Director(s): Steven Soderbergh

Writer(s): Steven Soderbergh

Cast: George Clooney, Natascha McElhone, Jeremy Davies and Viola Davis

Reviewed by: Ian Evans on

Release Date(s)

Nov 27, 2002 - Wide

Science fiction fans have to savour moments like the release of Solaris, which comes to us via writer/director Steven Soderbergh and is based on the novel by Stanislaw Lem. It’s not often that we get the quiet introspective side of science fiction these days but rather the louder, laser blasting aliens and spaceships action movie variety.

Chris Kelvin (George Clooney), a clinical psychologist, is visited by the owners of a space station orbiting the planet Solaris. They have a message from a scientist friend of his, Dr, Gibarian (Ulrich Tukur), who needs his help to analyze a problem the crew have been facing. There’s not much keeping Chris on Earth; his wife Rheya (Natascha McElhone) committed suicide some time ago. When he gets to the station, he learns that his friend is dead and only two crew members remain: the not all there Snow (Jeremy Davies) and the paranoid and reclusive Dr. Gordon (Viola Davis). Neither of them are able to furnish Kelvin with answers or, if they do, with answers that answer his questions. As Snow says, “I could tell you what’s happening, but I don’t know if it would really tell you what’s happening.”

Sleeping on the station, Kelvin wakes up to discover his wife sleeping next to him. She seems real, she knows things only she would know. Is she real, a figment of his imagination, or something yet to be explained? And who are the other figures he finds on the ship that seem to have sprung from the memories of the crew?

There’s a lot to explore here and Soderbergh gives it plenty of time even after reportedly cutting about thirty minutes from his first edit. This is an intelligent film — a psychological exploration about reality and love and loss and memory — that just happens to be set in space. This is not a movie for those with ADD or those who need to interrupt their friends every few minutes to ask what’s going on.

In one moment, the film has the grandeur of a 2001: A Space Odyssey and in the next frame it has the intimacy of a small European drama. This is full on Soderbergh. He wrote the screenplay, directed the film, shot the scenes (as alias Peter Andrews) and edited the film (as alias Mary Ann Bernard). There’s not much more he could do to leave his fingerprints on this film. For all I know, he did the catering as well.

Clooney is taking a leap here too. This is not the smart-alecky Clooney or the suave, confident Clooney of Ocean’s 11. This is a man wracked by guilt and searching for answers. A man who knows that what he’s facing may not be real but a man too afraid to let it go. McElhone is able to capture a woman, a creature, an idea, whatever she is and her eyes reflect a being that’s also unsure of it’s own reason to be. Viola Davis presents a character that has the strength of a person who understands that she’s most likely doomed but she’s not going to let that change who she is.

I really don’t want to say too much more here. Like the journey taken by Kelvin, the viewer needs to experience Solaris on their own terms. Make dinner reservations afterwards, as you’ll have a lot to talk about.