November 29, 2002

Solaris

The first in our nearly-annual Thanksgiving movies, Solaris is a fascinating, and thought-provoking mind trip, in the mold of 2001: A Space Odyssey. 2001 uses the unknowable cosmos as a platform to ask: Who are we on the galactic scale of things? What's the next step in the evolution of Mankind? Solaris uses a mysterious celestial object as the catalyst to ask: Who are we but a sum of our experiences? Do our memories make us who we are?
While a scientific crew orbits Solaris, (which resembles the star gate from 2001, but in slo-mo), Solaris populates their ship with incarnate memories from their dreams. They're not human or alien, they seem to only be a physical manifestation of their subconscious. Understandably, the mission falls apart, and the space agency sends Chris Kelvin (George Clooney), a shrink with a slowly-emerging backstory, to save what's left. The sequence where Kelvin first falls asleep and dreams of his wife (Natascha McElhone), who then becomes incarnate onboard, is spellbinding and scary. Director Steven Soderbergh (who also photographed and edited, and exec produced the film, and adapted the Stanislaw Lem novel for the screen), reveals the story slowly, just slow enough to let the viewer put the pieces together on their own, but not too slow to be boring. It's almost as good on TV as it was on the big screen, but be sure to turn off all the lights, turn up the volume, and let the movie wash over you. I especially enjoyed the Cliff Martinez score, and Philip Messina's understated production design.