More noise than signal


Republished from the show notes of my other site, Fuds on Film.

I am glad we’ve kept the nice, straightforward, easy to recap one to the end. The second Tarkovsky film we’re speaking about today manages the impressive trick of being massively more oblique than the first, and Solaris is hardly a transparently obvious piece of work.

Something strange is going on in Russia after something strange fell from the sky into a now cordoned off area called the Zone. What we laughingly call reality holds little purchase there, with time and space seeming to warp around itself, perhaps to protect a room at the heart of it where a force of some description may, or may not, grant you your truest desire, in a genie-esque fashion, if you are able to make it there past the many dangers that await.

Two people want to make the trip, who we will come to know only as the Writer (Anatoly Solonitsyn) and the Professor (Nikolai Grinko), one wanting to come to challenge himself and find inspiration for a great work, the other seemingly to investigate and win a Nobel Prize. They are lead by Alexander Kaidanovsky’s titular, twitchy Stalker, as the attempt to pick their way first past the military guards, and then the dangers of the Zone itself, which, if we’re being critical here, are rather more frequently told than shown.

However much like The Man Who Fell To Earth, the narrative and the setting are less of a story in and of themselves as they are a crowbar to enter the minds of the characters, leaving us with a film that owes more to Waiting for Godot or Satre’s No Exit than most of its genre stablemates. The bulk of this film is, well, arguments, about a variety of philosophical and psychological concepts that I’m not well equipped to be telling you about, certainly not after one viewing, and after the sort of month I’ve had.

I may have to punt on whether this is I film I actually like, but it’s a film that’s most certainly intriguing and despite a highly esoteric nature, kept me engaged with it for the over two and a half hours it unfolds on both the narrative and technical levels. The plot and characters, as alluded to, are often impenetrable, but so is a lot of the other details, like the choice made for the non-Zone footage to be sepia toned and weird looking, as opposed to the in-Zone footage being conventionally coloured.

My thoughts rather peter out on this – I’ve not had the time or capacity to fully process this film yet, and most likely if you came to me next year I’d still not be exactly sure what I thought about it. Still, that’s rare enough in and of itself to warrant a recommendation. Plainly, a challenging work that’s not taking it easy on an audience, so perhaps not one for casual viewing, but well worth making an appointment with.