: Dr. Snouth (Yuri Yarvet), Dr. Sartorius (Anatoli Solonitsyn), and Dr. Gibarian (Sos Sarkisyan). The Solaris program is at a crossroads, and psychologist Dr. Kris Kelvin (Donatas Banionis) has been assigned to visit the crew, report on their mental health, and recommend a course of action to the agency. On the day before his flight, he is visited by a former cosmonaut, Berton (Vladislav Dvozhetsky), who, years earlier, was sent on a rescue mission, and had a firsthand encounter with the bizarre metamorphosis of the Solaris ocean. But Kelvin is unmoved, believing that human emotion has no bearing in the search for Truth, and raises the possibility of, not only abandoning the Solaris mission, but aiming radiation at the turbulent ocean in order to destroy its inexplicable activity. Upon arriving at the space station, Kelvin is greeted by apathy and evasion, along with the tragic news of Gibarian’s suicide. A videotaped message shows a frail, disheveled Gibarian driven to despair by tormented visions of a lost loved one, and a profound sense of isolation. However, after a restless night’s sleep, he begins to realize the validity of Berton and the crew’s seeming hallucinations after his dead wife Hari (Natalya Bondarchuk) mysteriously reappears on the station.
Solaris is Andrei Tarkovsky’s visually hypnotic, deeply affecting, and thematically accessible film on love, conscience, and reconciliation. Similar to other Tarkovsky films, most notably Andrei Rublev and The Sacrifice, Solaris is an unsettling portrait of man’s inequitable, often destructive interaction with his environment. Symbolically, Tarkovsky uses curvilinear structures, confined spaces, and disorganization to represent the emotional and physical turmoil of the space station. Furthermore, periodic changes in lighting and moments of weightlessness preclude any sense of rhythm, creating a literal imbalance. Chromatic shifts, which initially occur to delineate chronology, increase in frequency with the development of the story, reflecting the crew’s assimilation of the two states of consciousness. In the end, the Truth proves to be as elusive as the thinly veiled reality of Solaris: Can a man truly reconcile with his irretrievable past, or is he inexorably bound to the guilt and regret of his spiritual longing?
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