IEET > Vision > Bioculture > Directors > George Dvorsky
Tarkovsky’s Solaris
George Dvorsky   Sep 15, 2007   Sentient Developments  

Joy. I’ve finally got my own copy of the 1972 Soviet classic, Solaris. It will be a gem in my science fiction collection.

I’ve read Stanislaw Lem’s novel and seen the recent Steven Soderbergh film, but I’ve never had an opportunity to watch Soviet director Andrei Tarkovsky‘s version from 1972—what is by all accounts a sci-fi classic.

Synopsis (from AMG):

Based on a novel by Stanislaw Lem, Solaris centers on widowed psychologist Kris Kelvin (Donata Banionis), who is sent to a space station orbiting a water-dominated planet called Solaris to investigate the mysterious death of a doctor, as well as the mental problems plaguing the dwindling number of cosmonauts on the station. Finding the remaining crew to be behaving oddly and aloof, Kelvin is more than surprised when he meets his seven-years-dead wife Khari (Natalya Bondarchuk) on the station. It quickly becomes apparent that Solaris possesses something that brings out repressed memories and obsessions within the cosmonauts on the space station, leaving Kelvin to question his perception of reality. Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the 1972 Cannes Film Festival.

Solaris asks deep philosophical and existential questions about humanity’s place in the Universe and the seemingly innate desire to expand. Tarkovsky suggests that humanity should look inward before it starts to look outward.

It’s also about the radical potential for intelligent life and the problem of identification and interaction. Would we recognize superintelligence if we saw it? By portraying an advanced intelligence as a giant waterworld capable of manipulating human psychology, the film is essentially saying no. Solaris is a warning and a call for humility.

I’ll be very interested to see how much communist ideology is embedded in this version. This was a time of great optimism; the Soviets, not unlike their U.S. rivals, had big hopes for space travel and the future in general (think Kardashev). Add the Marxist imperative for technological, industrial and social development and you get an interesting philosophical framework; it’s the Soviet answer to Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

At one point in the film Dr. Snaut states, “We don’t want to conquer space at all. We want to expand Earth endlessly. We don’t want other worlds; we want a mirror. We seek contact and will never achieve it. We are in the foolish position of a man striving for a goal he fears and doesn’t want. Man needs man!”

And Dr. Sartorius says, “Man was created by Nature in order to explore it. As he approaches Truth he is fated to Knowledge. All the rest is bullshit.”

Ooooh, I can’t wait to watch it 😊

George P. Dvorsky serves as Chair of the IEET Board of Directors and also heads our Rights of Non-Human Persons program. He is a Canadian futurist, science writer, and bioethicist. He is a contributing editor at io9 — where he writes about science, culture, and futurism — and producer of the Sentient Developments blog and podcast. He served for two terms at Humanity+ (formerly the World Transhumanist Association). George produces Sentient Developments blog and podcast.

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