In Solaris (1972), the characters create a clear line between the ‘visitors” and original humans. What is the difference that resides in Being? The nature of Being can be considered at the core of all of philosophy. Solaris presents humans alongside uncertain reproductions so that the viewers of the film are left to decide what makes Beings unique. In Solaris, the visitors are created by the imaginations of the original humans and this is provoked by Solaris. The visitors understand current space and understand that time is peculiar and unique.
I think the philosophy of René Descartes relates most closely with the film. Solaris (1972). René Descartes believes that the mind, is complete in itself and does not require anything physical in order for it “to be”. The mind knows with certainty that knowledge of the external world is in many ways doubtful. The self as mind exists as ‘thinking matter’ and is independent form the world of ‘extended matter’. Descartes separate the mind from the physical world. In many ways, Solaris follows the same philosophy. The characters on the ship cannot doubt because they are in a place they do not know. Since I was little, I was always told to learn from the past. I never truly grasped this idea until life forced me into certain situations where I had to relive my past. I had to relive it again, so that I would learn. The characters in Solaris experience a similar situation. They do not know who they are and so Solaris acts as an agent or a stimulant to help these guests approach themselves from a different angle. Descartes’ radical separation of the mind from the world has two philosophical conceptions of reality. That being, how people relate to their environment and how and where they perceive themselves in the world. In addition, we see in Solaris that the guests can only doubt externally. The nature of being is interwoven between these two concepts. What we see is not always real or true. And if it is true, what makes it true? Descartes says that the thinker’s body is subject to the laws of physics, but the mind is not. The body is secondary and external. A self that is as separated from the external world as that of Descartes can approach living beings and deal with them much more ruthlessly than someone who approaches them on the basis of the sympathy that one would have toward fellow-creatures. In Solaris, we see the nature of being and the self as a central issue and theme.
Solaris is a drama and scientific fiction movie from 1972 directed by Andrei Tarkovsky, and it stars Natalya Bondarchuk, Donatas Banionis, and Jüri Järvet. The film is broken up into two parts. In part one, Dr. Kris Kelvin is a psychoanalyst who is sent aboard the spacecraft stationed on Solaris to aid the crew that is experiencing ‘episodes’ that are causing depression and suicide. The scientists aboard are in states of shock that do not allow them to work on the ship and their lack of scientific findings are costing the mission more than it is generating. Kris Kelvin arrives just two hours after one of the lead scientists, Gibarian, commits suicide. The other scientists he meets aboard are in a state of shock and will not see Kris right away. Later on, Kris finds a documentary left by Gibarian explaining his suicide and warns Kris and gives him information about the planet. We find out that the entire planet is covered by water and vegetation, when probed, the planet can construe its own beings that are human-like in all aspects. One of the “Guests” is Hari, a clone of Kelvin’s deceased wife.
The second part of the film opens up with Kris preparing for departure, explaining to Hari he needs to be the last one to board the ship. Instead, Kris tries to kill her by locking her in the rocket and having it take off because he remembers that she died ten years ago. Dr. Snaut explains that they made replicas of her, and Kris would see more throughout the journey. He then hangs paper by the vents to help try to ease Kris’ panic attack by making the room feel more like home, Earth. When Dr. Snaut and Dr. Satorious want to meet with Kris, he brings along Hari where he later learns that Hari is made to constantly regenerate so no one can kill her. By this point in the movie Kris sees Hari more of a spouse rather than a scientific creation and they have feelings for each other. While Hari sleeps, Dr. Snaut pays a visit to Kris and explains that he should participate in their brain wave experiment, even though it might kill Hari because Dr. Satorious is working on something that will kill Hari anyway. Dr. Satorious explains to Hari what she was really like, in addition to Kris showing her earlier videos. In the library Dr. Snaut and Dr. Satorius have a discussion about man. Dr. Snaut says that all men need each other while Dr. Satorious believes the purpose of man is to gather knowledge. After Kris is scrutinized for only showing interest in Hari, she defends him by saying that he is the only who seems to act like a human being. After falling asleep a couple of times, Kris wakes up to Dr. Snaut boiling water with a letter saying Hari is gone because he did not want to mislead Kris anymore. Kris and Dr. Snaut have a long conversation where Snaut concludes that philosophical questions cannot be answered during one’s lifetime. The movie ends with Kris living back on Earth only to realize that his land is part of the ocean.
