Sunday, May 17, 2020

Solaris (1972)

This 2-hour 40-minute Soviet sci-fi art film is one of the slowest movies ever made. I know people say that about 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) but Solaris really takes the cake.

Is it better than the George Clooney version? Yes. Is it a fun watch for a modern audience? Well… It’s not until the second act that we go to space, we learn that the protagonist is a psychologist, and the camera starts moving a bit. The first 45 minutes or so are a waste of time, and it never really ramps up. So is it a fun watch? No.

Shots of a Japanese megacity, juxtaposed with descriptions of the living, thinking ocean world of Solaris, seem to imply that Earth is a mechanical mind (as opposed to a biological one), and that science is unnatural. That perspective reminds me of David Bowie’s famous song Space Oddity, a pop culture touchstone from a time when certain people were afraid of science and technology.

Keep in mind that by 1972 we already had Star Trek and Barbarella (1968).

Solaris has black-and-white video, what looks like a .45 pistol, some oldschool oscilloscopes, and plenty of magnetic tape. I can forgive the tape as an archive format (though its cost and storage density make it a worse option than solid state) but when you put it all together it looks like 1970s technology with a futuristic flare. Almost 50 years later, despite having never found a magic ocean planet, our technology now surpasses the film’s in every way except one: manned rockets that are cheap enough to launch on a whim.

You see, while visiting Solaris the protagonist is visited by an alien manifestation of his deceased wife. So he sends that bitch away on a rocket, but what happens? She reappears like it was nothing. What a waste of perfectly good hardware. Then she punches right through a metal door because she literally doesn’t remember how to open it.

It’s hard to track how the protagonist feels about the situation; he’s kinda weirded out but he goes with it after a while. He eventually sets the alien on fire, or so I’m told, but I didn’t get that far because the movie was too boring. It does show a child’s drawing of a man on a leash, the implication of weird shit, but I lack the patience to see if it gets more explicit.

Sci-fi isn’t (or shouldn’t be) an excuse for a plot; it’s a world, a philosophy, an aesthetic, and everything else. Good sci-fi is a realistic yet optimistic future, like Star Trek or 2001: A Space Odyssey. In that respect, Solaris is a let-down.

Typical Russian downer movie. Eh, whatever. I’m not going to call it a garbage film. It’s fine, but it requires inhuman levels of patience.