A close friend of mine who is very into theatre and the stage unfortunately can’t stand George Clooney. I say “unfortunately” because I believe there is a lot to be studied and gained from his performance in 2002’s remake of Solaris, first brought to film in 1976. With a subtle and subdued cast, a melancholy and haunting soundtrack, and a story that is at once incomplete and circular, I think it’s a crime that more people haven’t seen this film.
Clooney, a stoic and tight-lipped psychologist, is called to a faraway space station orbiting a star called Stellaris, because the small crew has been reporting “oddities.” The movie in no way concerns itself with how he travels the vastness of space, where Stellaris is in relation to Earth, or even why the crew is researching the blue star to begin with – exploring any of those questions would detract from the core message and movement of the film as presented: guilt, acceptance, and the idea that one doesn’t have to understand something to appreciate it.
With phenomenal supporting performances by Natascha McElhorne (haunting), Viola Davis (nerve-wrenching), and Jeremy Davies (otherworldly), it genuinely feels like the viewer is getting a peek inside a world that exists, rather than being forced a long expositional introduction before the plot starts. Watching Clooney deal with the stress of his own personal hang ups (grave as they may be) while trying to understand not only the crew but also the strange occurrences on the station is phenomenal. It’s subtle, quiet, and thoughtful.
Some may see the film as too depressing, dreary, or perhaps nihilistic, and while I can understand those perspectives, I genuinely believe the moment-in-time snapshot we get of the characters provides both existential dread and hope. The process of accepting the past isn’t always an easy one, and I can’t off-hand think of a film where that’s better portrayed than Solaris.
In many of the Half-Remembered Movies entries I post, I tend to get into the specifics of plot and themes, but I feel that Solaris is much better seen knowing little about it, and I do want to encourage people to watch it. There are long, lingering shots, a great deal of solitude and introspection, and more than a little “show not tell” – characters undertake actions without expositing on the reasons why, which I also think contributes to the mood and feel of the movie. With almost no exposition and spotty dialogue (Davies in particularly does this so very wonderfully), it truly is a cerebral film that demands a lot from its audience.
Hands-down I would recommend this movie, and its soundtrack, to anyone who likes films that have you thinking about it long after the credits end.