Solaris (2002)

Solaris (2002): A weak adaptation/remake

From the first scenes, Steven Soderbergh’s Solaris was a weak film compared with Andrei Tarkovsky’s. The 2002 film begins with the hero Chris (George Clooney) preparing for his space mission. Chris’ environment on earth mimics living in a spaceship. His apartment is cramped and heavy on metallics — metallic counters, cabinets, we see no soft furnishings. Flashbacks show Chris meeting his wife Rheya. It’s a glib, slick encounter showing two attractive people getting together because they’re both good looking and a little clever. I’m not a fan of these superficial matches. This relationship is central to the story so I want their marriage to be built on more than looks. 

Chris is charged with going to the spaceship orbiting Solaris, a liquid planet with bizarre qualities including the ability to influence the astronaut’s perceptions and thoughts. Crew members have died and someone needs to find out what’s going wrong. Both of the remaining crew members are cryptic and nervous about their experience. Chris isn’t going to get a clear answer from either the hyper Snow or the fearful Gordon, who hint at the weirdness that Chris soon experiences when Rheya, whom we learn through flashbacks killed herself, begins to visit him. The first visit freaks Chris out and he tricks Rheya into getting locked inside a vehicle that he releases out into space to get rid of her. Yet that fails because Rheya returns revealing how bizarre Solaris is. Moreover, Rheya and the other crew members’ visitors aren’t human. They aren’t really who they seem to be, but rather they’re non-human creatures conjured up through each person’s consciousness. 

The complexities of Solaris worked with Tarkovsky, but not with Soderbergh who offers less weirdness (e.g. no library scene where everything floats around), no frame set in the countryside of earth, which offers great contrast and thus substance and insight. None of the performances had much warmth or humanity. None pulled me in. This Solaris was a filmmaking exercise rather than a journey to a new psychological world, 

Even if I hadn’t seen Tarkovsky’s earlier film, I don’t think the this version would leave much of a mark on me. It’s certainly not one of Soderbergh’s better films. 

The Descendants

I enjoyed The Descendants, but think it should be called The Descendant since this movie is so tightly focused on George Clooney‘s character, an out of touch husband and father dealing with a wife who’s in a coma, the prospect of single parenthood of two smart aleck girls and the shock that his wife was unfaithful. I wouldn’t say this is Clooney’s best work or anyone’s, but it’s good enough.

The film’s gorgeous, lush setting, Hawai’i offers a balm for the soul as viewers watch Clooney’s Matt King try to keep it together. He’s got a tough exterior, but we get a lot of voice overs that demonstrate that inside he does have a heart of flesh. Matt’s very much a loner even when he’s with others which makes him a character that’s hard to film. He knows a lot of people, but his friends, aren’t close. There’s always a physical and emotional distance between Matt and his friends and family.

Eventually, he and his oldest daughter Alex grow closer, but I wouldn’t call them close. The film is sophisticated in that Matt’s desire isn’t clear to him and in the end what he gets is more abstract and uncertain. I’m not convinced he’s a changed man in a big way. I’d categorize this as a slice of life film, without an Aristotelean plot.

One weird thing was how the youngest daughter began as an important character, but she fades away and becomes more of a prop once Alex, the older daughter appears and reveals that she knows her mother had an affair. I found the lover’s occupation to be a contrivance that annoyed me. I could see how things would connect once I learned that he was in real estate.

I felt this film was pretty good, but not excellent. It’s been awhile since I saw it, but I did sympathize more with Steven Carell‘s Dan in Dan in Real Life, probably because that single father with troubled teens tried so hard. Dan did the laundry, while Matt takes the kids to Oahu mainly to track down his wife’s lover. At times I felt that the movie was made as therapy for someone dealing with a cheating wife. That’s just a theory.