Understading Solaris (1972)
May 4, 2009 10:23 AM   Subscribe

"He reportedly came to consider Solaris his least successful project, owing to what he saw as its inability to break the shackles of its genre... Solaris, like a less malevolent version of its title element, takes one's own mind and reflects it right back, becoming whatever one believes it to be. The skill necessary to pull this magic off is common to Tarkovsky's body of work, but the openness isn't." Colin Marshall breaks down Solaris on 3quarksdaily, "Though even those few Tarkovsky aficionados who inexplicably have yet to make it to this film will be startled by just how effective its famed moment of zero-gravity really is."
posted by geoff. (84 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
 
Not only a movie and a great book, but also a swell operating system.
posted by exogenous at 10:39 AM on May 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Being a bad person I actually prefer the Clooney version, on the grounds that I've watched it all the way through without getting bored or falling asleep.
posted by Artw at 10:47 AM on May 4, 2009 [8 favorites]


I'm with you there, Artw.
posted by brundlefly at 10:49 AM on May 4, 2009


Also snidely refering to Lem as "relatively insubstantial material" earns either Tarkovsky or the articles author, it's unclear which, a fuck-right-off.
posted by Artw at 10:50 AM on May 4, 2009 [4 favorites]


I'm with exogenous, my first thought was "Another article about Sun/Oracle?"
posted by mrbill at 10:50 AM on May 4, 2009


I really like Tarkovsky, and I really didn't like Solaris. I had a very hard time getting through it, and there are vast stretches I don't even remember. On the other hand, movies like Stalker, Anrei Rublev, Nostalghia, The Mirror, all affected me deeply without ever boring me.
posted by OmieWise at 10:54 AM on May 4, 2009


I also prefer the Clooney version, because it's less intentionally alienating, which is precisely the same reason that Lem preferred the Tarkovsky version, so there you go.
posted by 1adam12 at 10:58 AM on May 4, 2009


Being a bad person I actually prefer the Clooney version, on the grounds that I've watched it all the way through without getting bored or falling asleep.

The Soderbergh Solaris is firmly entrenched within my five all-time favorite films.
posted by setanor at 10:59 AM on May 4, 2009


It was also one of the most technologically impressive Atari 2600 games- One that remains on my "to be defeated" list.
posted by MysticMCJ at 11:00 AM on May 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


You know, I forget completely that he would have lived to see the Clooney version.
posted by Artw at 11:00 AM on May 4, 2009


I find the Tarkovsky Solaris both boring and likable.
posted by cobra libre at 11:09 AM on May 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


I recall renting Solaris on VHS way back in the '80s. It had this hard-core Russian sci-fi cred that was all the rage in the circles I traveled in at the time. I never got through it and, to this day, wish I could get any of what seemed like 6 hours back.

And, yeah, the Clooney/Soderbergh version is far more accessible.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:10 AM on May 4, 2009


Stalker was amazing. One of my favorite movies. I couldn't make it through Solaris.
posted by sonic meat machine at 11:22 AM on May 4, 2009


Have you ever seen Solaris...on weed?
posted by snofoam at 11:31 AM on May 4, 2009


I found the Tarkovsky Solaris to be thoroughly mesmerising. I think I just happened to watch for the first at the perfect time in my life and in the exact right frame of mind. It took several attempts for me to appreciate 2001 while my love of Solaris was immediate.

I've since seen the Soderbergh version which I also thoroughly enjoyed but it just didn't feel right. The DVD commentary with Soderbergh and James Cameron is excellent however.
posted by slimepuppy at 11:31 AM on May 4, 2009


just how effective its famed moment of zero-gravity really is

Aargh, sorry: first thing I noticed was how the candle flames (c. 2:17) were still pointing upward.
posted by raygirvan at 11:34 AM on May 4, 2009


I always feel is a movie is excellent and I am nonetheless bored by it, that reflects something about me, rather than the movie. I was bored by Solaris, and I think it was its glacial pacing. I think the pacing was an appropriate choice for the film, so I have often felt that I simply need to learn to watch slow movies. That's probably one I could tech myself on.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:37 AM on May 4, 2009


