Andrei Tarkovsky Calls Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey a “Phony” Film “With Only Pretensions to Truth”

2001 stanley kubrick

Yesterday we ran a list of 93 films beloved by Stanley Kubrick, which includes two by Andrei Tarkovsky: 1972’s Solaris and 1986’s The Sacrifice. You expect one auteur to appreciate the work of another — “game recognize game,” to use the modern parlance — but the selection of Solaris makes special sense. Just four years before it, Kubrick had, of course, made his own psychologically and visually-intense cinematic voyage out from Earth into the great beyond, 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The appreciation, alas, wasn’t mutual. “Tarkovsky supposedly made Solaris in an attempt to one-up Kubrick after he had seen 2001 (which he referred to as cold and sterile),” writes Joshua Warren at “Interestingly enough, Kubrick apparently really liked Solaris and I’m sure he found it amusing that it was marketed as ‘the Russian answer to 2001.'” Jonathan Crow recently quoted Tarkovsky as saying: “2001: A Space Odyssey is phony on many points, even for specialists. For a true work of art, the fake must be eliminated.”


That pronouncement comes from a 1970, pre-Solaris interview with Tarkovsky by Naum Abramov. The Russian auteur indicts what he sees as 2001‘s lack of emotional truth due to its excessive technological invention, effectively declaring that, in his own foray into the realm of science-fiction, “everything would be as it should. That means to create psychologically, not an exotic but a real, everyday environment that would be conveyed to the viewer through the perception of the film’s characters. That’s why a detailed ‘examination’ of the technological processes of the future transforms the emotional foundation of a film, as a work of art, into a lifeless schema with only pretensions to truth.”

Critic Philip Lopate writes that “the media played up the cold-war angle of the Soviet director’s determination to make an ‘anti-2001,’ and certainly Tarkovsky used more intensely individual characters and a more passionate human drama at the center than Kubrick.” And the films do have similarities, from their “leisurely, languid” narratives to their “widescreen mise-en-scène approach that draws on superior art direction” to their “air of mystery that invites countless explanations.” But Lopate argues that the themes of Solaris resemble those of 2001 less than those of Hitchcock’s Vertigo: “the inability of the male to protect the female, the multiple disguises or ‘resurrections’ of the loved one, the inevitability of repeating past mistakes.”

As a lover of both Kubrick and Tarkovsky’s work, I can hardly take sides. Maybe I just need to watch both 2001 and Solaris yet again, one after another, in order to better compare them. (Find Tarkovsky’s films free online here.) And maybe I need to throw Vertigo into the evening as well. Now that’s what I call a triple feature.

Related Content:

Watch Solaris (1972), Andrei Tarkovsky’s Haunting Vision of the Future

Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris Shot by Shot: A 22-Minute Breakdown of the Director’s Filmmaking

Tarkovsky Films Now Free Online

The Masterful Polaroid Pictures Taken by Filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky

Tarkovsky’s Advice to Young Filmmakers: Sacrifice Yourself for Cinema

A Poet in Cinema: Andrei Tarkovsky Reveals the Director’s Deep Thoughts on Filmmaking and Life

93 Films Beloved by Stanley Kubrick: From Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) to Ron Shelton’s White Men Can’t Jump (1992)

Colin Marshall writes on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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  • Toli says:

    Of 2001, Kubrick said: “Those who “don’t believe their eyes” are incapable of appreciating this film.”

  • Brandon says:

    Tarkovsky is a genius, no doubt about it, but sadly, he couldn´t appreciate other people´s work because he had this strict book of guidelines to make art: his poetic, historical and dramatic approach was the only thing in his world. He talked shit one way or another about almost every director he was exposed to. I just read his “appreciation” about Stan Brackhage; he hated him and was very rude to him in person. Mr. Andrei was clueless about the things they didn´t taught him in soviet Russia, and if he felt other filmmaker was getting ahead of him, he was fast to diss him as superficial, banal or empty. Even geniuses can be rude cunts sometimes and in Tarkovsky´s case, he was about feeling superior all the time.

  • Richard Hartzell says:

    2001 and I go back a long way. I saw it in the theater when it was released early in 1968. I was 12 and riveted.