Solaris (1972) Trailer
Thinking philosophically about a film can help someone have a richer understanding about the film because it helps him or her understand the characters better. When the viewer is able to understand the characters, he or she feels more related to the character. This sentiment of relation allows for the viewer to become a more active participant and strengthens their engagement with the movie. For example, when the characters of Kris Kelvin and Anri Berton display their reality through their perception of emotions and experiences, the viewer begins to contemplate about the consequences of perception. He or she will begin to wonder how that perception will be a factor in the film. In this case, the viewer understands that Berton’s perception provides him with an unusual report for the doctors, which plays a role in the journey of Kris Kelvin. The viewer also gets to see how Kris’ perception of Hari causes him to change throughout the movie, and it even deceives him a little. A better understanding of the characters that in turn causes the viewer to become more engrossed with the movie is just one beneficial product of thinking philosophically about a movie.
Thinking about a movie philosophically also provides for a richer understanding of the messages and meanings that the director is attempting to convey. When casually watching the movie Solaris, it is easy to become disinterested by its glacial pace and slough it off as a merely boring and uninteresting film. However, this casual viewing tends to cause many people to miss the deeper philosophical ideas and teachings that Tarkovsky is trying to portray in the movie. When actually concentrating on thinking in a philosophical sense while watching the film, it enhances the entire experience that the viewer has. It allows for one to develop a greater appreciation for and understanding of the subtleties that Solaris offers, and this way of thinking also causes the spectator to question the acute meanings behind the actions and relationships of the characters. For instance, the relationship between Dr. Kelvin and the extraterrestrial, hallucinatory manifestation of his wife, Hari, exhibits a fundamentally profound question about the nature of love: do we love the actual person or the idea of that person? The ending of the film shows Hari and Kelvin together again in an ambiguously happy finale. However, when considered further, one can see a more disturbing scene taking place. Both Hari and Kelvin could be “guests” conjured up by Solaris from the memories of the perished, which in this case are the fantasies of Hari and Kelvin living on happily as they had before death. By resorting to the casual, haphazard method of viewing films, one can see that the average onlooker would fail to recognize this vital question and the philosophical importance that Solaris yields. Therefore, it becomes imperative to seek a more fertile understanding of movies by contemplating their philosophical significance.
One of Descartes main points is that the one thing you can know for sure is radical doubt, to doubt everything. The only thing you can’t doubt is that he is. One of the most famous lines from Descartes is “I think therefore I am” which is a main point in the separation of the humans and “Guests” being created by Solaris. The Guests on board ship cannot recollect for themselves, they need to be taught about their pasts in order to learn. The Guests are dependent on the humans around them. They are just bodies at this point, their minds underdeveloped and only knowing how to function mechanically as a human. They do not doubt because they do not know they are. In one scene from the movie, Hari who is a clone of Kris Kyle’s deceased wife, admits to not knowing herself and not being able to recollect her face or Kyle’s face. They cannot think and deduct and reason for themselves because they have no prior knowledge to base anything off of. Hari is constantly evolving as a Guest because she is around Kyle more and more. The more she experiences with him, the more she can formulate hypothesis. The Guests can only doubt externally, they ask questions. Hari’s first doubt is of Kyle’s love for her but this is only because he has yet to show affection towards her. She asks Kyle point blank, “do you love me?” This kind of doubting is that of learning, Hari will not reach a point in the movie to question her existence because she cannot doubt against it. She does not know how she got to Solaris, where she came from or what she came from.
Descartes also speaks about dualism, which is supported in Solaris. Descartes theory of dualism suggests that the body acts like a machine and has material properties.The mind is the opposite and is in connection with the soul which is non-material. They come together at the pineal gland, which suggests that the non-material mind controls the material body. This theory supports Hari because when she breaks down the solid metal door using her body, her naive and uneducated mind allowed her to do that.