I have wanted to watch Solaris but have been afraid to, for fear of disappointment. I've always liked science fiction from that part of the world, ever since I stumbled upon those two-books-in-one trade paperback printings of Russian sci-fi from (presumably) the fifties. It's a flavor I still find in Night Watch and so forth. I haven't read everything Lem has to offer, but I think I found Solaris the most intimidating, and perhaps my hesitancy towards viewing the film begins there.
posted by adipocere at 11:42 AM on May 4, 2009


God, the film of Solaris is a snoozefest. I mean I appreciate what it's doing artistically, but boy is it boring. Too bad, the novel is really compelling.
posted by Nelson at 11:45 AM on May 4, 2009


I always feel is a movie is excellent and I am nonetheless bored by it, that reflects something about me, rather than the movie.

I think there is something to this, and I believe that it's worth spending the time and effort to think about how that might be the case. Challenging works of art are called "challenging" for a reason, and often an initial alienation should be the trigger for a re-assessment. However, I also know that there are many movies described as boring or slow, incomprehensible or experimental, that I find fascinating and are among my favorites. I'm not sure at what point one should be able to wrap the totality of one's film viewing experiences into making a judgment about something like Solaris, but one I factor in my deep love for the rest of Tarkovsky, it's much harder for me to reexamine my own ability to enjoy this particular movie.
posted by OmieWise at 11:51 AM on May 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


One more vote for Tartovsky's Solaris being glacially slow, alienating, and an excellent film. I have watched it more than once, the only time I fell asleep was watching it at 2 AM while drinking gin. Watch the film sober, and mid day, for an excellent experience. You should probably not watch it with someone you love, because the film will bring up some deep and difficult questions about the nature of interpersonal connection. It is the failure of the Soderburg version to convey this, and the humanizing of the story, that turn it into so much schlock. The most beautiful, and most moving, things in the movie are not quite human, and that makes it great.
posted by idiopath at 11:51 AM on May 4, 2009 [5 favorites]


There's a Solaris videogame?! Along with S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl, that puts Tarkovsky at two for seven for feature films with game counterparts.

I can't wait for the Andrei Rublev MMORPG.
posted by Iridic at 11:56 AM on May 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


re: Solaris being slow/problems with pacing -

this stems from people being conditioned that movies are all about WHAT HAPPENS NEXT - what's the next scene, plot hook, action beat;

- Solaris and def. Stalker are about being in the moment - if you watch them waiting for the current scene to end instead of wanting each scene to continue then yes, you'll probably be bored out of your mind, (last time I saw Stalker in a cinema the person on my right fell asleep on my shoulder snoring).
posted by jettloe at 11:56 AM on May 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


i saw Solaris when i was a teen-ager at 3am, I kept on falling asleep and waking again:

corridors...wait, is that a horse?...more corridors...the psychedelic ocean...a woman... corridors... the woman again... green grass....blood on the walls...corridors...the ocean again...

i'm excited to some day watch it again but i'm afraid i would be disappointed.
posted by geos at 11:57 AM on May 4, 2009


I love Solaris. Stalker and Rublev are better (the bell scene at the end of Rublev just slays me every time) but Solaris is gorgeous and I have a total crush on whoever played Hari and she disarmingly looks and acts like most of the non-neutrino-based romantic partners I've had. Especially when they tear down my steel door and guzzle liquified oxygen, rowr, I mean, that's every guy's fantasy right? A girl you can blast into deep space, your mother hates her, and she listens attentively to your boring scientist friends?
posted by neustile at 11:58 AM on May 4, 2009


Wow. Very surprised that Solaris gets so much hate. I have no idea why I rented Solaris in the first place, but I totally loved it. This was many years ago, and I may have been ....on weed, I don't know. The only strong memory I have is that I thought it was brilliant. And I saw it after the Clooney version (which was incredibly lame).
posted by molecicco at 12:00 PM on May 4, 2009


re: Solaris being slow/problems with pacing -

this stems from people being conditioned that movies are all about WHAT HAPPENS NEXT - what's the next scene, plot hook, action beat;

- Solaris and def. Stalker are about being in the moment - if you watch them waiting for the current scene to end instead of wanting each scene to continue then yes, you'll probably be bored out of your mind, (last time I saw Stalker in a cinema the person on my right fell asleep on my shoulder snoring).


