Solaris (2002 film)

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A man and woman kissing
Theatrical release poster
Directed bySteven Soderbergh
Screenplay bySteven Soderbergh
Based onSolaris
1961 novel
by Stanisław Lem
Produced by
CinematographyPeter Andrews
Edited byMary Ann Bernard
Music byCliff Martinez
Distributed by20th Century Fox[1]
Release date
  • November 27, 2002 (2002-11-27)
Running time
99 minutes[2]
CountryUnited States
Budget$47 million[3]
Box office$30 million[3]

Solaris is a 2002 American science fiction drama film written and directed by Steven Soderbergh, produced by James Cameron and Jon Landau, and starring George Clooney and Natascha McElhone. It is based on the 1961 science fiction novel of the same name by Polish writer Stanisław Lem.

Reflecting on Andrei Tarkovsky's critically acclaimed 1972 film Solaris (which was itself preceded by a 1968 Soviet TV film), Soderbergh promised to be closer in spirit to Lem's novel.[4]

The film is set almost entirely on a space station orbiting the planet Solaris, adding flashbacks to the previous experiences of its main characters on Earth. The protagonist, Dr. Chris Kelvin, struggles with the questions of Solaris's motivation, his beliefs and memories, and reconciling what was lost with an opportunity for a second chance.

Despite positive reviews from critics, the film grossed only $30 million worldwide on a budget of $47 million.


Clinical psychologist Dr. Chris Kelvin is approached by emissaries for DBA, a corporation operating a space station orbiting the planet Solaris, who relay a message sent from his scientist friend Dr. Gibarian. Gibarian requests that Kelvin come to the station to help understand an unusual phenomenon but is unwilling to explain more. DBA is unsure how to proceed, as the mission to study Solaris has been sidetracked and none of the astronauts want to return home. In addition, DBA has lost contact with the security force dispatched to the station. Kelvin agrees to a solo mission to Solaris as a last attempt to bring the crew home safely.

Upon arriving at Solaris Station onboard the Athena, Kelvin learns that Gibarian has committed suicide and most of the crew have either died or disappeared. The surviving crew members, Snow and Dr. Gordon, are reluctant to explain the situation at hand. The situation is further complicated when Kelvin sees a young boy running through the station. Once alone in his quarters, Kelvin dreams about his long dead wife Rheya, reliving when they first met and some of their most romantic and intimate moments. He awakens shocked and terrified to encounter Rheya, apparently alive again beside him in bed. Kelvin leads this "Rheya" into an escape pod and jettisons the pod into space. Afterward, he confides his actions to Snow and comes to understand that replicas of the crew's loved ones have been mysteriously appearing (the little boy he saw earlier is apparently a replica of Gibarian's son). Rheya manifests a second time, but this time Kelvin lets her stay. Gradually, this version of Rheya comes to realize that she does not feel human; her memories feel artificial, in that she lacks the emotional attachment that comes with actually having lived them.

Through numerous flashbacks, Kelvin and Rheya's meeting and courtship are explored, with hints as to her disturbed upbringing and emotional difficulties. It is also gradually revealed through these flashbacks that Rheya had an abortion but did not tell Kelvin about it. When he learned this, Kelvin was so distraught he left her. Rheya then committed suicide and was later found by Kelvin when he returned.

Kelvin, the replica of Rheya, Snow and Gordon meet to discuss the situation. In frustration at Kelvin's apparent attachment to the virtual Rheya, Gordon blurts out what Kelvin did to the previous Rheya replica. An appalled Rheya abandons the meeting. Kelvin confronts Gordon, who in turn chastises him for getting emotionally involved with something that is not really human and may eventually pose a threat to human beings on the station as well as on Earth. Later, apparently during a dream, Kelvin has a vision of Gibarian, and asks him what Solaris wants. Gibarian balks at the idea of knowing an alien entity's motivations, or even that it might have motivations, and tells Kelvin simply that "there are no answers, only choices". Kelvin wakes to find that Rheya has killed herself. Soon afterward, she self-resurrects, and it is revealed that other manifestations who have "died" had done the same.

