Solaris

Writer-director-cinematographer Steven Soderbergh's determination to remake Andrei Tarkovsky's acclaimed 1972 sci-fi mindbender without sacrificing the story's essential philosophical underpinnings or the original's extraordinary aesthetics is certainly a noble gesture, but the result is a big, beautiful bore. Earth, sometime in the near future. Psychiatrist...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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Writer-director-cinematographer Steven Soderbergh's determination to remake Andrei Tarkovsky's acclaimed 1972 sci-fi mindbender without sacrificing the story's essential philosophical underpinnings or the original's extraordinary aesthetics is certainly a noble gesture, but the result is a big, beautiful bore. Earth, sometime in the near future. Psychiatrist Chris Kelvin (George Clooney) is a grief counselor who's having difficulty recovering from a devastating tragedy of his own: the suicide of his beautiful but troubled wife, Rheya (Natascha McElhone). Kelvin is roused from his torpor by a desperate summons from his friend Dr. Gibarian (Ulrich Tukur), who's orbiting the violet, vaporous planet Solaris aboard a corporate-owned space station. Gibarian's vague transmission hints at weird happenings aboard ship; the crew have grown strange and fearful, and they refuse to leave the planet's orbit. The corporation, which hoped to exploit Solaris as an energy source, asks Kelvin to negotiate their return; if he can't, they'll abandon the station and its crew. But by the time Kelvin arrives, it's too late. Gibarian is already in a body bag, and the only people left alive appear to be Snow (Jeremy Davies), a half-mad scientist who claims Gibarian committed suicide; Dr. Gordon (Viola Davis), who's so frightened she won't leave her quarters; and, incongruously, a young boy (Shane Skelton). That night, Kelvin dreams about the night Rheya first entered his life; when he wakes up, he's horrified to find his late wife lying alongside him, alive and well and caressing his face. Kelvin tries to shake her, but, as Gordon explains, she'll keep returning as long as Kelvin pines for his wife. "Rheya," like Gibarian's little boy, are "visitors," gifts from Solaris, which seems capable of peering into our hearts and making our deepest longing a flesh-and-blood reality. The film is a tough sell: Contemporary audiences expecting another brainless video game adaptation will be put off by the film's glacial pace and ponderous meditations on love, loss, memory and redemption; fans of super cerebral sci-fi already consider Tarkovsky's adaptation of Stanislaw Lem's novel the greatest film ever made and will probably reject the whole idea of an English language remake. Soderbergh's project is a deliberate throwback to a pre-STAR WARS age when science fiction was actually about something other than special effects and juvenile mythmaking. The real irony is that for all its integrity, the film isn't nearly as thought-provoking as Steven Spielberg's recent A.I. ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE or MINORITY REPORT, and nowhere near as entertaining.

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  • Released: 2002
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Review: Writer-director-cinematographer Steven Soderbergh's determination to remake Andrei Tarkovsky's acclaimed 1972 sci-fi mindbender without sacrificing the story's essential philosophical underpinnings or the original's extraordinary aesthetics is certainly a… (more)

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