Tarkovsky’s Solaris (1972)- A Search Through Our Unknown.


Note: Throughout this analysis I received guidance from Lewis University’s chair of the film studies department, Dr. Christopher Wielgos, and Creative Writing/Film Studies Professor, Dr. Simone Muench. 

Hello Film Enthusiasts,

My “redone” cinematic syntax continues to be a place for learning, as well as giving my interpretations. I will do film analysis, film reviews, director spotlights, and anything else that comes to mind as I continue as a Jet Fuel Review blog editor. If you or anyone want me to do anything in particular, or find something I say wrong in context with Tarkovsky’s writings, please comment what you find. If no one comments it will always be from what I want and how I present things. This redone cinematic syntax calls for a celebration and that will be through an analysis of Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1972 film Solaris.

In 2017, I was lucky enough to see both Solaris (1972) and Stalker (1979) at the Music-Box Theater in Chicago. In my time watching films, I always have come back to Tarkovsky and felt something more than anything I have seen from any other director.  I found Tarkovsky’s mise en scene, long takes, and unique images to be a particular draw to him as a director. In my current film class we have been specifically focusing on his color choice and I never looked so closely at Tarkovsky’s color before and have always respected Tarkovsky’s beautiful colors, but I never looked at it further than just appreciation.

“We can express our feelings regarding the world around us either by poetic or by descriptive means. I prefer to express myself metaphorically. Let me stress: metaphorically, not symbolically. A symbol contains within itself a definite meaning, certain intellectual formula, while metaphor is an image. An image possessing the same distinguishing features as the world it represents. An image — as opposed to a symbol — is indefinite in meaning. One cannot speak of the infinite world by applying tools that are definite and finite. We can analyse the formula that constitutes a symbol, while metaphor is a being-within-itself, it’s a monomial. It falls apart at any attempt of touching it.” — Andrei Tarkovsky 

Image result for stanislaw lem solaris

I chose this quotation to show that Tarkovsky himself argued, as I understand, that his images are “indefinite in meaning,” which in itself allows me to analyze his film through what his images could mean rather than what they concretely are. The way I interpret his film is not the only way it can be done, and it is most certainly not the last way I, or anyone else, could see it. My choice in examining the human nature and the psychological are all important in the plot of Solaris. Solaris, based on a novel by Stanisław Lem, is about a character named Kris Kelvin who comes on the Solaris space station and finds the crew in disarray. The disarray is revealed to be caused by the psychological affects of the planet, which reveal dark truths about the Scientists working on the space station (Dr.Snaut, Dr. Sartorius, and Dr. Gibarian).  Kelvin soon finds himself experiencing the same psychological affects, and even attempts to reconcile and to prevent his wife Khari from committing suicide again. However, the book differs significantly from the film, and Lem even criticizes Tarkovsky’s adaptation, first by saying that he just made another Crime and Punishment instead of his novel. Lem had many more problems with Tarkovsky’s adaptation and even quarreled with him on occasions.

I read the film as a look at a human-being’s search for the meaning of existence in either seeking knowledge or happiness beyond what is comprehensible through the human condition

In each of these segments I will go through a few of the characters to try and acertain their perspective on the message of the film that I put forth.

Qs: What does this character stand in terms of the message? Who is this character and why do they represent what they represent? Is this character static or dynamic?

