147 – Solaris

Based on the novel by Stanislaw Lem, this cerebral sci-fi yarn has psychologist Chris Kelvin (George Clooney) being sent to investigate strange happenings on a remote space station orbiting an odd planet. Kelvin has ghosts of his own to deal with, as he is haunted by memories of his wife, a suicide victim. His mission is to find out why the crew members have not come home and to explain their bizarre behavior (as evidenced by their plaintive messages imploring Kelvin to visit).

There have been many movies that depict what happens when strange happenings are investigated, and as in most of those movies, nothing here is really as it seems. The tone for the tension and suspense is set almost immediately, as Kelvin awaks onboard the station next to his dead wife!

Who is she? What is she? Is she really his wife, returned from the grave? What affect does Solaris the planet have on this…. this entitity? Is Kelvin turning as nutty as the remaining crew members? Is he hallucinating his wife? Is he even on the space station – is this a bad dream?

Devoid of outlandish special effects and with a threadbare cast, the movie must lean on the solemn plot and the stoic acting of Clooney. This is his show all the way – his is the flawed hero and the willing victim combined into one multilayered character. It’s some of Clooney’s best work; he cannot rely on his whiplash smile or suave charm. Neither of those qualities, although surely valuable in other films, can help his character here.

Like the best thinking-man’s sci-fi, Solaris doesn’t answer every question. It’s mystical without being too abstract, and its quiet strength lies in what one doesn’t see.

The only drawback is that it’s often tough to understand the actions of the crew members, including Kelvin. Are they insane, or merely acting? Hamlet himself may not have been able to discern the truth here. Compounding this is the sometimes unlikeability of Kelvin himself. It would be taking the easy way out, however, to have made him into some sort of superhero. Therefore even though it’s tough at times to relate to Kelvin and consequently to root for him to succeed, this is a successful, well-made film, thanks to its complexities and multilayered main character.

Solaris: ***

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