I’d read and heard that the Clooney/Soderbergh version of this was perhaps a better movie than this earlier Russian one, and is also supposed to be closer to Lem’s novel, but also that this is perhaps the more interesting film and that, and the fact that this is the longer movie, decided for me that I would watch this one first.
The concept is that humans have put a space station above an ocean on the planet Solaris, which appears to demonstrate signs of potentially intelligent life and attempts to communicate with the station’s occupants. However, the humans on board the station are behaving erratically and the information coming back is vague and confused so they send out a psychologist, Kris Kelvin (Banionis) who was friends with one of the occupants, to see if he can sort out whatever problems are interfering with the research and get some results back to Earth. When he arrives, Kelvin’s friend has already committed suicide and the remaining two scientists, Snaut and Sartorius, are secretive and brittle. Then Kris is confronted with what appears to be a manifestation of his ex (and dead) girlfriend, Hari (Bondarchuk), and the behaviour of the other scientists becomes more clear. Is this an attempt by the planet to communicate with the humans? If so, is it benign or a form of attack, since it seems so emotionally perilous? And what is the status of this new Hari herself? Is she, or could she be, ‘real’?
The film is slow and long – no doubt about that, at 167 minutes – and it won’t appeal to devotees of action and plot but it is not self-indulgent and the cinematography was beautiful, even if a couple of special effects here and there look rather dated. I loved it. It was thoughtful, meditative and slightly dream-like but always with questions about what was happening left for the viewer to decide, or to leave open, according to taste. A beautiful, thought-provoking and cryptic film.