Throughout philosophy, perception has been on the common themes as each philosopher develops their own view on what role perception plays in one life. Socrates believed that perception was deceiving and led people away from knowledge while William James believes perception is useful in the gathering of knowledge. Throughout Solaris, there were many scenes in the movie that showed people and their perception of knowledge and the reality around them. The first example of perception is during the playing of Berton’s of his testimony when he was asked to explain what he saw during the journey. His findings were then compared to what the camera caught. The scientists listened to Berton testifying and after thinking about the part speaking about the four meter tall child, they concluded that he was having hallucinations. They determined that his senses were deceiving him and he perceived images that were not real.
Later on in the movie, there is another scene where Dr. Kelvin and Dr. Snaut were speaking. Before they went to bed Dr. Snaut taped paper ruffles near the ceiling by the vent. Dr. Snaut explained that the reason he puts the papers on the vent is because he likes the sound it makes. He explains that the paper ruffles sounds like the wind blowing the leaves and gives off the impression that they are still on Earth, instead of the space journey. Towards the end of the movie, they are two scenes that involve Dr. Kelvin and his perception of reality. Dr. Kelvin needed Hari to constantly be on the space ship because he began to perceive her as an actual human being, and his dependence on her began to grow. He continued to perceive Hari as the person he once loved and this is where he discovers another perception. After spending a lot of time of this ship, Dr. Kelvin began to believe that the reason that people exist is so that they can perceive other human beings as love.
The theme of perception and its examples throughout the movie draw some interesting relations to the idea proposed by William James. James believed that all knowledge and all views of reality were based on people’s perspectives. This means that the reason people can have knowledge not just about different subjects, but also different levels of knowledge is because of their perspectives. The people that have the most perspectives about a particular subject would be considered to have more knowledge in those areas. His method also means that the truth can change if it is based on perspective and multiple people can have many different perspectives. James idea that we live in one world with many different perspectives is exemplified throughout the scenes of the movie. The way that the other doctors see Hari as oppose to Dr. Kelvin’s perception of who she has and her importance are an example of different perspectives. James also discussed that experiences can sometimes influence one’s perspective and maybe even deceive them a little. This idea is shows during the relationship of Hari and Dr. Kelvin because the more experiences they share the more his perception of her is shaped. Lastly, James talked about how the best way to come close to a unified truth is to compound as many truths as possible to make it stronger. This belief is shown in various parts of the movie. When Berton claimed that he saw a four-meter child, the doctors did not believe him. Their thoughts were defended when the camera did not capture a picture of the child throughout the whole journey. All of the doctors were on the spaceship again, and none of them had claimed to see what Berton saw is compounding more truths to attempt to get closer to one truth. Perception is not only a major part of philosophy but also an important part of people living in reality and Solaris shows how important perspectives are to certain people in acquiring knowledge.
Memory is an integral component of the human experience on Earth. Every experience and vital piece of information is stored in our brain for later recollection. We utilize our ability to remember constantly by replaying life events in our minds and recalling the different emotions and sentiments felt during that time. It is through our experiences and the memory of these experiences that we constitute what our reality is. This theme of our memory serving as the foundation for how we understand the nature of our reality on Earth is expressed in Andrei Tarkovsky’s film, Solaris. However, the movie as well as the teachings of Rene Descartes also serve as a warning that the actual nature of our reality can be corrupted due to human fallibility in thought and intellect.
In Solaris, Dr. Kris Kelvin, a Russian psychologist, is sent to a space station that is studying the mysterious, water-engulfed planet, Solaris. The eerie gases and fogs emitted by the planet’s atmosphere cause the memories that Kelvin and the other two crewmen have to manifest into actual physical beings. This use of fog and mist is a symbol for how our memories are often clouded and warped by the romanticized and nostalgic feelings that we add to our experiences. In a sense, Tarkovsky is attempting to convey that we often distort the true nature of our reality by our memory’s instability and bias.
Solaris also portrays the idea that humanity is plagued with a distinct inability to comprehend anything that is seen to be different. It reflects the idea that humans are inherently selfish beings in that in every person or object people come into contact with, they only see past memories and experiences. Dr. Snaut sums up this sentiment masterfully with his quote, “I must tell you that we really have no desire to conquer any cosmos. We want to extend the Earth up to its borders. We don’t know what to do with other worlds. We don’t need other worlds. We need a mirror.”