Yeah, but no, bullshit. I love Stalker, so my problems with the boredom of Solaris is not because I've been conditioned to wonder what happens next. I even understand the pacing and the alienation as, essentially, plot points, but that doesn't mean I have to like them.
posted by OmieWise at 12:07 PM on May 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


The first time I watched Solaris it was late at night and I kept zoning out and waiting for it to end. The second time, I watched it on the big screen in a small theater while I was high. It was the most gripping, disturbing film I've ever seen. The key to "getting" it is you have to be, as jettloe said, utterly absorbed in the moment. You have to imagine yourself in Chris's position. When you're in this frame of mind, the film's pacing is perfect. The length of the scenes allows you enough time to think hard about what is going on in the film in front of you, and to empathize with Chris's situation. Everything that happens is so matter-of-fact and without fanfare, but the situations Chris experiences are so strange and emotional that it plays on your feelings far more than most faster-paced films.

I've talked to others who watched Solaris high and the general consensus is that it suddenly becomes the scariest film ever.
posted by One Second Before Awakening at 12:08 PM on May 4, 2009


One of these days I'll attempt to watch Solaris again... one of these days...
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 12:10 PM on May 4, 2009


I was conditioned to 'wonder what happens next' by reality.
posted by elwoodwiles at 12:12 PM on May 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


I was conditioned to 'wonder what happens next' by reality.

Since films so rarely present a naturalistic narrative, but instead and artificial and highly abbreviated one, I would suggest that your experiences of wondering about what happens next in life might be a little different than that same experience when you watch movies. Otherwise, Warhol's "Sleep" would be the sort of thing we could expect to see in movies all the time.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:16 PM on May 4, 2009


Question for those who have seen both: Should I watch the Clooney version?

I had a professor in university who advocated that great films weren't afraid to embrace 'boring'. Having loved 'Barry Lyndon' while my roommate inevitably hated it, this resonated with me. I asked him for a list of 'boring' films, Solaris was at the top.
posted by FuManchu at 12:18 PM on May 4, 2009


One more vote for Tartovsky's Solaris being glacially slow, alienating, and an excellent film. I have watched it more than once, the only time I fell asleep was watching it at 2 AM while drinking gin. Watch the film sober, and mid day, for an excellent experience. You should probably not watch it with someone you love, because the film will bring up some deep and difficult questions about the nature of interpersonal connection. It is the failure of the Soderburg version to convey this, and the humanizing of the story, that turn it into so much schlock. The most beautiful, and most moving, things in the movie are not quite human, and that makes it great.

This. Yes. Really nicely said. Also want to register another vote for the Lem novella.

No more to add, no more that I could add more articulately.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 12:19 PM on May 4, 2009


you know, people always talk about how slow and sleep-inducing the Tarkovsky Solaris is, and they're right.

But the best part of it is that you can watch it 100 times, fall asleep 99 of them and on the hundredth stay awake all the way through and feel like none of the 100 times you watched it was a waste of time. I should know, I've done it. I used to put it on when I was going to sleep because my girlfriend at the time wanted to see it. I've probably seen the movie a million times and no matter how much of it I've seen in any given sitting I've always been happy to watch it. It's an achingly beautiful film.
posted by shmegegge at 12:20 PM on May 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


In Soviet Russia, Solaris understand you!
posted by you just lost the game at 12:41 PM on May 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


Having loved 'Barry Lyndon' while my roommate inevitably hated it, this resonated with me. I asked him for a list of 'boring' films, Solaris was at the top.

