Starring: Donatas Banionis, Natalya Bondarchuk, Jüri Järvet
Director: Andrei Tarkovsky
Running Time: 167 mins
Solaris is a Soviet film about a psychologist who is sent to a distant space station in order to investigate why the crew on board lost their minds.
This is one of those films I’ve always seen as a daunting task. With the promise of an experience similar to that of 2001: A Space Odyssey, plus the legendary stature of director Andrei Tarkovsky, I was sure that this would be an intense and difficult watch, and so it proved. That’s not to say that this shouldn’t be challenging. Its exceptionally slow pace and quiet vibes make for a stunningly unnerving and even scary watch, something that Tarkovsky pulls off incredibly well.
Without a doubt, the directing is the best part of this movie. At nearly three hours long, and moving at a snail’s pace, the way Tarkovsky injects such an affecting and disturbing atmosphere from start to finish really is spectacular. Whether it be the incredibly eerie setting of the spaceship that most of the film takes place on, or even the bleak opening stages on Earth, there’s always a powerfully other-wordly feel that makes this film so memorable.
Now, I’m not going to say that I was always 100% enthralled by every moment of this film. It’s a really exhausting watch, and some of the sequences in which we get almost no sound or action for minutes on end can get very tiring.
But then again, it feels to me that being exhausted and stretched to the limits of what you’ve seen before in cinema is the very point of this film. The story centres on a man travelling to a spaceship which has sent an entire crew insane, and as the film goes on, he begins to feel the same effects. So, as out main characters begins to lose his own mind, the exhausting nature of the film does exactly the same to us as well.
Throughout, everything becomes stranger, more inexplicable and more and more like a nightmare. The brilliance of Solaris is that it’s fantastically vague and silent in its storytelling, and expects you to make the leaps to understand its most bizarre and complex ideas. There are some things that I definitely couldn’t crack, but everything that I was able to grasp made the film more and more disturbing, yet more and more intriguing.
Another huge part of this film is the lead performance by Donatas Banionis. Whilst it’s not the sort of acting that will ever win Oscars, Banionis does a brilliant job for this particular role. On the one hand, he gives a clear and impressively likable performance that makes you care about the fate of his character, but it’s the way that he portrays the man’s extreme tiredness, confusion and fear that grows throughout the course of the film that’s so impressive.
There’s no doubt about the brilliance of this film, but I think it will definitely require numerous rewatches to fully understand and appreciate everything about it. It’s slow, long, challenging and, with its disturbing and uneasy atmosphere, quite an unpleasant watch. So, whilst there’s so much cinematic brilliance here, do remember that it requires your full brain power, and then some, to get the best out of it all, which is why I’m giving Solaris a 7.4 overall.