Before Gravity, no movie had captured the essential loneliness, the spiritual yearning behind space travel, as fully as Andrei Tarkovsky’s melancholy masterpiece. (Steven Soderbergh’s 2002 American remake, based on the same Stanislaw Lem novel and starring Gravity’s George Clooney, seemed only to skim the surface of the Russian film’s deep seas of sorrow.)
In a space station orbiting the ocean planet Solaris, scientist Kris Kelvin is mysteriously reunited with his long-dead wife. It appears that the planet is a conscious organism, and reuniting Kelvin with Hari is its way of communicating with him. Is she the real thing or just a copy? Is she a hallucination, a messenger, a clone, or an independent being? Is she doomed to follow the same suicidal path as before. Can Kelvin handle losing her again?
On a larger level, can humanity handle a planet that can recover what we’ve lost and fulfill our deepest desires, and will we be able to keep ourselves from despoiling it as we have the Earth? Tarkovsky’s poetic prayer of a movie contemplates all these questions and more, suggesting ultimately that humanity may not have any business exploring other planets when we have yet to solve the mysteries of the human heart. As Kelvin’s colleague says, “We don’t know what to do with other worlds. We don’t need other worlds. We need a mirror.”
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