Holy shit I was just popping in here to specifically reference Barry Lyndon as a great example of mind numbingly boring but I love it. Same thing with The New World.
posted by spicynuts at 12:49 PM on May 4, 2009


Solaris understands all.
posted by Artw at 12:50 PM on May 4, 2009


I like the Marvel Comics version.
posted by Artw at 12:52 PM on May 4, 2009


MY boyfriend has never, ever, ever forgiven me for making him sit through Stalker.
posted by The Whelk at 1:08 PM on May 4, 2009


I just want to register my annoyance with the idea that sci-fi's focus on speculation rather than character is a flaw, rather than merely being a distinguishing characteristic.
posted by empath at 1:21 PM on May 4, 2009 [9 favorites]


I just want to register my annoyance with the idea that sci-fi's focus on speculation rather than character is a flaw, rather than merely being a distinguishing characteristic.

I am tempted to break into an office building and use each computer in each cluster of cubicles to favorite this comment.
posted by setanor at 1:38 PM on May 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


The original Solaris was awesome. I've never seen the Clooney one, but I did have the misfortune to see Event Horizon, which was also kind of a remake of Solaris. DO NOT WATCH.
posted by snofoam at 1:41 PM on May 4, 2009


The Soderbergh version has its strength in intangibles. It appears humanized, yet it is not.
posted by setanor at 1:47 PM on May 4, 2009


Poor unloved Event Horizon. It would have actually have been a lot cooler if they’d made it more of a Solaris rip-off, rather than turning out to be Hellraiser In Space two thirds in.
posted by Artw at 1:49 PM on May 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Addendum: Most people I encounter don't enjoy letting films resonate with them, or get under their skin. This is why, I believe, "too serious" or "too boring" or "too slow" are often used as criticisms. If you can't pay enough attention to absorb what you're watching (this includes talking about what you had for dinner, staring out the window, texting a friend) you're probably not going to like a dense or slow movie.
posted by setanor at 1:50 PM on May 4, 2009


Event Horizon is great silly fun, as are many Paul WS Anderson movies.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:58 PM on May 4, 2009


I kind of wanted more from my SF-Horror-with-Orbital-Soundtrack. More Orbital on the soundtrack would have been good, for a start. I’ve actually put more thought than is really reasonable into how the last third of the movie could have gone better and not, as I say, basically just been Hellblazer. Having the dimension drive thingy have a From Beyond like effect on human perception perhaps.
posted by Artw at 2:10 PM on May 4, 2009


It's a cliche cuz it is true: Films such as this have to be seen at the movie theater to be truly appreciated. Video doesn't count. Downdloaded XVid off Pirate Bay doesn't count. You haven't even really seen all of it - only maybe 1/100th, depending on the size of your screen.
posted by dydecker at 2:16 PM on May 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


Now, an SF horror story with an all Aphex Twin score, that would be super sweet. Maybe when Chris Cunningham gets his shit together.
posted by Artw at 2:18 PM on May 4, 2009


not even that. If you watched it on video, you saw 1/1000th.

I remember seeing a 70mm version of 2001 at the cinema and it was a totally different beast than watching it on video at home. You could see all the little windows in the spaceship, with the people moving about and such. On video, you see a spaceship like the Thunderbirds.

All of Tarkovsky's movies are like this.
posted by dydecker at 2:18 PM on May 4, 2009


I just want to register my annoyance with the idea that sci-fi's focus on speculation rather than character is a flaw, rather than merely being a distinguishing characteristic.

I’m not sure long boring ass shots of nothing in particular are anymore a focus on character than SF speculation is, TBH.
posted by Artw at 2:23 PM on May 4, 2009


long boring ass shots of nothing in particular

What?
posted by setanor at 2:26 PM on May 4, 2009


Now, an SF horror story with an all Aphex Twin score, that would be super sweet.

I've got about as much Rubber Johnny as I need, thanks.
posted by setanor at 2:28 PM on May 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


I've seen both versions of Solaris. I thought they were both great, though I guess I prefer the original, since it's pushing into masterpiece territory for me. The bottom line though, is that they're not particularly comparable films. Despite all the surface similarity, the cores of these movies are ultimately different.

