Solaris

I’ve been mildly obsessed with the story of Solaris for several years now.

Originally told in a 1961 Polish novel which was never adequately translated into English, adapted into a thoughtful but painfully slow Russian film in 1972, and again into a 2002 American film which had the misfortune to be marketed as an erotic thriller, this is a captivating tale of miscommunication and existential angst wrapped in the veneer of a science fiction story.

Approaching the Solaris research station.

Whichever version of the story you choose to consume, each has its own merits and remains faithful to the core themes. The American film has the best visuals and a captivating tone of slow paced tension, accompanied by the brilliant character of Snow (an adaptation of one of the original characters which feels stronger for the update). The score is haunting. The intercut narrative of Kelvin’s relationship with his wife adds to the psychological weight. The Russian version is frankly overlong, but is worth viewing in parts for the beautiful set design and thoughtful, painfully restrained acting. Meanwhile, the Audible audiobook (which remains the only direct Polish to English translation) is well produced and has much more about efforts to make contact with the mysterious living planet.

If you must choose one, I would recommend going with the 2002 film or the audiobook, depending on your preferred mode of narrative ingestation.

Who are we to each other?

The most important feature of the story is the central question: Can we ever truly know one another?

Think of it. The foundation of many relationships, especially among family and lovers, is the inherent faith that we either know one another, or are at least on a path of ever increasing knowledge of each other. You watch your child grow and believe that you know who they are, that you can shape them into your ideal of a good person, but at some point they pass through puberty, or college, or their first summer away from home, and they begin to become their own person… to be who they are, utterly independent of you. We look into the eyes of a lover, certain that we have learned their deepest secrets. Then, with each new day and year and bout of depression or change of job, that person you swore you knew reveals new and deeper layers of personality that you never expected.

We wear our perceptions as armor to protect ourselves from uncertainty.

Don’t come to Solaris expecting answers.

Like much great art, it’s intended to stir emotions and provoke questions. The beauty is in following the journey and then, eventually, slowly, with much uncertainty, asking yourself how the message of this haunting little story applies to your own relationships.

Are you striving to know others for who they are, or do you merely walk through your relationships operating on mental constructs? Is it healthy – for you, for your relationships, for humanity – to attempt to understand one another, or will the effort be a maddening quest that leads only to disappointment as we continue to fail in achieving unity of mind?

Come to Solaris as you would a philosophical text. Observe as this set of broken constructs fail to interact with, create, and learn from one another. And then go out and indulge in the ultimate question of the tale: Can we ever even know ourselves?