Dr. Kris Kelvin (Donatas Banionis) is the main protagonist in the movie Solaris. Kelvin is a pensive and disgruntled psychologist who is sent on a mission to investigate the enigmatic planet, Solaris. On the space station orbiting Solaris, Kelvin along with two other scientists, Drs. Sartorius and Snaut, are subjected to the effects that the planet’s atmosphere has on them. One effect in particular that afflicts the scientists is that the strange gases emitted by Solaris’ atmosphere manifests the memories of the men into physical entities who are called “guests”. For Dr. Kelvin, the memory of his wife Hari, who had committed suicide ten years earlier, would be resurrected. Interacting with the newly resurrected physical presence of Hari, Kelvin comes to realize that she does not possess any memory or cognizance of her past life.
Despite this disappointing realization, Kelvin does not slough off his wife’s manifestation. In sharp, direct contrast to the way in which Dr. Sartorius harshly and inhumanely treats his “guests” in his laboratory, Kelvin engages in a full, human interaction with the manifestation of his wife even though she is not truly real. As Sartorius dismisses Hari as a mere “mechanical representation” when they are in the library, Kelvin sees her as more than just the lab specimen Sartorius views the “guests” as. Dr. Kelvin experiences the same emotions and feelings that he did when he was on Earth with his wife ten years prior while he is on the space station with Hari’s manifestation. When Hari kills herself on the space station by consuming liquid oxygen, Kelvin feels the tantamount psychological trauma and sadness that he experienced when he found his wife dead on Earth. This is where we are able to view how Kris Kelvin sees his own reality. To him, it does not matter whether it is Hari herself or a hallucinatory representation of her. Kelvin recognizes his reality subjectively via the emotions and memories he experiences and develops, not the cold, objective way in which scientific inquiry tries to make sense of the world.
Dr. Kelvin’s subjective perception of his reality bears strong semblance to William James’ view of reality. As both a pragmatist and perspectivist, James believed in the notion that the universe holds no concrete truths due to the innumerable perceptions of its inhabitants. For instance, James would say that if a certain viewpoint works for somebody, then it can be claimed to be true because it is pragmatic and functions for that person. In Solaris, this same concept can be applied to the question of whether Hari’s manifestation is real or not. To Dr. Sartorius, he views her as not real, but as a “mechanical representation” of the memory. On the other hand, Dr. Kelvin sees Hari on the space station as tangible as he did when she was alive on Earth. This is because he values the emotional connection and holds this as a stronger indicator of reality than Sartorius’ objective and scientific perception. Based on James’ theory of perceptionism, both men’s answers to Hari’s palpability or lack thereof would be seen to be pragmatic and equally plausible.