From what I recall, Soderbergh's film is ultimately romantic, teasing us with bittersweet ideas of love, memory, and longing. It does it through a science fiction lense, but it doesn't really push our conceptual boundaries.

I found Tarkovsky's film, on the other hand, to be a jarring uprooting and deconstruction of these ideas (and I find every second of it gripping). What's being emphasized isn't the pain of love, but the insanity of ourselves.

I actually prefer Solyaris to Stalker. As much as I love Tarkovsky, I often feel intellectually let down by him. For all its visceral beauty, I find the themes in Stalker (like faith vs. reason), to be rather pat (such that I have my own interpretation of the movie which I find more satisfying). Solyaris though totally hit the mark for me. Tarkovsky shone a light into the abyss of ourselves, and manages to point at Nothing.
posted by Alex404 at 2:34 PM on May 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


long boring ass shots of nothing in particular

I know what you're saying, but I've heard the same same excuse used against books, music, paintings and photography. It doesn't get any smarter when applied to other mediums. Not everything needs to be a lean story minimally told. Writers use lots of big words to set the scene, film makers use 'boring ass shots of nothing'.
posted by slimepuppy at 2:37 PM on May 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


The remake isn't bad, but could've been great with a bit more mystery and ambiguity (I hate that unnecessary dialogue right at the very end).

I think this scene sums up the original for me. It doesn't matter how slow, confusing or boring much of it is, any movie that can make a shot of two shawls send a shiver down my spine has to be something special.
posted by malevolent at 2:43 PM on May 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


A Tarkovsky post? Awesome

-Part of the problem I feel like with Tarkovsky's Solaris, is that it is often viewed through the lens of science fiction when really Tarkovsky was viewing through the lens of film. Which is not to say you can't do that, but it kind of explains why he felt it was an aforementioned "unsuccessful" film. But I believe he is making a mistake but really it's just a matter of semantics. In Solaris, he sought to "break" genre and really he simply transcended it; which is something I find much more impressive. By using the language "break" he almost limits himself into a sort of punk rock aesthetic. He seeks to make his distinctions more clearly tangible. When really, the ways that he took the traditional sci fi story and used subtlety to extend them into some non-traditional ideas was much more interesting.

-Go back and compare it to the tangible "break" of the concept/genre of "life story" with The Mirror. The films fractured narrative, constructed as memory, leaves the details themselves much more elusive; a kind of puzzle that you have to figure out... but the aesthetic is tangibly clear, you KNOW it's a puzzle. It can be labeled a puzzle even if the film itself is so cryptic. In an odd way, the incredibly layered film is so easily identified from the furthest view back.

-That's why I find Solaris so interesting. It is the opposite. It can be labeled "Sci fi" and Tarkovsky felt like he didn't get far away enough from the genre, but really labeling it sci fi feels like a misnomer. I'm not sure there really is a word that encapsulates Solaris. From the furthest back view... it's something else.

-Which is why I think most people responded to Solaris compared to his other films (outside of russia, i'm talking). There was something transcendent about it. And if there's anything we american's seem to like, it is transcendent genre films. I honestly don't think Tarkovsky understood that.
posted by Lacking Subtlety at 2:45 PM on May 4, 2009


My God, Lacking Subtlety, don't you ever stop talking about the Celtics?
posted by shmegegge at 2:49 PM on May 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


I remember seeing a 70mm version of 2001 at the cinema and it was a totally different beast

Yes yes yes. 2001 bored me terribly until I saw it this way. Then it was like watching a different film. I'd wondered if Solaris was the same way, but will attempt to view it anew with more energy/different focus in line with suggestions here.

FWIW, though, I liked the remake (and have the soundtrack on my mp3 player at all times).
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 2:57 PM on May 4, 2009


Hmm, the whole “love 2001, love Solaris” thing doesn’t necessarily follow automatically, since I loved the former and, as mentioned, really didn’t get the later in the slightest. Also it’s not like if you don’t like Solaris you don’t like anything other than hyperactive MTV style jump cut editing and extreme sports dudes bouncing off the walls every five minutes – Solaris is not just slow, or sloooooooow, it’s *really* slow, and in fact slower than that. The correct comparison might not be 2001 but rather some kind of Warholesque exercise in stunt film.

