Solaris is a surprisingly good film, one of the best sci-fi films of recent years. This is a refreshing effort which suggests that thought-provoking, philosophical films can still be made in Hollywood. The film stars George Clooney and is directed by Steve Soderbergh, with support from James Cameron.
Clooney plays a psychologist called Chris Kelvin who is asked to investigate some strange events aboard a remote space station. The space station orbits a mysterious planet called Solaris. A prior rescue team has not been heard from since they went to investigate but Kelvin accepts the assignment nevertheless. Upon arrival he finds some incredible events in motion and soon becomes drawn in.
The film is based on an earlier Russian film from 1972 and an even earlier book by Stanislaw Lem of the same name but it differs from the original quite a bit. Soderbergh's interpretation is very enjoyable and without losing the feeling of the source material. This is not some special effects epic, there is no war with crazy alien races, and instead we are treated to a slow tense and thoughtful film which remains dreamlike and haunting in the mind.
The film looks absolutely gorgeous, light and reflection are used to great effect here to create a stylish feeling. The space ship, clothing and space suit design is nicely understated which helps to create a believable backdrop. Kelvin is briefly on earth at the start of the movie and we catch glimpses of a futuristic planet but it appears bleak and cold through his eyes. The film is very dark and quiet throughout and sequences seem to blend in to each other in a dreamlike fashion.
As the film progresses we learn that Solaris is causing visitors to materialise, visitors plucked from the dreams of the people onboard the orbiting space station. Understandably this has taken a severe toll on their mental states. Kelvin struggles to come to terms with his past and this struggle forms the central core of the film, as though he has been given a second chance to correct his mistakes with his wife. The problem is that the visitors are not really those people, they are approximations based on the crew's memories.
The action is very well directed and I like the script, which explores some very interesting ideas. The acting is mostly very good, Clooney is quiet and brooding and this is quite different from any of his previous performances that I have seen.
Ultimately I think this film works because it avoids over explaining anything. The viewer can interpret different scenes in different ways and in its best moments this reminded me of Kubrick's great work 2001: A Space Odyssey. However, although it is very haunting and melancholy, it is not as dark. Some of the plot twists are a bit too predictable and at times I felt the tension was lifted which lessened the overall impact of the ideas at play. I think it was naturally going to be difficult to wrap this film up and indeed the resolution is a bit unsatisfying.
Solaris is well worth watching. It is a nicely crafted film which may leave you with a bittersweet feeling of melancholy. It is thoughtful and beautifully filmed and it is also the sort of film that is rarely made nowadays, low on special effects and high on concept and complexity.