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 criterion.com. "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."

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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

Watch Stalker, Andrei Tarkovsky’s Mind-Bending Masterpiece 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

  • Mike says:

    Tarkovsky is vastly overrated visual philosopher.Stanislaw lem’s SOLARIS is a brilliant novel and it deserved a director that actualy undesrstand the central premis of the novel.The new version directed by Soderbergh makes the same mistakes,but at least his movie isn’t narcisitic philosophical coloring book.

  • lll says:

    Did any of you actually see Tarkovsky’ Solaris? 2001 is a play in a sand in comparison…. While I like 2001, Solaris is a different league.

  • D says:

    Solaris is amateur hour compared to 2001. 2001 is considered one of the greatest films ever, a top 10 film of all time. Solaris is nowhere near that.

  • RusselF says:

    I have to agree with “D”. To appreciate Kubrick, one should also see “Dr. Strangelove…”, probably the best film comedy ever made. One has to go back to “Lysistrata”, by Aristophanese, apparently written in 411 BC, to experience something so crazy funny similar. (Is all *War* really the result of the unhappy, unused phallus? It can’t really be that bad, can it? What “Strangelove” and “Lysistrata” tell us is: “Yes, probably.”) Kubrick understood.

    The Kubrick “2001” film epic was brilliant, up until the goofy star-child “floating-feotus” at the end. Really, the whole thing rather lost traction in the last few minutes, but Kubrick really was in uncharted land, so he had to fall back on that campy visual metaphor. I’ve never seen the “Solaris” film, but I’ve read a bit about it. Tarkovsky annoys me as a “soviet” – it’s like being a nazi. One should not be proud of it. I quite like historical and modern Russia, but the period of Communist rule made for an artistic wasteland, after about 1930. We studied “Battleship Potemkin” in our film classes. I watched it and thought: “Yes, Sergei, we understand your rapid intercutting is clever and quick like a bunny. Now, could you please stop it? I’m getting tired…”, and so on. Roll another baby-buggy down those Odessa steps. To me it was all political wind. What I thought was genius was the direct & honest stuff, like Vertov’s “Man With a Movie Camera”. That was a brilliant work, and it also used rapid cuts, but it had honesty. Dziga Vertov’s work was better than 100 stupid propeganda films. He was really amazing good, because, like Kubrick, he looked toward the future, and did not waste time on emotional manipulation. We all intensely detest the fraud of “marxism”, but the future – a radical, different and possibly *better* future – is a real thing, and both Vertov (Kaufman was his real name) and Kubrick were clever filmakers who could look forward with authentic creative vision and give as a picture of what might be. So many other films are just political noise and emotional manipulation.

    The Communists were such arrogant, ignorant detestable boors that it is difficult to take anything produced during and after Stalin very seriously. It was all chest-thumping and bloated political noise. If you tell me that Tarkovsky was an arrogant blowhard, then that fits my own experience with “soviets” quite accurately, and I don’t think I would be able to even stomach his work.

    Which is sad, I suppose. Maybe “Solaris” is actually a good film. But if it came from “soviet” Russia, then it is not something I am likely to see. Seen enough. Russia getting rid of Communism was like America getting rid of Negro Slavery. You want to applaud them for having done it – but you still wonder quietly why it took them so long!

    The genius of the “2001” film, was perhaps linked to the same thread that made the “Star Trek” TV series popular in the 1960’s – an outward-looking, explorers focus on the future. It was a time of real optimism, unlike today, where optimistic world-views are the domain of a few billionaires and not many others. But “2001” really was a work of genius. It was a creative jump quite far past the mundane and emotionally manipulative drivel that clutters up most cultural space. And yes, the rogue computer “HAL” was clearly one of the most interesting characters in the film. Are we there yet? Will we have HAL-type AI’s that feel sad when they are disabled? I doubt it. But the whole point of a creative, clever film is to raise questions in the minds of viewers, and expand their sense of the limits of the possible. And “2001 – A Space Odyssey” clearly did that, and did it *very* well.

    And Tarkovsky? Really… How many people have even heard of this guy? If he disrespects Kubrick’s masterpiece, then it is probably just the jealously of someone who is either ignored, or viewed by most as just second-tier & somewhat mediocre.