Gordon develops an apparatus which can permanently destroy a replica but Kelvin objects to using it on Rheya. Driven by his own grief and guilt over the "real" Rheya's death on Earth, he begins ingesting a chemical stimulant to stay awake in order to monitor Rheya, trying to avoid repeating the past and essentially abandoning her to suicide. Kelvin eventually falls asleep and Rheya successfully petitions Gordon to destroy her with the apparatus as she has done for her own replica(s). Traumatized, Kelvin confronts Dr. Gordon who maintains she merely facilitated an assisted suicide and only strives for the preservation of the humans on the station.

Kelvin and Gordon then discover a dead body stashed away in a ceiling vent in the station's cold room – Snow. The Snow they have been interacting with is a replica. Confronted by Gordon and Kelvin, the Snow replica explains that upon being dreamed into existence, he was attacked by the real Snow and thus killed him in self-defense. He goes on to tell them that repeat usage of the apparatus has drained the ship's fuel cell reactor, making a return trip to Earth impossible. Furthermore, Solaris has begun to exponentially increase its mass, thereby gravitationally pulling the space station inexorably toward the planet. Gordon and Kelvin begin prepping the Athena to escape.

Back on Earth, Kelvin struggles to return to normal life, haunted by the idea that he "remembered her wrong"—that is, Rheya as being invariably suicidal. When he accidentally cuts his finger in his kitchen, the wound immediately heals, and it is then that Kelvin realizes that he never returned to Earth. In a flashback, Kelvin decides not to board the Athena, and Doctor Gordon leaves him behind. As the space station is engulfed by Solaris, the replica of Gibarian's young son appears and offers his hand in assistance. In the kitchen, Rheya appears to Kelvin yet again. This time, however, she is tranquil, and assures Kelvin that they no longer have to think in terms like "life" and "death," and that all they have ever done is forgiven.



For a while, James Cameron was looking to remake Solaris. His production company Lightstorm Entertainment spent close to five years securing the rights with both author Stanisław Lem and the Russian film studio Mosfilm, which owns the 1972 Russian film by Andrei Tarkovsky based on the novel.[5] However, because of his many commitments in the 90s, Cameron was unable to take on directing duties.

What I would've done would’ve been more like The Abyss, where visual set pieces might have gotten in the way of what is a clean line as a relationship film. [Soderbergh]'s not interested in the hardware or the visual effects very much, which is good.

— Cameron, on Soderbergh's take of the story[6]

In 2000, around the time Steven Soderbergh was working on Traffic, he pitched his ideas of a Solaris film adaptation to Cameron and Lightstorm producers Rae Sanchini and Jon Landau. Cameron was thrilled with what he heard and development began on the project.[7] As Traffic was wrapping up, Soderbergh began drafting a script. Using both the 1972 film and the book as reference, the script allowed him to dig into various themes and subjects he wasn't able to come to terms with in his earlier films.[8] Soon after, Soderbergh and Lightstorm took the story to 20th Century Fox.

Soderbergh originally intended Daniel Day-Lewis to play the role of Chris Kelvin, but Day-Lewis was busy with Martin Scorsese's Gangs of New York at the time. Since George Clooney was Soderbergh's producing partner, having formed Section Eight Productions together in 2000, Soderbergh was obligated to send Clooney a copy of the Solaris script. A month later, during the editing of Ocean's Eleven, Soderbergh received a letter from Clooney stating that he was ready to step into the role.[9]

Because both Soderbergh and Clooney had prior commitments at the time, the film did not enter production until close to mid-2002.[10] Principal photography began May 5, 2002 in downtown Los Angeles. Following a week of filming exteriors, the crew moved to the Warner Bros. lot where it shot on stages 19 and 20 for the remainder of production.[11] These were the same stages that held the sets for Soderbergh's Ocean's Eleven.

In addition to fulfilling the roles of director and screenwriter, Soderbergh also acted as the film's cinematographer and editor, both of which were credited under pseudonyms.[12]

The sex scenes were filmed on a closed set with only George Clooney, Natascha McElhone and Steven Soderbergh, who used a hand-held camera.[13]



A few weeks prior to the film's release, in early November 2002, the Motion Picture Association of America assigned the film an R rating primarily due to two scenes that depicted Clooney's naked backside.[14] This caused an outburst among filmmakers against the MPAA and Directors Guild of America, and Soderbergh appealed, stating that similar content had been broadcast on network television. Twelve days prior to the film's release, an appeals board overturned the R-rating for a PG-13 rating.[15]

Box office[edit]