    At the time, there’s no question the special effects played a huge role in captivating me. (Aside: in the age of CGI, no one is capable of appreciating analog effects and the simple question — “How did they do that?” — they raise. Today, the answer is generic: they did it with computers. In 1968, that answer simply wasn’t available.) And I wasn’t old enough to understand that Kubrick’s adoration of technology was tempered by his view that humankind would necessarily take these futuristic innovations for granted. Hence the moment on the rocket bus, headed out to TMA-1, when Dr. Floyd is shown the images of the “deliberately buried” alien monolith and shows only pro forma interest. His moment of studied astonishment — he does nothing more than briefly shake his head, as if he were looking at an Indian arrowhead his daughter had found in the back yard — is deliberately interrupted by another crewmember asking the bland (and for Kubrick, I’m sure, ironic) question “Who wants coffee?”

    But I think it’s unfair to suggest that Kubrick’s interest in showing gadgets — say, voice print identification or the glorified phone booth on the space station — trumped his interest in showing the resilience and determination of humans (or at least one human: Dave Bowman) when confronted with mortal obstacles in deep space. And Hal defined the AI conundrum we still face today in a way that Robbie the Robot never did for the generation who watched MGM’s previous big-budget space opera, Forbidden Planet.

    Indeed, I think Keir Dullea’s performance as Dave during Dave’s final conversation with Hal is an epic in miniature — one I must have watched two dozen times and never found tiresome. Dave is, after all, an astronaut, meaning he’s likely received rigorous military training and been selected for his cool under pressure. So Dullea plays him as a patient nonchalant when he learns that Hal won’t open the pod bay doors. He’s a problem-solver, so the first thing he wants to know is “What’s the problem?” When Hal calls his bluff, explains he listened in on Dave’s conversation with Frank, knows they planned to disconnect him, Dullea’s face offers a succession of carefully contained realizations — from anger to frustration to panic to resolve — as he grapples with how he can save himself from Hal’s frightening psychotic outbreak. It’s bravura acting in a bravura scene charged with nearly unbearable tension, fear, bewilderment, and suspense. Did Tarkovsky really watch that scene and find it “a lifeless schema with only pretensions to truth”?

    Somehow I doubt it.

  • AbsurdHero says:

    I love that pretty much the only person that can criticize Kubrick and have it be relevant is Tarkovsky. Even though he’s wrong.

  • Charles Dexter Ward says:

    2001 delivers one hell of a powerful emotional moment–when HAL reveals to Dave that he’s frightened of death, and then loses his mind, singing “Daisy.” It’s amazing that Kubrick brings the audience around to actually sympathize for a second with the homicidal machine, a machine that has achieved a fragile humanity.

  • Jacob Lageveen says:

    Probably he didnt understand the works of Kubrick then. This was one of his better movies.

  • Fred says:

    Kubricks 2001 was more about ideas than emotion. Probably a lot to do with Clark’s writing. Solaris seems to be a bit “soap opery” to me. Maybe Tarkovsky was a genius but I just never thought that much about his films.

  • eric says:

    well, 2001 _is_ cold, sterile, and mostly lacking in emotional truth. Once you get out of the moon’s orbital radius, the only character that’s really alive is HAL. The astronauts are ciphers. the only emotional truth is that of a lost child (HAL) who only realizes too late that he screwed up.

    That having been said, Tarkovsky’s basis for criticism is amazingly blinkered, especially considering the similarity in detail.

  • Terry says:

    Tarkovski did not know what he was talking about. All he’s movies were extremely boring and he was an overrated Russian envious person. Moreover, he uses the word pretentious just like any wannabe reviewer today who can’t stand works of art that don’t follow the beaten path. If you want someone whose name ends in “ski” and actually made films that can be compared with Kubrick’s masterpieces, than watch Polanski.

  • Magana says:

    Sounds like someone is butthurt, blindly biased, and unable to actually understand a criticism and contextualize it.

  • bliz says:

    Magna, you do sound like that someone.

  • Muris says:

    Its completely normal for the people to like much more 2001…. because that movie is EYE CANDY, and too much of the eye candy can make you sick and addicted to other candies.

    On the other hand, Tarkovsky Solaris is like green vegy that is good for you, taste strange, looks strange, but much healthier and natural, but you dont like it so much, because of the f… candy.


  • Muris says:

    Other misunderstanding is that S.O. 2001 is sci fi movie and Solaris is not.

  • Daniel C says:

    Oh dear god, this analysis of that scene is so well written Kubrick would be proud, there is few people who can appreciate Stanley’s attention to detail and it makes me happy to find one of them here, sir you make this world a better place :)

  • Richard says:

    2001 is Sci Fi, Solaris is a religious film. Armed with only a pre-enlightenment epistemology Tarkovsky was incapable of understanding Sci Fi and instead dumbed down Lem’s book into a pretentious soap opera.

  • N Velope says:

    Wow, your ludicrous bucket-mouth, so out of place, is just a juvenile distraction from your point

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