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:: Solaris

My usual reaction to Steven Soderbergh films is that they are triumphs of style over substance, however this is not so with his latest feature Solaris. A remake of a 1972 film by acclaimed Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky, which is said to have inspired Kubrik to make 2001: A Space Odyssey, the original film was based on a science fiction novel by Stanislaw Lem. This film represents Soderbergh’s first venture into the realm of science fiction after his numerous Hollywood successes with Ocean’s Eleven, Traffic, Erin Brockovich and Out of Sight.

The film, set some time in the future, centres around a planet called Solaris, which is being studied by a small group of scientists aboard a spacecraft Prometheus. Things start to go awry when the scientists stop communicating with Earth and switch off the spacecraft’s Artificial Intelligence unit. The company that sent the crew however only begins to panic after they send a group of Special Forces up, who also don’t return. When a videotape turns up addressed to psychologist Dr Chris Kelvin (George Clooney) from one of the scientists on board the space-craft Gibarian (Ulrich Tukur) a friend of Kelvin’s, his help is enlisted to go to the craft and bring those aboard home safely.

As Kelvin boards the spacecraft the nature of the danger awaiting him is unclear, although the blood in the landing area is probably not a good sign. On discovering the remainder of the crew who are suffering extreme paranoia and depression among other things, it becomes clear that the threat is more psychological than physical and that the planet Solaris is not just being watched, it is also watching. When Kelvin wakes on board the space- craft to find his dead wife Rheya beside him, having materialised out of thin air whilst he was sleeping, Kelvin like the others before him begins to question his grip on reality. Is she real? Is she human? How did she get here? Can he take her back to Earth?

Soderbergh’s version of Solaris focuses more on the relationship between Kelvin and Rheya, than the phenomenon of the planet Solaris itself. Far from being your standard science fiction film, Solaris is not action packed or caught up in the technological potential of the future, it is a character drama about relationships- guilt, regret and whether the paths the loves of your life take are pre-ordained.

Some of Soderbergh’s other films I feel didn’t inspire an emotional engagement with his characters, however this sense of detachment which is also apparent in Solaris, is perfect for this subject matter. The film is infused with a sense of isolation, anxiety and silent, creeping mania. George Clooney, in one of the first roles I have seen him in that doesn’t entail him playing a charming, lovable rogue is thoroughly convincing as a man undergoing an extremely painful, emotional and psychological confrontation. However the two supporting actors, Jeremy Davies as Snow and Viola Davis as Gordon weren’t so convincing. Their forced and at times melodramatic delivery of their characters was in stark contrast to Clooney’s more understated performance. But to make up for the grating of their characters, you do get to see Clooney’s naked butt.

Overall, it's well worth a look.

Screening on general release