Heh. I love that the IMDB entry for Empire has a section marked ‘Spoiler alert! Rollover to vote or view plot keywords!’ – gotta look out for those spoilers!
posted by Artw at 3:07 PM on May 4, 2009


I own both version of the Solaris films. I rarely recommend either without knowing knowing a great deal about the other person. The original, and most definatly superior, posseses a mood that is difficult to summarize. Colin Marshall in the linked article called it a horror film, Roger Ebert smartly avoids a label and describes Tarkovsky's movies as more like environments than entertainments. It is not a commercial piece of work, and it, in my eyes, is without compromise. The only commonality it shares with 2001 is they are both epic in scope and length.

Ebert quotes Tarkovsky as saying the cinema, she is a whore. First she charge a nickel, now she charge five dollars. When she learns to give it away, she will be free- perhaps as an explanation or manifesto of Tarkovsky's work.

As for those who say the scenes of waving grass and sleeping humans that go on for a whole minute is too much of their life stolen, I'll quote Kurosawa Akira who argues that these images later serve to
... almost torture the soul of the viewer like a kind of irresistible nostalghia toward mother earth nature, which resembles homesickness. Akira summarizes the movie saying that it somehow provokes pure horror in our soul, which like Marshall's assessment, is a bit of an overstatement but demonstrates the connection the movie can make.
posted by zenon at 3:16 PM on May 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


From what I recall, Soderbergh's film is ultimately romantic, teasing us with bittersweet ideas of love, memory, and longing.

Huh. I'd say that it's more about the different emotional-not-intellectual reactions that people have when they're confronted by an overwhelmingly powerful entity that you know, at a level that's utterly inescapable, has you in its clutches.

Most of the "Clooney and McElhone improv naked" bits fell flat for me, though.

And yeah, it would have been better if they'd stopped right after he realizes what's going on and looks up and snap to black.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:17 PM on May 4, 2009


Speaking of Ebert, here's a spot-on quote from his review of the Soderbergh version:

Soderbergh's version is more clean and spare, more easily readable, but it pays full attention to the ideas and doesn't compromise. Tarkovsky was a genius, but one who demanded great patience from his audience as he ponderously marched toward his goals. The Soderbergh version is like the same story freed from the weight of Tarkovsky's solemnity.

I think they both complement each other rather well.
posted by setanor at 3:18 PM on May 4, 2009


Hmm, the whole “love 2001, love Solaris” thing doesn’t necessarily follow automatically

I'm not aware of anyone making that assertion.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 3:46 PM on May 4, 2009


You should probably not watch it with someone you love, because the film will bring up some deep and difficult questions about the nature of interpersonal connection.

I know from first hand experience that Tarkovsky's Solaris does, indeed, suck as a date movie.
posted by Sparx at 4:01 PM on May 4, 2009


1. Part of the problem with Soderberg is that the vast majority of his movies refrain from being sexualized; which is not to say asexual, but he seems outright concerned with not putting a sexy "mood" or "tone" on screen... at least in terms of women. And yes sex lies and videotape falls into this category.

2. Anyone who is interested should check out Tarkovsky's "Sculpting in time" it is one of the best books I've ever read on the conceptual capabilities of film. I would even say it is successful in terms of outright defining the medium itself.
posted by Lacking Subtlety at 4:13 PM on May 4, 2009


I'm sorry but an entire thread about Solaris without one link to Cliff Martinez's amazing score for the Soderbergh version? I know I'm a little late to the party, but you owe yourself a listen on good headphones - one of the greatest set of compositions of pure atmosphere ever recorded. Linky
posted by There's No I In Meme at 5:23 PM on May 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


2001 was an big ole' bucket of ideas about Things and both the most misanthropic and hopeful of Kubrick's films. But it's still a (wonderful amazing ect ) movie. Solaris is more like a place you visit for a few hours.
posted by The Whelk at 5:45 PM on May 4, 2009


Also a fucking awesome song by Failure. Yes, it's about the movie (Tarkovsky version).
posted by Eideteker at 6:08 PM on May 4, 2009


I should also note that the criterion version is the one I have - apparently there are a number of other versions, one is nearly 4 hours long, another just over 2, as noted in a review from 1976 in the NYT, and poor english subtitles is also likely an issue for these old copies.

