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 nostalghia.com, 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.
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
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.
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?
I am surprised that you invite your readers to Watch Solaris but only provide links to the movie without subtitles.
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.
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.
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.
Thanks Dan for your beautifully expressed and perceptive insights.
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.
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.
Unfortunately the movie isn’t available from the links above, could it be because of my location? Australia.