Solaris is known for being the least 'artsy' of Tarkovsky's films, and because of that I've had to argue with many people that the film shouldn't be under-estimated.

While the film is based on a novel, I find it hard to see, from watching the film, how it could have been written as a novel. The film plays with questions about a person's knowledge of their lover, questions about eternal life, and issues of presence and absence, but it plays with all of these issues in a way that constantly returns to the issue of cinema.

The plot, in the simplest form, involves a psychologist who goes to a space station to investigate strange things happening on board. The station orbits a planet which is supposed to be alive and has strange powers. After spending some time on the station he discovers his dead wife living in his room. The other people on the station explain that the planet can create individuals based on the person's memory of them, though these individuals are only manifestations from memory, and not the actual person. The man has a hard time dealing with this woman who is his wife, but is not really his wife, the woman asks the other scientists to destroy her (she cannot commit suicide) so she does not hurt him anymore.

The reason why I have a hard time imagining this in book form (I would like to read the book soon), is because the physical existence of the woman is so deeply accentuated in the film, that it is hard to dismiss her as an idea, a delusion if you will. The film is constant emphasizing that she is there, and that she has form (not to mention that she is beautiful). She feels the effects of gravity, she goes into spasms of pain. Yet in the beginning she appears out of nowhere.

The idea I think intersects with the description of the afterlife in the first episode of The Decalogue, where the Father tells his son that after someone dies the memories are important "that they smiled a lot, that a tooth is missing." After someone dies they go from being an individual with the possibility to possibility to inspire love, or anger, or to act upon a situation. When you are dead you are nothing but an idea, what the Decalogue says is that the afterlife is really the idea of your living potential. It is the longing memory of something magical that no longer is, something living, breathing, and trembling.

In Solaris the 'no longer exists' exists again. The idea of a person returns to the full potentiality of that person in a physical form. Not only does she again have the potential to inspire feelings, but she has the full physicality of life, with all the suffering and beauty it implies... the psychologist in his state of breakdown discusses the possibility that humans cannot accept God's miracles.

I could not really tell you how to answer all the questions this film brings up. Whether or not the idea of a person is the same as a person except for the lack of potential. No one could tell you the full value of physicality (except maybe Heidegger). But what affirms in a way that seems to have to me the force of a logical arguement is that the true self is not a set of emotions or attitudes, that the soul and the body are in essence one thing, and neither can be judged as good or evil.

There are only two things that this movie finds it possible to judge, life, which is full of the wonder of beauty and possibility, and death, which is only the horror of silence.

The movie is beautiful, you should buy Solaris here

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