Released on November 27, 2002, Solaris grossed $14,973,382 at the North American box office and $15,029,376 in other territories, against an estimated $47 million budget.[3] Because of the film's poor box office, blame was placed on its marketing campaign that was a challenge from the beginning as Soderbergh expressed on the film's commentary track.[16] Clooney stated that the film's "trailers and commercials [had] nothing to do with the film," depicting more of a science fiction love story (or thriller).[9]

Critical response[edit]

On Rotten Tomatoes the film has an approval rating of 66% on based on reviews from 210 critics, with an average score of 6.51/10. The consensus states: "Slow-moving, cerebral, and ambiguous, Solaris is not a movie for everyone, but it offers intriguing issues to ponder."[17] On Metacritic the film has a score of 65 out of 100 based on 38 reviews, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[18] However, it received a rare grade of "F" from CinemaScore, based on moviegoers' survey responses.[19][20]

The Time Out Film Guide describes the film as superior to the Tarkovsky version.[21] The film was a New York Times Critics' Pick, with Stephen Holden saying: "The movie aspires to fuse the mystical intellectual gamesmanship of 2001: A Space Odyssey with the love-beyond-the-grave romantic schmaltz of Titanic, without losing its cool...a tricky balancing act that doesn't quite come off."[22] As Holden notes: "Solaris is a science-fiction film lacking action-adventure sequences. The absence of boyish friskiness, kineticism and pyrotechnics makes it a film that offers no vicarious physical release. Its insistence on remaining cerebral and somber to the end may be a sign of integrity, but it should cost it dearly at the box office."[22]

Roger Ebert gave the film three and a half out of four stars and called it "the kind of smart film that has people arguing about it on their way out of the theater", noting that while it "needs science fiction to supply the planet and the space station, which furnish the premise and concentrate the action,... it is essentially a psychological drama." Ebert concludes with: "When I saw Tarkovsky's original film, I felt absorbed in it, as if it were a sponge. It was slow, mysterious, confusing, and I have never forgotten it. Soderbergh's version is more clean and spare, more easily readable, but it pays full attention to the ideas and doesn't compromise. Tarkovsky was a genius, but one who demanded great patience from his audience as he ponderously marched toward his goals. The Soderbergh version is like the same story freed from the weight of Tarkovsky's solemnity. And it evokes one of the rarest of movie emotions, ironic regret."[23]

Other response[edit]

Soderbergh "said that he didn't intend Solaris to be a remake of Tarkovsky's film but rather a new version of Stanislaw Lem's novel".[24]

While admitting that he had not seen the film, Stanisław Lem criticized what he had heard as departing far from his original intentions by focusing almost exclusively on the psychological relationship between the two main characters, while reducing the vast and alien ocean to a mere "mirror" of humanity:[25] my best knowledge, the book was not dedicated to erotic problems of people in outer space... As Solaris' author I shall allow myself to repeat that I only wanted to create a vision of a human encounter with something that certainly exists, in a mighty manner perhaps, but cannot be reduced to human concepts, ideas or images. This is why the book was entitled Solaris and not Love in Outer Space.

— Stanislaw Lem, The Solaris Station (December 8, 2002)[25]


In 2010, Solaris made Time magazine's "Top 10 Hollywood Remakes" list, saying it was "expertly and exquisitely executed" and "manages to extract that all too rare achievement from a sci-fi film: emotion.[24]

The film was nominated for three Saturn Awards: George Clooney, Best Actor; Natascha McElhone, Best Actress; and Best Science Fiction Film.[26]


Soundtrack album by
Released2002 [27]
Film music
Length43.45 [28]
LabelLa-La Land Records

The score was composed by Cliff Martinez in 2002 [29] and first released by Superb Records on Compact Disc in 2002.[30] After being out of print, it was re-released in a remastered edition in January 2011 by La-La Land Records.[31] The soundtrack was praised by the BBC Music's Chris Jones as a "...brooding slow, meditative work".[32]

Six vinyl versions of the soundtrack were later released by Invada Records. The first repress was introduced in 2013[33] on black vinyl, white vinyl, and picture disc. The second in 2017[34] on "Cosmic Coloured" vinyl, "Crystal Clear Vinyl With Heavy White Splatter" vinyl, and a new picture disc version.

