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

A friend recent­ly told me about a screen­ing of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris he attend­ed in a state of, er, expand­ed per­cep­tion. The vivid sci-fi trip he’d expect­ed turned into the most har­row­ing emo­tion­al expe­ri­ence of his life. 2001: A Space Odyssey has proven a reli­able favorite of the con­scious­ness-alter­ing crowd since it came out in 1968, almost to the point where you’d think Kubrick made the film just for them. But Tarkovsky’s 1972 sto­ry of a sen­tient plan­et and the hal­lu­ci­na­tions with which it tempts and tor­ments a near­by space sta­tion has an entire­ly dif­fer­ent exis­ten­tial con­cep­tion of mankind’s ven­ture into the unknown realms of space and time. What­ev­er your own state of mind, you can watch Solaris free online. (Watch part one here, and part two here and make sure click “cc” at the bot­tom of the videos to launch the sub­ti­tles.) If you don’t feel sure about tak­ing the plunge, have a look first at the updat­ed trail­er above. (You can also watch the orig­i­nal 1972 trail­er in both Russ­ian and Eng­lish.)

Rework­ing Stanis­law Lem’s orig­i­nal nov­el toward his own artis­tic ends, Tarkovsky real­ized his vision of the future with a num­ber of unusu­al tech­niques. View­ers often take spe­cial, bemused notice of the scene above, a five-minute dri­ve down an urban high­way which comes just before the pro­tag­o­nist, psy­chol­o­gist Kris Kelvin, departs for his space mis­sion. (Tarkovsky liked to say he put it there to dis­cour­age impa­tient film­go­ers.) The clip includes com­men­tary from film schol­ars Vida John­son and Gra­ham Petrie. As John­son explains, “Tarkovsky knew that in order to sit­u­ate the sto­ry in a for­eign place and a dis­tant time, both to ful­fill genre require­ments and deflect poten­tial cen­sors, he need­ed to con­trast his nos­tal­gia for nature and the past with a city of the future.” And so, unable to build such a thing on his lim­it­ed bud­get, Tarkovsky went to Tokyo: “The Japan­ese road signs, the for­eign cars, long tun­nels, and mul­ti-lane high­ways with wind­ing bridges and over­pass­es might have rep­re­sent­ed a city of the future for ear­ly-1970s Sovi­et audi­ences used to sim­ple two-lane roads and domes­tic tin-box cars, if they were lucky enough to have a car at all.”



Petrie ref­er­ences an entry from Tarkovsky’s diaries “where he wor­ries that if the Japan­ese visa does­n’t come through in time, they will miss the end of the exhi­bi­tion” — prob­a­bly Osaka’s thor­ough­ly future-ori­ent­ed Expo ’70 World’s Fair. (Inci­den­tal­ly, next time you swing by Osa­ka, I do rec­om­mend tak­ing a walk around the still-fas­ci­nat­ing Expo ’70 grounds.) Tarkovsky did end up miss­ing the Osa­ka exhi­bi­tion, and so he shot in Tokyo instead. At Tarkovsky fan site, Yuji Kiku­take has gone through mod­ern-day Tokyo and found the sur­viv­ing land­marks of the Akasa­ka and Iiku­ra neigh­bor­hoods over which the sequence pass­es — reveal­ing the future, in oth­er words, of the city of the future. What­ev­er you think of the result­ing five min­utes, the fact that Tarkovsky man­aged to go shoot them and that the offi­cials in charge fund­ed it demon­strates, as Petrie puts it, not just “the inge­nu­ity of film­mak­ers try­ing to pen­e­trate the Iron Cur­tain,” but “the high esteem in which [Tarkovsky] was held by the same film-indus­try bureau­crats who made his life mis­er­able by cut­ting his bud­gets and try­ing to cen­sor his films.”

In addi­tion to Solaris (part one, part two) you can find oth­er major films by the Russ­ian auteur in our col­lec­tion of Free Tarkovsky Films, or our larg­er col­lec­tion: 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, Doc­u­men­taries & More.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Tarkovsky Films Now Free Online

Tarkovsky’s Solaris Revis­it­ed

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

A Pho­to­graph­ic Tour of Haru­ki Murakami’s Tokyo, Where Dream, Mem­o­ry, and Real­i­ty Meet

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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Comments (10)
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  • Droy says:

    Why is such a big deal made of this film. It’s bor­ing as hell! Also, what’s the 10 minute traf­fic scene all about?

