Review: Solaris

by Jake Sproul

Rating: (out of )

I have never had such a difficult time writing a review for movie.

Upon my first viewing of Solaris, I was baffled by a totally indecipherable plot. Upon my second viewing of Solaris, I was more receptive to some of the fine details to make Solaris what it is. Upon my first viewing of the final 10 minutes of Solaris, I was able to say with confidence that it was a total mess, understandable to nobody. Upon my second viewing of Solaris‘ final 10 minutes, I was able to understand a lot more, but not all. Maybe Solaris requires three viewings to completely comprehend the events and narratives. But I know that I do not have the patience for that. And I also know, that no audience member should be put through the aggravation of those final 10 minutes.

The film is about Chris Kelvin, who is beckoned to the mysterious planet of Solaris. Upon arriving, he discovers that this planet able conjure up people. Yes, people. And Chris, who is haunted by the suicide of his wife, is now confronted with this person, who feels, looks like, thinks like, and actually believes she is Chris’ wife...yet, she isn’t. However, who is to say she isn’t real? Chris vehemently believes, or wants to believe, that this woman is his wife.

One of this year’s best movies, Minority Report, managed to accomplish a goal, not frequently attained. It managed to bring up intriguing concepts, be a good movie, and be likable to the audience. Like most other movies, Solaris is only able to accomplish one of these things, in the case of this movie, intriguing concepts. Questions regarding the line between life and death, and what constitutes real, are explored.

When discussing life and death, God is a big factor. And while leaving the theater, you may think that the Soderbergh did not address this issue morally enough, please take not of a seemingly unimportant dinner scene. In this scene, the casual banter is about the existence of God and heaven, and I thought it brilliant of Soderbergh to add this in, as if to pay his respects to those people who wanted that issue not overlooked.

Solaris’ downfall occurs because Steven Soderbergh seemed to have a hard time taking the ideas he decided to work with, and making them into a worthwhile story, with a beginning, middle, and end. It just doesn’t work to take an open ended question, apply it to a story, then make the story open ended.

Solaris’ add campaign has been one of interest. When the initial trailer debuted, it seemed as though Solaris would be a space-thriller. Along the lines of the “Alien” franchise. Solaris was out a poster for many months, and before long it got so close to the scheduled release date, and Solaris was still without a poster, I figured that Solaris’ release date was likely being postponed. It was just when I had begun to loss interest in the prospect of a Solaris Thanksgiving release that the poster finally debuted, and I was shocked when I first saw it. It is simply George Clooney and Natascha McElhone kissing. The point I am getting at, is that the story Solaris tries to tell is a romance, and as a romance, Solaris works.

The character of Rhea, Chris’ wife, is already deceased when the movie begins. Thus, we experience the love these two shared in a series of flashbacks, memories, and dreams. To Soderbergh’s credit, this is done surprisingly masterfully. Its shocking to me that he is able to control and develop the romance, while outside this romance, constructing such a movie that makes viewers pull their hair out.

I can discuss and pick at minor problems with Solaris, and so far, that is all I have done. As you have already I am sure seen, Solaris has earned 2 and half stars. And the only thing that is keeping Solaris from being a much more highly recommended movie is because of one, 2 minute narrative at the end. This narrative features George Clooney not fitting into to the rhythm of Earth, upon his return. It single handedly brings the conclusion’s understandability level down to 0. After two viewings I didn’t get it, and that is frustrating.

Its obvious that Solaris is focused around George Clooney, and his performance. It was imperative that he pull off a great performance, and he does. This is some of George Clooney’s best work, and I would even go so far as to say that he deserves an Oscar nomination for his role. Natascha McElhone, who is probably best known for her role in The Truman Show, shines in her moments of romance, and bounces well off of George Clooney. When by herself in moments of drama, though, she sometimes comes up short, and flounders.

I have decided to give Solaris the average rating of two and a half stars because I neither feel equipped to recommend the movie, or not recommend it. I can say this though, if not for that overly presumptuous final 10 minutes, told without any explanation, Solaris could have been a totally different, and possibly significantly better motion picture. See Solaris if you want to chew on some deep thoughts. Don’t see Solaris if you are an impatient person who goes to the movies for escapism.

I suppose the lesson learned here is how important the role of the film editor is. Solaris really puts into perspective how much 2 minutes can mean in the recommendation of the movie.

© 2002 Jacob Sproul

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