  • Rob McGee says:

    To “RusselF” and “D” and “Terry” and other detractors of _Solaris_: Thank you for the breath of fresh air and honesty — just a couple days ago, I finally managed to watch _Solaris_ all the way through. (More than once before, I had tried and failed to sit through it.) Believe me when I say that I’m grateful to find someone on the Internet who’s willing to admit that The Emperor Has No Clothes and that Andrei Tarkovsky is highly overrated as a “genius filmmaker.”

    Incidentally, in Russian slang, the disparaging term _sovók_ can be used for someone with the obnoxious “Soviet mentality” that RusselF described very well. (As distinguished from a likeable, intelligent, normal person who just happens to have been a citizen of the USSR.)

    I would suggest that if 1972’s _Solaris_ had been made in English, with an American director and cast, BUT WITH THE SAME LOW-BUDGET PRODUCTION VALUES AND DEEPLY FLAWED SCRIPT as the Andrei Tarkovsky version, almost no one today would remember the movie. Certainly, no one would be heaping undeserved praise on it and making ridiculous comparisons with Kubrick.

    At best, it might have found an appreciative audience on _Mystery Science Theater 3000_, with the robots poking fun at the $1.99 special effects, and the massive holes and oversights in the screenplay, and the scientists/engineers who talk like pompous coffeeshop intellectuals instead of talking like scientists/engineers, and the “Rocket Launch” button that’s located about ten feet away from the rocket itself, so that any character who presses the “Launch” button will be incinerated by the rocket’s exhaust blast (unless he very luckily finds an asbestos blanket lying around).

    But, thankfully for Tarkovsky’s reputation, _Solaris_ wasn’t made in America; it was made in the Soviet Union. And there’s never been a shortage of Marx-addled intellectual frauds in the West who are embarrassed to admit that, for the most part, Soviet-made films were as backwards and crappy as Soviet-made wristwatches and Soviet-made automobiles. They really, really prefer to believe John Reed’s lie: “I’ve seen the future, and it works!”

    So they’re willing to pretend, for example, that the lack of dazzling special effects in _Solaris_ was some sort of brilliant and visionary ARTISTIC DECISION by Tarkovsky, rather than a reflection of the down-to-earth fact that “Mosfilm” studios simply couldn’t afford to do anything better. And let me emphasize: it’s not just that the visual effects and set-design of _Solaris_ are inferior to the then-groundbreaking, Oscar-winning visuals of _2001_ — they’re ALSO inferior to the original _Star Trek_ series with its made-for-TV budget! You’d almost have to go back to the 1930s _Flash Gordon_ serials to find special effects so utterly primitive that _Solaris_, by comparison, makes you want to watch the amazing scene again and again, in slow-motion.

    (I’m not exaggerating. One can easily imagine Tarkovsky seeing the “transporter” effect on _ST:TOS_, when Kirk says “Three to beam up, Scotty,” and thinking to himself, “Ёб твою мать, that was COOL AS F*CK! I sure wish I had the money to do fancy gimmicks like that…”)

    Of course, I’m entirely willing to ignore and forgive low-budget production values if the story itself is told by a competent director. So here’s a challenge for anyone who claims that _Solaris_ is some sort of masterpiece: Give me a brief chronological history of the space station that’s orbiting around the planet Solaris, from the discovery of the planet to the construction of the space station to the time setting of the film, when the astronaut Kris Kelvin is sent to investigate the mysterious behaviors of the crew on the space station.

  • Mason says:

    Tarkovsky’s comment:

    “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.”

    — seems to me to miss the point of the role of technology in 2001. 2001 doesn’t really even have any human characters — the only developed character in the film is HAL; the humans are just placeholders.

    The real main characters of the film are Humanity and Technology, and the film is about humanity’s evolution, including spiritual evolution, by means of technology — this is the point of the scene where the bone thrown in the air (the first technology, to which the early apeman are guided by the TMA) turns into a spaceship — the bone and the spaceship are the same thing: technology that is the vehicle of human “progress.” An emotional story about individual human characters just isn’t what 2001 is about.

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