Solaris

3 stars - Thought Provoking

"Solaris" is a remake by Steven Soderbergh of a 1972 Russian film based on a 1961 sci-fi novel by the Polish writer Stanislaw Lem.  In this work, Lem creates a story from a humanistic perspective overlaid with spiritual symbolism.

Solaris is a mysterious planet around which orbits a research space station.  Something has gone wrong on board, but no one on earth knows what it is.  So, the doctor on the space station summons his psychologist friend from earth, Chris Kelvin (George Clooney), to come to Solaris to unravel the mystery.

Chris has the task of determining whether the mission should continue or be shut down.  What he discovers is that the mysterious happenings on board have a compelling and captivating attraction based upon each person's past. The people that meant the most to us in the past reappear before us, apparently in flesh and blood, to give us a second chance to deal with unfinished business or unfulfilled love.

As captivating and real as these phantoms seem, they are not real.

They cannot die.  And if an attempt is made to kill them, a form of resurrection continually occurs.  Why this is so disorienting and captivating to Chris is that it is his deceased wife Rheya (Natascha McElhone) who reappears to him.  And, since she had died some time ago due to suicide, the opportunity to reconnect with her in a loving and healing way is a more powerful mission than determining the future of the space station.

Other crewmembers have had the same experience.  Each of them reacts to it in a different way.  Some feared their past and wanted it gone.  Others couldn't bear the pain and took their own life.  Only one crewmember, Helen Gordon (Viola Davis), has the fortitude to determine that they should return to earth, and she is the only one who takes action.

While Stanislaw Lem might have had a strong interest in exploring the ramifications of science and philosophy, Soderbergh interprets his story with spiritual significance.  In one flashback scene, Rheya and Chris Kelvin are having dinner with some of his co-workers.  Rheya tries vainly to suggest that life is more transcendent and based within a higher intelligence than we know.  The guests, along with Chris, continue to assert that all of life is just a random series of mathematical probabilities.  It is following this clash in values that Rheya ends up taking her own life and Chris is left with nothing with which to comfort his grief.

It is on Solaris where Chris is given a second chance to reinterpret the meaning of life.  Now with what appears to be his most loving wife back in his arms, Chris has to face the same question that we all would face if given a second chance to heal a breach with our loved ones.  What would we say and do differently?  Would our values be changed by the experience? 

The first choice Chris must make is whether to live in his mind, or to live with love as the most important focus of his existence?  This question becomes more real when it is tempered in life’s trials or pain.

The second question that he faces is what is the meaning of resurrection? Does every failure in our lives have an opportunity for healing and ultimate forgiveness?  In Chris's case, he chooses to live with his second chance and in doing so receives the message that the slate of his past is wiped clean.

The third question that he faces is whether there is some power greater than ourselves.  And, if there is, does fighting against it bring it ever closer to us?  In the case of the power that Solaris holds, the fight to stop it only reveals it to be stronger.  But, unlike many science fiction stories that portray an outside force as evil, Solaris is cloaked in a mysterious power of healing.  The healing offered by Solaris (the sun and implied the Son), is still a choice that has to be accepted by each of us in its sphere.

 

DISCUSSION:

  1. Science fiction is an excellent organ for exploring questions of faith.  As the name Solaris implies we are looking at both the source of biological life, the sun, and the source of spiritual life, the Son.  How does the film help us in understanding the source of our lives and their future sustenance?  What is required for a person to experience peace with our past in order to have a future peace?  What is different between the peace offered on Solaris and that offered in the Son of God?
  2. Often the struggles we have in life imply a deeper decision that we are either avoiding or needing to make.  How does each person’s response to the phenomenon on Solaris portray the place of their soul?  What do you believer your experience would be if you found yourself in such a sphere?
  3. Why is it that when we experience something unusual, even the opportunity to heal something, that we often first experience it as “something gone wrong?”  How would life be different if we approached life with more trust and hope that “Someone” is guiding our path and allowing this experience?  If we do not believe our path is guided then how do we find our way in the various struggles of past and future?