I can't believe that the current version of the book by Lem is apparently not a translation from Polish, but from an abridged French copy. From Wired
Lem denounced popular sci-fi as trivial pulp produced by mental weaklings. Science fiction, he once wrote, "is a whore," prostituting itself "with discomfort, disgust, and contrary to its dreams and hopes."
and
... the main reason Lem's never become established here is that his wit has always been too cruel, his love of science too prominent, his outlook too cerebral to fit easily into a publishing niche devoted to fairy-tale adventures and timeworn astronaut yarns.
Space operas and fairy-tales from mental weaklings- I used to devour sci fi, now I just laugh at the cover art. I really see no reason why westerns, romance, fantasy or most sci fi are shelved separately.
posted by zenon at 9:38 PM on May 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


My "visitor" is Miguel Cardoso. I woke up and he just sat there, sipping his drink as I cry, "Why did you stop commenting?"
posted by geoff. at 9:39 PM on May 4, 2009


I got to see 2001 in 70mm when I was seven.

I had a cool dad.
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 10:18 PM on May 4, 2009


My guest is Leslie Harpold who is drinking my last diet coke and arraigning a giant adventure. In my mind I am thinking that the internet really isn't forever and things here can quickly fade away.
posted by zenon at 10:26 PM on May 4, 2009


Bruce Sterling on Lem
posted by Artw at 10:34 PM on May 4, 2009


From the original link, I just had to laugh at tthis sentence, though:

Solaris remains the most gripping cinematic narrative of the 1970s.

How wrong can a critic get?
posted by dydecker at 11:34 PM on May 4, 2009


+1 for Cliff Martinez' score for the Soderbergh version, absolutely beautiful.
posted by pascal at 11:58 PM on May 4, 2009


Solaris was noteable to me for being a subversion of the (perceived) Star Trek approach to alien contact. "They will be like us, but with different foreheads." Solaris was the first work for me that approached a truly alien intelligence, and scoffed at the notion that we could comprehend it. How can we know aliens when we don't know ourselves? The scientists journey to Solaris to study it, but Solaris merely holds up a mirror to them. The story almost seems to be saying, "What are you running from, you who explore the world without without first exploring the world within?" And it's telling that the protagonist is one of the first in SF (as far as I know) who is a psychologist, rather than a physicist. This is someone who is supposed to be among the best at exploring the inner world, and he fails completely.

Something that I feel both movies fail to convey fully is that none of us would do any better. The book, I think, is allowed by its depth to reveal more about this. But I think of Contact, was it? "They should have sent a poet." Would a philosopher have any better luck on Solaris? A buddhist monk? A child, largely free from preconceptions? And in the end, Solaris says to us that it's not a failing in ourselves that leads us to fail. It's in the nature of the universe, in Godel's incompleteness theorem. A box cannot contain itself. We cannot fully understand our own minds within the confines of our own minds. But we are driven to explore, to seek knowledge, and so we must live with this seeming paradox.
posted by Eideteker at 3:05 AM on May 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


Lem has been on mefi (obit) before but somehow I had no idea Lem's backstory with the SFWA.

