European Diary

Bonkers in Space

Tarkovsky’s Solaris came out in 1972, which was the year I’d left Russia.  It was not until a quarter of a century later that I watched the long and quaint film, and was strangely affected by it.  I had always thought that nothing on the screen, if it was any good at all, could not be scribbled in a book or put on in the theater, and Solaris, based on a novel by Stanislaw Lem, was a case in point.

Basically, several men stuck in a space station—it could easily have been a desert island, or an English country house, or a commodious elevator—have hallucinations, or visions, based on their lives.  Well, that’s pretty much what imaginative literature has been all about since the beginning of time, and the film made this point very persuasively, I thought.  I was myself at a weird juncture when I saw it, and all the roads stretching out before me seemed to lead to the past.

The film’s protagonists’ hallucinations, or visions, could only be as interesting to the audience, of course, as the lives that had prompted them.  They had to be consistent with their whole personalities, because otherwise this would not have been literature—or film, or theater—but what the Italians so engagingly call casino, meaning bedlam, funny farm, a day in the nuthouse.  As it happens, recently I came upon the 2002 remake of the film by somebody called Steven Soderbergh, and...

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