Descartes viewed memory mainly in terms of metaphysics. He was aware of the fact that natural human memory is often fallible and unstable, but despite this, he aspired to seek methods toward limiting our reliance on it or avoiding it altogether. In his Rules For the Direction of the Mind, Descartes writes that “since memory is weak and unstable, it must be refreshed and strengthened” by a “movement of thought” in order for a person to think “so quickly that memory is left with practically no role to play”. He is essentially stating that people rely so much on memory that it hinders their ability to think freely and give accurate reports because of memory’s flaws. The manifestations of all the scientists’ memories and the psychological agony the “guests” cause them in Solaris serve as symbols of the immense burden memory plays in regard to thinking freely. Dr. Gibrarian’s suicide on the space station represents an almost death of the mind if people reject to refresh and strengthen the memory by repeated “movement of thought”.
Why is the planet doing this? To experience what the characters are experiencing you have to think of Solaris as a physical extension of the human unconscious. For example, imagine something. Now what you just imagined, will be expressed materially by Solaris.
The main character, Dr. Kelvin is assigned to replace a scientist onboard a space station that is orbiting and monitoring the oceans of a strange and mysterious planet. The planet seems to be emitting forms of intelligence, which is able to manifest physical objects. It does so by probing the minds of the men onboard the space station. In this case I will argue that Solaris and it’s ‘oceans and atmosphere’ can be considered a character in the film. In Solaris when contact is attempted with the planetary super-consciousness, Solaris’ Ocean, becomes a mirror: a mirror that reflects the unconscious depths of human memory and emotion. As the film progresses, communication with the ocean planet continues and each visual of the ocean portrays a liquid surface that is more turbulent than the next. Solaris’ Ocean is constantly swirling and twirling and changing color. This foreshadows the turbulent tensions and fears of the characters in the movie because they struggle to coexist with perceptions of themselves. While the characters sleep on this planet, Solaris probes their unconscious, vulnerable minds. Solaris helps bring about changes in the personal perceptions of characters. Solaris unravels and brings forth important emotions and memories of the characters in the film. Dr. Kelvin and, Drs. Sartorius and Snaut are subjected to the effects of the planet’s atmosphere and become greatly affected. The strange gases emitted by Solaris’ atmosphere manifests the memories of the men into physical entities. In particular, Dr. Kelvin’s memory of his wife, Hari, who committed suicide ten years earlier now was now back in the picture. Solaris reveals this important memory to help Dr. Kelvin realize more about his past and more about his perception of reality. Without Solaris’ ‘oceans and atmospheres’ presence the characters would struggle to view the major themes of individualism, perception and memory. In addition, Solaris presents inhumane conditions to the characters of the film. In Solaris, humans must remain human beings despite the environment they are subjected. I think this relates to the concept that the modern world has, in many ways, paved over the perceptions of the natural world. I believe the character Solaris correlates to the philosophy of William James. William James was directly related to pragmatism. William James developed a pragmatic epistemology that considered the meaning of truths and ideas rather than theory and abstracts. James’ work revolves around concrete ideas, truths and thoughts. I believe Solaris correlates directly with the James’ Realms of Reality. Sentence (4), “as humans, we are all subject to the distortions of commonplace illusion and prejudice. The different perspective Solaris brings about in the characters portrays why James believes that truth is infinitely changing. The truth is infinitely changing in the film and it is directly foreshadowed in the turbulent, changing ‘Oceans’. If there are changing perspectives on a specific subject in reality, then the more likely it is for the specific subject to change. Truth is solely based on what is most pragmatic. Solaris, the character, distorts the perceptions and realities of the characters and in Sentence (4), we see a direct correlation between Solaris, the character and to the philosophies of William James. From William James’ work I concluded that the mind is not a ‘mirror’, which passively reflects what it chances to come upon. Solaris emitted gases in order for the characters to experience change of perception. As long as the character and the character’s mind sought interaction, Solaris continued provoke the minds of the character to reveal important emotions and memories. Maybe the experiments that Solaris was conducting on the human minds was to observe the humans response. By becoming a stimulation, Solaris the character, learns from the inside what it feels like to be nearly human. Solaris, the character, reveals that the modern world is contributing to a destruction of a distortion in people’s awareness and the conscious sense of the beautiful world. Solaris viewed as a character is an unusual, but interesting angle and I believe Solaris constitutes a major role in the film.