  • Kris Kelvin- I think this character is supposed to allow the viewer to psychologically enter the world of Solaris. However, Tarkovsky doesn’t reveal all the little details within Kelvin. This character is a psychologist, and a “Solarist” which is a person who studies the planet Solaris. Kelvin is a dynamic character and we follow him through his work as Solarist and stubborn psychologist to a grief stricken and emotionally brutalized.  
  • Khari- Natalya Bondarchuk plays Khari, who is Kris Kelvin’s wife, and is portrayed as very passive, which is problematic. The problems we see with Khari’s character is how Tarkovsky does not portrays her as autonomous. I would say she represents inner desires and the soul, and her suicide connects Solaris back to Earth because Dr. Gibarian also committed suicide. Tarkovsky really puts emphasis on the human’s nature to love through this character.
  •  Dr. Sartorius- Played by Anatoly Solonitsyn, I believe this character stands as the character who explores the scientific and tries to rationalize the unexplainable. They represent their viewpoint that they must study to achieve true happiness and understanding. He also seems to be the dry comic relief. 
  • Dr.Snaut An alcoholic that seems to be contrary to Solonitsyn’s character. He seems to suppress his urges with alcohol and demonstrates this of the human condition. The need to suppress his psychological manifestation because he cannot handle his past, which is common to the other characters.
  • Dr. Gibarian– He commits suicide because of the manifestation of his the Daughter that died. He is a character that warns Kelvin about what is going on and is, what I believe to be a character as connected to Khari. The character represents the very human viewpoint of loss of faith and will to life.

Grief Stages–

See the source image

I won’t go through each of the seven stages of Grief. However, I feel it is relevant to mention that Solaris can be interpreted as Kris Kelvin’s healing process after the loss of Khari the first time. The other characters could be memories, or even the voices in his head that help lead us through Kelvin’s psyche or each could be humans who are also experiencing the and are going through the grief process around him, which makes the space station and what each person goes through an embodiment of the human condition on Earth. I feel this interpretation is relevant because of the almost uphill battle that Kelvin has trying to remove Khari from his memories.

Another relevant interpretation is one based on the biblical, or ones that are based on faith/devotion to a God. As we know, Tarkovsky was a Christian during his life. I am sure very devout, and the bible is referred to many times in Tarkovsky’s book, Sculpting in Time,

Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: and if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain…

But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first-fruits of them that slept. For since by man come to death, by man came also resurrection of the dead. For as Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive… (87).

I Cor 15, 15-19, 26-29.

On the page prior to this passage is a picture of images Harey’s death and ressurection on Solaris, so it feels relevant that the biblical is explored in Tarkovsky’s films. Tarkovskian imagery typically consists of horses, water, levitation, his childhood memories, or young boys spending time with their mothers, which all seem to be biblical and personal and could be interpreted as such. The space station and the “otherworldly” events which occur could as well be a bridge to heaven. For example, In the scene when Kelvin sees his mother again; their ages reversed, we see him bathed for a possible cleansing of sin. Additionally, The planet Solaris could be heaven and the ending segment could be Kris asking for forgiveness to God the father but his father, played by Nicolai Grinko, seems to turn away from Kris as he kneels and cradles his legs.

Similarly, Kris does a similar holding of legs on Harey, but Tarkovsky slows the camera on her feet:

Solaris (1972)

The image, similar to Stalker, is one of temptation, sin, or anything evil. The writer (Anatoly Solonitsyn) foolishly brings the gun as protection, possibly showing a lack of faith.

See the source image
Stalker (1979) *Side note, I would argue Solaris is Stalker in space*

I believe that Tarkovsky puts this image in because Kelvin may be tempted to “exploit” her love and devotion once again. Kris’ stern and almost hurt demeanor may be him trying to protect himself from the pain that Harey represents to him.

Tarkovsky is a gem as a filmmaker, and I only like to talk about him in a positive light! However, he has some problems that I had addressed when I spoke on his strict view on gender roles and an opinion is an opinion and he is allowed to have his, but he seems to get the message as he develops as a filmmaker (except in maybe Nostalghia). I see a certain love of humanity from Tarkovsky and that is what draws me to him most, even if my interpretations may be limited to the scope of what Tarkovsky wanted to achieve with his films and what he totes in Sculpting in Time.

I would like to leave this week’s blog with a fantastic Tarkovsky quote that resonates with me now more than ever:

“Some sort of pressure must exist; the artist exists because the world is not perfect. Art would be useless if the world were perfect, as man wouldn’t look for harmony but would simply live in it. Art is born out of an ill-designed world.”

See the source image
Andrei Tarkovsky


love, live and watch film!

Till next time,

Christian Mietus, Blog editor.








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