“King Solomon’s rings bore the inscription, ‘all shall pass’. In contrast, I want to draw attention to that fact that the time we have lived settles in our soul, as an experience placed within time.” – Andrei Tarkovsky

Andrei Tarkovsky

Upon watching Tarkovsky’s classic film Solaris (1972), this cryptic quotation by him comes to my mind again and again. Who are we if not an accumulation of the experiences life has offered us in our past? Can we ever be something other than this? Were these experiences not destined to happen to us, by God, by nature, by fate?

These are the themes Tarkovsky reflects on in yet another one of his contemplative, dream-like films that strive neither to tell a story nor to enthral their audience to make them forget their ordinary lives. For Tarkovsky, film – like all real art – is a form of contemplation on the meanings of our lives, on our sufferings, on what we may make out of ourselves.

Solaris is set in the future, and is about Kevin, a psychologist in Russia whose wife committed suicide ten years ago. Kevin, who lives a lonely, secluded life, is called upon by his scientific colleagues to visit a space station that hovers over a planet called Solaris. A psychologist is needed because astronauts who have been visiting the station have had strange, eerie experiences. Still mourning the loss of his wife, Kevin takes up the mission and upon reaching the space station, finds that the only two inhabitants of the large station, both scientists, are behaving mysteriously.

Soon, Kevin sees his deceased wife, Hari. They talk, they embrace, they make love, but Kevin realizes that something is not quite right. Hari died ten years ago. His colleagues in the space station tell Kevin that the planet below has the power to materialize one’s deepest thoughts – to reach the “deepest recesses of one’s soul”, as one of the scientists puts it. This is the reason for several persons have left the space station – tortured by the reality of what was only a potentiality in their mind. Hari is thus Kevin’s deepest longing brought to life. Disturbed by these events and finding himself incapable of dealing with his past, Kevin forcibly puts Hari in a space shuttle and sends her away, hoping never to see her again.

However, a few days later, Hari is back. They talk some more – old memories, old disappointments, their passion for each other, their longing for someone to hold them and love them, and more. In what some consider one of the most beautiful scenes in film history, called ‘the Ascension’ we see Kevin and Hari in the station’s library, when technical reasons cause 30 seconds of no gravity. Their bodies, unwillingly, start to gently float in the air, and they hold each other. The candle stand in front of them floats too, and a book slowly whirls across the room. In the background plays J.S. Bach’s deeply melancholic tune – ‘Jesu, the Joy of Desiring’.

The Ascension

In Solaris, Tarkovsky is telling us that our love, our fears, our disappointments, the persons in our lives, and our dreams and our regrets – these are all we have, and these are all that matter. We must not run away from these in a bid for any quick or easy gratification. In fact, we cannot run away from them, as Hari keeps returning again and again to Kevin. The heart has reasons that reason knows not.

While there is more of a story in this film than most Tarkovsky films, the story is peripheral. It is the moments of love and longing, and the quiet, slow, deeply contemplative atmosphere where nothing in particular happens, which moves you. Several scenes in the film are purely meditative. In an underwater shot, sea weeds swerve slowly for a long time. In another shot, a horse runs across a beautiful field. Kevin stands in the midst of long, maroon coloured grass, with a thoughtful look on his face. Tarkovsky holds the camera on these beautiful scenes for long, taking us away from wondering ‘what’s next?’ and creating a deep sense of reflection. The stillness of nature and the mechanized, inhuman realities of the space station stand in contrast to each other.

As an 18-year old, when I first watched Solaris, I realized what art could really be – a fulfillment of our spiritual longings. Ten years later, it remains one of the very best films I have seen. Solaris is to film what the music of Bach is to music. It is a meditation on existence, it is sorrow, and it reaches deeper than most films, precisely because it dwells on our lives without reaching any definite conclusions or closures. It is not a film that we are meant to fully understand intellectually. It is half-dream, half waking life. As it ends, we are left with a sense of deep peace, contemplation, and at least for me, a little sorrow.

“I make films to help people live, even if that causes some pain” – Andrei Tarkovsky

~ by tdcatss on August 15, 2012.

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