More meditation than story, “Solaris” is a series of images and moments that address themes of identity, memory, and loss, ambitious in both form and content.
George Clooney plays Chris Kelvin, a psychiatrist who receives an urgent SOS from a friend on a space station. He gets there to find everyone dead except for an oddly detached crew member (Jeremy Davies) named Snow and the captain (Viola Davis), who won’t leave her room.
Snow says cryptically, “I could tell you what’s happening but I don’t know if that would tell you what’s happening.” And it turns out to be just that mysterious. Kelvin is awakened the next morning by his wife Rhea (Natascha McElhone), who is not only not on the space station with him but who died long before. He shoots her off into space, looking back at him out of the spacepod window. But the next morning, she is there again, and this time his longing for her overcomes his fear, and he reaches out to her.
It turns out that there is something about the planet Solaris below them that is sentient. It reaches into each of them to send them what appears to be the person they most want to see. Kelvin’s friend who called him to the spaceship saw – or conjured up – his young son, who even after the friend’s death is still racing around the space station, oddly ignored by the remaining humans. Snow says that his entity was his brother. Whatever the captain’s was, it is keeping her in her room, but it is unclear whether that is to say close to it or away from it.
The story is told impressionistically, as we go back and forth between the scenes on the space station and scenes from the past. Flickering through his struggle to understand what is going on, we see Kelvin and Rhea meeting, falling in love, and then we see his angry departure and her suicide. And then, back on the space station, it seems he does not want to understand it. He would rather lose himself in the fantasy (if that is what it is) than lose her again.
But just as that happens, Rhea (or whoever she is) does want to understand. She, or the part of her that is not Rhea, wants to be more than just a reflection of his memories, even if that means losing him and losing whatever it is she does have.
I suspect this will not be a popular movie. Most audiences, like Kelvin in the early part of the movie, want to understand things. But if you open yourself up to the ambiguities, this can be a very rewarding film.
Parents should know that the movie has a deeply unsettling feeling and some disturbing violence. We see Clooney’s bare behind as he tenderly embraces his wife. There is some strong language.
Families who see this movie should talk about how we can stay close to those we have lost.
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy 2001: A Space Odyssey. They might also like to see the original Solaris, made in the Soviet Union in 1972.