|"If you think that there is a solution, you'll die here."|
|Time: 99 mins.|
Genre: Science Fiction/Romance/Drama
After sitting through SOLARIS and FULL FRONTAL, I'm beginning to think that Soderbergh is losing his touch. These films are so intent on being provocative, thought-provoking and esoteric, they forget to be entertaining. I applaud him for taking the high road by making films for adults we certainly don't need more mindless teen comedies yet he seems more intent on the look of his films these days than the characters or story. His first collaboration with Clooney was OUT OF SIGHT a fun, classy, whip smart romantic action comedy that married Hollywood flash with indie panache. Clearly, the two men enjoy working together and SOLARIS gives Clooney his deepest role to date...sort of. While the music, art direction and cinematography, as well as the acting, are first rate, the story leaves far too much to the imagination to make much of an emotional connection. The concept is one to mull over for days, but not enough is revealed about the characters to make it sink in further than skin deep.
The story takes place in Earth's not so distant future. Clooney plays a lonely and unhappy psychologist called on by an astronaut friend to rescue him and his crew from the space station where he's stationed orbiting a planet called Solaris. The crew was sent to test the planet for it's money-making potential; however, strange things began to happen soon after their arrival, halting the mission and causing the crew grave anxiety. They're at an impasse and Gibarian (Tukur) believes Chris's past and skill as a doctor will be able to solve their problems. With little to live for on Earth, Chris accepts the offer to go to Solaris, where he also becomes embroiled in the unexplainable events. Upon his arrival, he finds two of the crew dead, one his friend, and the two survivors, Gordon (Davis) and Snow (Davies), not exactly overjoyed by his appearance. It appears that Snow has lost the few marbles he had and Gordon refuses to deal with Chris until he gone through the experience of a night on the station himself. Once he does, then he'll see what they're up against.
Well, sort of. When Chris finally retires, he dreams of his late wife Rheya (McElhone) and how they met. The images are so real he feels like he was actually talking to her and making love to her. So, when he wakes up the following morning to find her lying right next to him, flesh and blood, he's more than a little freaked out. How could this be happening. He's wide awake and yet she's sitting right in front of him. For her part, she's equally confused, having no memory of how she got there or where she's been for the past few years. Knowing she can't be real, he sends her off the station never to return. Or so he thinks. The next morning, she's back again and this time she begins to remember more about their life together. She also begins to ask questions Chris can't begin to answer. He has no idea why this is happening, only that it has something to do with the pink and purple gassy planet they're revolving around. The more time he spends with Rheya, the more he doesn't care what she is or who sent her. He just wants their old life back, regardless of the consequences.
The new Rheya is not as happy with the situation. The life she remembers wasn't really hers and though she has deep feelings for Chris, she refuses to live as the figment of someone's memory. Things heat up when Chris refuses to return to Earth without Rheya, an option Gordon protests vehemently. Rheya is not real and needs to be destroyed. Who knows why Solaris is recreating their loved ones, but they can't infect Earth with these indestructible beings. The first night alone the world's population would explode. The final third of the film is a battle of wills between Chris, Gordon and Rheya, all of whom just want to find peace in this life. Chris, to right the wrong he committed against Rheya; Gordon, to reclaim her life and make this nightmare end; and Rheya to end the existence she didn't ask for and is unable to comprehend. I guess, we're to assume by the ending that they all get their wishes, though it's a little ambiguous for my tastes. On top of that, it's supposed to be a happy finale, but the pervasive solemnity of the film dampens even that reward.
SOLARIS is being marketed as a sci-fi love story, when in fact it's a 5 character play that explores the ideas behind sexual attraction, the truth of memory, personality development and humanity's place in the universe. Solaris, the planet, is seen as both benevolent and evil, depending on the character's point of view, much like our own ideas about God. It is mesmerizing, cold, intelligent and mysterious. The visuals are so beautiful, what one imagines space to be like, that I think even without a regenerated loved one sharing my cabin, I would find it hard to leave. The production design is both original and familiar with the usual steel and pipes, but conveyed in an updated, slick way. The station is not a welcoming place, looking both brand new and abandoned, mainly because there's no one on it. I would have taken one look around, given whomever was left 15 minutes to gather their things and gone right back to Earth. From the moment he arrived, you knew he wasn't getting off that bird alive. The humming silence only adds to the isolation, giving the ship a truly creepy, undead vibe. The upbeat, yet repetitive nature of the score is both soothing and annoying. Everything comes together to create a sterile, somewhat hostile environment to challenge one's ideas about life and the choices we make.
The cast gives their all, especially Clooney and McElhone, who, as best they can, accurately portray the gamut of emotions this couple is forced to endure. The film tries to point out that they are the better for this experience of loss and desperation, but I certainly didn't feel that at the end. Probably because their relationship, despite the many flashbacks, isn't developed enough. This is where Soderbergh's slick, quick cutting style fails the film. One can argue that memories are elusive, incomplete and unreliable, which is what the story is trying to convey, but when they're all that's shown about these characters it's a problem. It's easy to empathize with a man who's recently lost the love of his life, but the relationship needed to be more fully developed to make his reasons for wanting to live with a replicant believable. Sure, it beats living alone, however, no intelligent person would be satisfied with that solution. The progression of their relationship just moved too quickly. From first lust to marital breakdown in five easy steps. For once, the film needed to be longer in order to build an emotional connection. Despite Clooney's obvious devastation and desperation, in the end, I just wasn't as moved as I though I would be. Soderbergh is a first rate director, one of the few who continually takes chances from one film to the next. Unfortunately, SOLARIS is more miss than hit. A more fully realized script is all it needed to be both beautiful to look at and engaging at heart.