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”.