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Solaris (1972) Review

As I cautiously enter my second Andrei Tarkovsky movie, it’s nice to think that I’ve still got so many of his classic pieces of cinema left to tackle. Tarkovsky was no stranger to elusive messages and broadly varied reasonings throughout his films. He places in his films something to strive for, information to grapple with as the story unfolds. Well, he didn’t do that in Ivan’s Childhood, but that was a sorely engaging and gripping film that relied on the harrowing nature of war. Solaris relies on similar trends of grief, loss and inexperienced terror, all in the form of an inability to believe what is right there in front of our very eyes.

Following the story of psychologist Kris Kelvin as he boards a spaceship orbiting the titular planet, Solaris, he soon discovers that the planet is infecting the astronauts and scientists on board, bringing memories and visions out of their subconscious. It’s all very mind-warping, focusing in on the impossible becoming a reality. The blend between reality and the subconscious world of Solaris is a blurred line, and in the best way possible it adds a verbose tone to the film. Donatas Banionis’ leading performance as Kelvin is essential to the mesmerising nature of the film. He’s very much the vehicle we as an audience can attach ourselves to, we’re left in the dark almost as much as he is for the majority of the running time.

Tarkovsky is no stranger to the paramount and surreal, and Solaris expands on this near obsession with other worldly connotations that seek to spread fear and nerve wracking, mind-bending moments that will question the fabric of the film’s reality. This strong direction is not only consistent, but relatively lingering around the pull of perfection. Ominous, tatty hallways strewn with waste and upturned utilities, interesting and engaging characters that bounce from one extreme to the other. All of it falls into place rather well under the direction of Tarkovsky, who showcases that dramatic surrealism is all it takes to make a thrilling story that looks to psychoanalyse its depthful characters.

Interactions between the cast often feel intentionally robotic and are the epitome of tense. The awkward nature between a man who has recently arrived and those that have seen the horrors of their environment and accepted them is a great contrast held up in the film throughout. It’s edge of your seat entertainment, a real thrillride from start to finish that will have no trouble keeping any audience whatsoever captivated from its elusive start to its stomach-churning end.

Tarkovsky turns in a truly tense film that grapples with the desires of the subconscious, while at the same time he delves deep into the heart of his artistic merits and offers up some of his finest directing work to date. An absolutely stunning display of visuals, coupled with sheerly astounding performances and an ominous tone that will settle well with fans of science fiction, but also those who are seeking out that near perfect dramatic exploration of the mind. Solaris is a true classic, and well worth the watch for those interested in having their brain melt in real time.

Ewan Gleadow
Ewan Gleadow
Editor in Chief at Cult Following | News and culture journalist at Clapper, Daily Star, NewcastleWorld, Daily Mirror | Podcast host of (Don't) Listen to This | Disaster magnet

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