Solaris (2002 film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Steven Soderbergh|
|Screenplay by||Steven Soderbergh|
by Stanisław Lem
|Music by||Cliff Martinez|
|Edited by||Mary Ann Bernard|
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox|
|Box office||$30 million|
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.
The film is a meditative psychodrama set almost entirely on a space station orbiting the planet Solaris, adding flashbacks to the previous experiences of its main characters on Earth. Clooney's character struggles with the questions of Solaris' motivation, his beliefs and memories, and reconciling what was lost with an opportunity for a second chance.
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 patrol recently 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, Kelvin learns that Gibarian has committed suicide and most of the crew have either died or disappeared under bizarre circumstances. Both surviving crew members, Snow and Dr. Gordon, are reluctant to explain the situation at hand. Once alone in his quarters, Kelvin dreams about his 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, and he leads her into an escape pod and jettisons it into space. Kelvin confides his actions to Snow and comes to understand that replicas of the crew's loved ones have been mysteriously appearing. When Rheya manifests a second time Kelvin lets her stay, but she admits 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 once terminated a pregnancy but did not tell Kelvin about it. When he discovered her choice he was distraught and walked out on her. Rheya then committed suicide and was later found by Kelvin when he returned for her.
Kelvin, Rheya, Snow and Gordon meet to discuss the situation and Gordon tells Rheya what Kelvin did to her previous 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 during a dream, Kelvin questions a replica of Gibarian as to what Solaris's motives are for providing the manifestations, but he is told "there are no answers, only choices". Kelvin wakes to find Rheya dead, having committed suicide by drinking liquid oxygen. But she quickly self-resurrects, and it is revealed that other manifestations who have "died" have 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 in assisted suicide and only strives for the preservation of the humans on the station.
Kelvin and Gordon then discover Snow's body stashed away in a ceiling vent and realize that the Snow they have been interacting with is a replica. Snow admits to being a replica and explains that upon being dreamed into existence, he was attacked by his creator and thus killed the "original Snow" in self-defense. The Snow replica tells 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 reacted to the behavior of the humans by 'exponentially' increasing its mass, thereby gravitationally pulling the space station inexorably toward the planet. Gordon and Kelvin begin prepping a smaller space vehicle called Athena to escape.
Kelvin gives up the idea of boarding the lifeboat, and Doctor Gordon leaves him behind. As the plummeting space station rattles itself to pieces around him, a replica of Gibarian's young son appears and offers his hand in assistance. Kelvin is then shown struggling to return to normal life on Earth whilst ruminating on the idea that he "remembered her wrong"—that is, Rheya as being invariably suicidal. He accidentally cuts his finger while chopping vegetables in his kitchen, but the wound immediately heals, and he realises that he has only glimpsed a possible future and that he is still on Solaris, since an artificial environment has apparently been created by Solaris for his continued survival on the planet. Or maybe the original Kelvin died aboard the wrecked space station and has been replaced by a replica of himself without realising it. But even his perception of this home away from home could merely be a temporary convenience, because when Rheya appears to him yet again, she replies to a question of his with an implication that they have transcended the conventional meanings of "life" and "death" and that all they have done to each other is forgiven.
- George Clooney as Dr. Chris Kelvin
- Natascha McElhone as Rheya
- Viola Davis as Dr. Gordon
- Jeremy Davies as Snow
- Ulrich Tukur as Gibarian
- John Cho as DBA Emissary #1
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. However, because of his many commitments in the 90s, Cameron was unable to take on directing duties.
In 2000, around the time Steven Soderbergh was working on Traffic, Soderbergh 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. 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. 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.
Because both Soderbergh and Clooney had prior commitments at the time, the film did not enter production until close to mid-2002. 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. These were the same stages that held the sets for Soderbergh's Ocean's Eleven.
A few weeks prior to the film's release, in early November 2002, the Motion Picture Association of America assigned the film with an R-rating primarily due to two scenes that depicted Clooney's naked backside. Creating further outburst among filmmakers against the MPAA and Directors Guild of America, Soderbergh vowed to have the film's rating appealed. Twelve days prior to the film's release, an appeals board overturned the R-rating for a PG-13 rating.
Released on November 29, 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. 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. 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).
The film received mixed to positive reviews from critics and has a rating of 66% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 202 reviews with an average score of 6.5 out of 10. The consensus states "Slow-moving, cerebral, and ambiguous, Solaris is not a movie for everyone, but it offers intriguing issues to ponder." The film also has a score of 65 out of 100 on Metacritic based on 38 reviews.
The Time Out Film Guide describes the film as superior to the Tarkovsky version. 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." 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." It received a rating of F from CinemaScore, based on moviegoers' survey responses.
Roger Ebert gave the film 3½ (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"; 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 "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."
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". While admitting that he had not seen the film, Lem referred to Soderbergh's adaptation as a "remake of the Tarkovsky movie" and 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:
...to 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".
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.
Solaris was released on VHS and DVD on July 29, 2003. As of 2012, these have been the only home video releases of the film. There are currently no plans on releasing the film in the Blu-ray format, though the film can be found on demand and in the iTunes Store.
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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.
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