Monday, August 9, 2010

Annals of Consciousness: Solaris

Consciousness, whether in an ocean or a brain, does not necessarily reveal truth. Conversely, truth can be too much for consciousness to bear. Solaris, Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky’s l972 film based on a novel by Stanislaw Lem, is about a consciousness that reposes in a sea of water on a distant planet. There’s a wonderful scene early in the film that portrays the inside of the mind as series of highways, with cars like neurons running between synapses. The movie oscillates between the inside of whatever consciousness might be, to the phenomenon we might casually call reality.  The philosophical landscape and conundrums of the movie are endless and preachy, but the main character Kris Kelvin’s grief over the suicide of his wife, and the notion of the Faustian bargain by which she is able to return to life, if only in factitious form, along with the recurring theme of the father/son relationship (Kris’s mission may mean that he will never see his father again), provide the emotional underpinnings for a movie that ends up separating the body and the mind. The imagery of Hamlet runs throughout the film. For instance, Gribarus, one of the scientists on the space station who commits suicide, wants to be returned to earth so he can be buried in the ground with the worms and dirt, a fate reminiscent of poor Yorick.  Man’s ultimate condition is that of degenerate matter rather than soaring thought. “Love is a feeling we can experience, but never explain,” Kris says at one point.  Solaris isn’t so much science fiction as a dramatization of the plight of the dualist thinker. “We don’t need other worlds,” says Snout, one of the scientists on the space station circling the planet Solaris. “We need a mirror.”

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