  • Isabelle Ripplinger says:

    I am sur­prised that you invite your read­ers to Watch Solaris but only pro­vide links to the movie with­out sub­ti­tles.

  • Joseph Esposito says:

    Solaris is a great film but it is NOT about the future. It’s a fan­ta­sy sto­ry based on the nov­el by Stanis­law Lem. A great book, a great movie, but NOT about the future. Not all sci­ence fic­tion pre­tends to be pre­dic­tive.

  • Vition Andrei says:


  • John Gesang says:

    2001 is a clas­sic movie. It is a bril­liant­ly designed and con­struct­ed work of spec­u­la­tive fic­tion done in the medi­um of cin­e­ma, with a coher­ent sto­ry and evi­dence of intel­li­gence and imag­i­na­tion blaz­ing in every frame.

    Solaris is art-house trash–and that’s being kind. It is exact­ly the sort of thing that aca­d­e­m­ic film school pro­fes­sors love to “teach” because it says absolute­ly noth­ing about any­thing but nev­er­the­less demands the view­er stick with it to the bit­ter, mind-numb­ing end in the hope that some­thing, ANYTHING pro­found or mean­ing­ful will emerge, though this nev­er hap­pens; ego-trip­ping, self-styled cineast­es and Hol­ly­wood wan­na-bes praise it to the skies because they see it as the sort of film they would like to make, if only … and they prob­a­bly COULD match the film’s pseu­do-intel­lec­tu­al obscu­ran­tism and its pow­er­ful abil­i­ty to bore the liv­ing beje­sus out of an audi­ence. It’s also a dread­ful, inept rape of Lem’s orig­i­nal novel–Lem dis­owned the film, with good reason–a lit­er­ary mas­ter­piece which also hap­pens to be a mar­velous work of sci­ence fic­tion, as well as visu­al­ly an order of mag­ni­tude supe­ri­or to the film. You want art, read Lem’s nov­el; you want a stiff neck and three hours of your life thrown into the dust­bin, watch the movie.

    I can only attribute Kubrick­’s list­ing of the film among his favorites to a momen­tary lapse of taste and sobriety–after all, even Dr. John­son erred now and then. Or per­haps Kubrick was hav­ing a lit­tle joke at the expense of the Cahiers du Cin­e­ma-trained Smug Set.

  • John Gesang says:

    Even dat­ed as it is, for all that it demands a great effort of atten­tion from the view­er, 2001 remains a reward­ing expe­ri­ence and an intox­i­cat­ing joy to watch from begin­ning to end. Solaris, on the oth­er hand, must be ENDURED.

  • David Templer says:

    Thanks Dan for your beau­ti­ful­ly expressed and per­cep­tive insights.

  • Edward Primrose says:

    The act of mix­ing up the music of one film and putting it into anoth­er, just because they share a name can’t be con­doned. Although the Mar­tinez score for the Soder­bergh film is bril­liant, it has absolute­ly no place in a trail­er to Tarkovsky’s great film.
    To those who find lit­tle of inter­est in the Russ­ian film, I can only sug­gest that you come back to it at a lat­er time. Per­haps read the bril­liant Lem nov­el on which it is based in the mean­time. For me it is a pro­found­ly impor­tant work.

  • Ahmed says:

    Appalling­ly biased 2001 fans here who can’t appre­ci­ate each work of art in it’s own right. Don’t under­stand why fans of 2001 have to diss Solaris as if tak­ing it’s name in the same breath as 2001 was a sin. While i thor­ough­ly enjoyed 2001 and con­sid­er it as the best sci-fi film of all time, Solaris has it’s own bril­liant­ly pro­found mean­ing and exis­tence as it plays on the per­plex­i­ty of con­scious­ness, human emo­tion and oth­er para­dox­es of human exis­tence. Like Bergman tak­ing a shot at the sci-fi genre. Tarkovsky is a mas­ter film­mak­er. Solaris is a breath­tak­ing riv­et­ing cin­e­mat­ic expe­ri­ence.

  • Roger Alsop says:

    Unfor­tu­nate­ly the movie isn’t avail­able from the links above, could it be because of my loca­tion? Aus­tralia.

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