Comparing the official SFWA's official version of history: (grabbed today)
there was apparently a miscommunication about the meaning of the term "honorary" membership. According to the SFWA by-laws then in force, honorary membership was intended not as an "honor" but as a means to extend benefits of SFWA membership to individuals who would otherwise be ineligible, such as SF writers who had not published in the U.S.
with George Zebrowski's argument (from ~1977!):
Enough documentation exists to prove animosity toward Lem. If he were a beloved figure in SFWA, no one would have dreamed of applying section 12 in such a way against him, simply to be conscientious about the rules. Section 12 is inconsistent, vague, and invites capricious application. Yet SFWA has put itself in the position of having to maintain that 1) above is the only motive for Lem's ouster. Even if section 12 were unambiguous, we are left with the conclusion that SFWA gives honors in ignorance of its own laws, then punishes the recipient for its mistakes. Naturally, if there had been no dislike of Lem, section 12 would have been quietly forgotten; no one would have dreamed of revoking a past honor, mistake or no mistake. Lem's opinions, right or wrong as they may be, sparked the search for a suitable weapon against him.
Here is a great number of articles, reviews and pieces of the SFWA affair including the infamously mistranslated Looking Down on Science Fiction: A Novelist's Choice for the World's Worst Writing. With it's super sekrit Forum and extra accurate history SFWA gets a gold star.
posted by zenon at 8:59 AM on May 5, 2009


I promise I'm not a terrible snob, but Tarkovsky's Solaris is one of my favorites. Yes, there is a twenty minute black-and-white recording of a guy driving. Stuff like that will try anyone's patience. But Solaris was saturated in these feelings of nostalgia and existential angst in a way that few movies match. Maybe it was just good timing in my life, but unless you identify with Kris in some way, the movie is going to come off as four hours of nonsense.
posted by Faust at 9:17 AM on May 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


My general impression of the SFWA is that it exists solely for the purpose of dickishness.
posted by Artw at 10:20 AM on May 5, 2009


Solaris, but with kung fu!
posted by Artw at 10:28 AM on May 5, 2009


I would like to complain to nobody in particular that when I tried to watch the Criterion DVD a few weeks ago I found the subtitles to be almost completely lacking in punctuation or any sort of continuity.

A sentence would roll along and then terminate as a fragment WITH NO PUNCTUATION WHATSOEVER again and again and again. No commas, no semicolons, no periods or ellipses... I was left with no indication that a new sentence had started or the person speaking had been interrupted besides seemingly arbitrary capitalization. Every hesitation or digression was indistinguishable from a run-on sentence until it dawned upon me that I had been grammatically misled.

I simply could not remember the beginning of the sentence once it had reached the end. It was too difficult to decode.

Maybe the translation follows the native language faithfully, but to me THE SUBTITLES WERE INCOMPREHENSIBLE. I don't blame short-term memory loss or attention span. I'm guessing that part of the reason people are put off by Solaris is the subtitles fail to convey... anything. I've seen it on VHS. I don't recall being punished by a failure to understand what was going on.

I might not have been so attuned to it had it not been for the recent "Let the Right One In" outcry. Sometimes subtitles flat out suck.
posted by Hammond Rye at 11:06 AM on May 5, 2009


There's an interesting double review of the Soderbergh Solaris at The House Next Door here.

Personally, I thought the Soderbergh/Clooney/McElhone Solaris was a stunning film. I loved the ambiguity of the ending — does he stay, or go? Both outcomes are depicted, so perhaps he did both.

The original Lem novel was not translated by the same person who translated the rest of Lem's output, who by all accounts did a much better job of it than the Solaris translator. Unfortunately the existing poor translation (which as mentioned above was second hand from the French version!) has meant that no publisher has been willing or able to pay for a better version. It's still worth reading of course.
posted by pharm at 11:35 AM on May 5, 2009


I think you could view the american version as the "dramatized" version of the love story that the original film uses to get to its point. I've recommended that people watch the american version, with all of its melodrama, first so they already "know what happens" in the original film.

You can't "spoil" the original this way because the thing is four hours long, is painfully beautiful, and proceeds at such a slow pace that, well, I missed a lot about the dead wife subplot that I shouldn't have. But it was such an amazing experience, even a journey--I mean, 4 hours of alien landscapes is kind of like going on a hike, at least, and more of a simulation of space travel than a 90-minute drama piece. By the end of the film, i did feel transported somewhere, and walked around in a haze the rest of the day, questioning my reality.
posted by eustatic at 9:46 PM on May 5, 2009


« Older Wu-Tang Design Remix Project Pt. 1   |   Live it, for a while. Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments