Solaris

I am starting a new tradition for movie fans. I think of it a bit like a pilgrimage one might make if they were religious, you know if your religion was based around good movies, which mine is. This filmgrimage is called Soderweek and this is how you go about accomplishing it. For seven days you must watch as many Steven Soderbergh films as you can. They don’t have to be the only movies you watch, but they should make up the majority of them for those seven days. The other rule of Soderweek is that you must watch at least 2 Steven Soderbergh films that you have never seen before. If for some reason you have already seen all of Steven Soderbergh’s films (which I find unlikely unless you are in fact Steven Soderbergh, in which case hello Mr. Soderbergh I really enjoyed The Informant, and I hope those rumors about you retiring soon are false.) you have to get a friend (or enemy) to watch 2 Soderbergh films with you that they have not seen. The most exciting part about Soderweek, like any religious pilgrimage, is that it is a wholly personal experience; you choose the week when you will do it. It is written that you must complete at least one Soderweek in your lifetime but it is recommended by the Elder Gods that you make as many Soderweek pilgrimages as possibly. I have chosen the week starting Feb 7th and ending Feb 14th as my first Soderweek, and the first film I watched was Solaris.

Solaris is a surprisingly great film. It’s a simple sci-fi story about a shrink (Cloon the goon) who has to take trip to a space ship that has stopped all contact. The ship is orbiting a celestial body known as Solaris. Solaris is a strange entity that nobody understands and when Clooney gets there he finds half the crew dead and the other half slowly being driven mad by the power of Solaris.

Any description of this film will make it sound much more intense and science fictiony than it is, but like 2001 (a film that obviously influenced Soderbergh in the making of this film) Solaris is a much subtler more subdued thing. Really this film is about one man coming to terms with the death of someone he loved, set against the always interesting back drop of madness from the vastness and intense alienness of the cosmos.

The film also stars Jeremy Davies, Viola Davis, and Natascha McElhone, and that is pretty much it. Personally I love Jeremy Davies in this and pretty much everything, he is just a fascinating person to watch, and his fidgety pause filled delivery is perfect for a Space Madness film. Viola Davis is also quite good she plays the other surviving crewmember and while she is just as crazy as Davies she plays it exactly the opposite, she is always stone still and very unassuming. McElhone plays Clooney’s lost love in both flashbacks and as a projection of Clooney’s memory via Solaris. McElhone has the tough job of being simultaneously off-putting to the audience but believable as somebody Clooney would immediately fall back in love even though he knows she is dead and she pulls it off perfectly.

As a sci-fi fan I was disappointed a bit with the way Soderbergh pushed aside most possibilities for some great sci-fi, but by the end I got what he was trying to get across. This isn’t a film about space and alien life it is about memory, and death, and love, and big themes that have been explored before, but in my opinion any theme is better if it is explored on a space ship.

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