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ "SOLARIS (12A)". British Board of Film Classification. January 6, 2003. Retrieved April 19, 2016.
  3. ^ a b c "Solaris (2002)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved May 30, 2010.
  4. ^ Levy, Glen (September 29, 2010). "Top 10 Hollywood Remakes: Solaris (2002) / Solyaris (1972)". Time. Retrieved November 2, 2013. Indeed, he's said that he didn't intend Solaris to be a remake of Tarkovsky's film but rather a new version of Stanislaw Lem's novel.
  5. ^ "Solaris: Sci-fi with a Soderbergh Difference". Urban Cinefile. February 27, 2003. Retrieved June 4, 2012.
  6. ^ Berge Garabedian (aka JoBlo) (November 25, 2002). "Interview: J. Cameron". Retrieved June 14, 2012.
  7. ^ Chris Gore (November 20, 2001). "Steven Soderbergh Unleashed: Part 2". Film Threat. Retrieved June 4, 2012.
  8. ^ Chris Gore (November 20, 2001). "Steven Soderbergh Unleashed: Part 3". Film Threat. Retrieved June 4, 2012.
  9. ^ a b Barry Koltnow (December 1, 2002). "Solaris is about more than just George Clooney's naked butt". The Orange County Register. The Seattle Times. Retrieved June 4, 2012.
  10. ^ Marcus Errico (November 20, 2001). "Thrice Is Nice for Clooney, Soderbergh". E!. Archived from the original on November 18, 2001. Retrieved June 4, 2012.
  11. ^ "Solaris: Production Notes". Contact Music. Retrieved June 4, 2012.
  12. ^ Gabriel Snyder (January 2, 2007). "What's in a Name? Why filmmakers use pseudonyms". Slate. Retrieved June 14, 2012.
  14. ^ Robert W. Welkos (November 5, 2002). "Solaris gets R rating; appeal vowed". Times Staff Writer. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 4, 2012.
  15. ^ Robert W. Welkos (November 15, 2002). "Soderbergh's Solaris gets PG-13 rating". Times Staff Writer. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 4, 2012.
  16. ^ Steven Soderbergh (director) and James Cameron (producer) (2003). Solaris (DVD (audio commentary track)). 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, Inc.
  17. ^ "Solaris (2002)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved April 4, 2020.
  18. ^ "Solaris". Metacritic. Retrieved April 4, 2020.
  19. ^ Pamela McClintock (August 19, 2011). "Why CinemaScore Matters for Box Office". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved January 28, 2014.
  20. ^ Steven Z (September 7, 2010). "Why do so many George Clooney fans love him but dislike his movies?". Los Angeles Times.
  21. ^ "Solaris (2002)". Time Out Film Guide. Archived from the original on January 9, 2010. Retrieved May 30, 2010.
  22. ^ a b Holden, Stephen (November 27, 2002). "Their Love Will Go On In Outer Space". NYT Critics' Pick. The New York Times. Retrieved February 10, 2021.
  23. ^ Ebert, Roger (November 22, 2002). "Solaris". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved August 10, 2011.
  24. ^ a b Levy, Glen (October 1, 2010). "Solaris (2002) / Solyaris (1972)". Top 10 Hollywood Remakes. Time. Retrieved August 10, 2011.
  25. ^ a b Lem, Stanisław (December 8, 2002). "The Solaris Station". Stanisław Lem's official website. Archived from the original on February 18, 2017.
  26. ^ Phillips, Jevon (March 7, 2003). "'Towers,' 'Report' top Saturn nominees". Variety.
  27. ^ Discogs
  28. ^ La-La Land Records
  29. ^ AllMusic
  30. ^ "Cliff Martinez - Solaris: Original Motion Picture Score (2002, CD)". Discogs. 2002.
  31. ^ "SOLARIS - La-La Land Records".
  32. ^ Chris Jones (January 7, 2017). "Cliff Martinez Solaris: Original Soundtrack Review". BBC. Retrieved January 7, 2017.
  33. ^ "SOLARIS ORIGINAL MUSIC BY CLIFF MARTINEZ - BLACK DISC VINYL LP". 2013. Archived from the original on January 8, 2017. Retrieved January 7, 2017.
  34. ^ "Solaris original music by Cliff Martinez – black disc vinyl LP". 2017. Archived from the original on January 8, 2017. Retrieved March 18, 2017.

External links[edit]