The visual atmosphere of the scene: How do conventions play a part in Solaris’ classification as a sci-fi film and its place within the genre? Part 2

November 9, 2009

Continuing in trying to answer questions that arose in my previous entry, a piece taken from Robert Bird’s book establishes its views below:

“Another talking point about “Solaris” was its relationship to Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A space Odyssey” (1968), which was released in the build-up to Tarkovsky’s shoot. Tarkovsky’s stated response to Kubrick’s film was purely negative; he called it ‘a spectral sterile atmosphere, like a museum of technological achievements’. The contrast helped Tarkovsky to formulate anew his distinct understanding of cinematic representation: ‘Of course, the action of “Solaris” occurs in a unique and unfamiliar atmosphere’, he explained. ‘Our task is to concretize this uniqueness in its sensuous external features, so that it be material and tangible, without anything ephemeral, uncertain, special or intentionally fantastic; so that the screen manifests the “flesh” and the texture of the atmosphere (sreda)’. Kubrick’s film, by contrast, was merely ‘fake’.”

An extract from the book Andrei Tarkovsky: Elements of Cinema by Robert Bird (2008 published by Reaktion Books ltd page 117) [sourced 4th November]

Interestingly, although not denying Solaris as a conformist to the sci-fi genre, Bird suggests that the fundamental concept for Solaris was for “Tarkovsky to formulate anew his distinct understanding of cinematic representation”. With this statement it can be put forward that like my previous question (was Solaris a way of making a film that targets science fiction and technology…) Tarkovsky aimed to make people aware of the “unique and unfamiliar atmosphere” of the space station, which contrasts to that of the Earth. However he was illustrating that the film was intentionally be devoid of technology as the forefront of its narrative, thus giving a far more realistic atmosphere as such, moving away from what he referred to above as a “museum of technical achievements”.

Tarkovksy mentioned Solaris’ “unfamiliar atmosphere” to be a way toconcretize its sensuous external features, so that it be material and tangible” in a way that the audience would be able to acknowledge the difference between the reality (represented in the film by Earth) and the tangible copies, such as Kris’ wife Hari representative of illusion and artificial yet, visibly material organisms that encapsulate the “flesh and texture of the atmosphere”. Moreover, Tarkovsky’s concept meant the film was not meant to be fantastical, but instead a meditation on human life and its relationship with memories. Although some technological elements shine through, most notably in the mise-en-scene, in which Tarkovksy sculpted a vision on the space station as an alternative from Earth, with advanced futuristic building concepts that visibly demonstrate his initial retaliation to the narrative codes applied in Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. By this it could be interpreted that unlike Kubrick, Tarkovksy presents a view of the future as a dystopian environment from the moment Kris enters the space station, as innately all that is around feels like it shall exacerbate into a cacophonous rage of emotion.  In addition, Tarkovsky’s fascination with nature is another fundamental clue to why Earth is given more attention to detail within the first part of the film and its focus on the relationship between its inhabitants.

Meanwhile, in contrast on the space station, the atmosphere is cold and bleak. In paying specific attention to the clip, we see Kris walking through the messy, lived in debris on the ship, unlike the comforting memories and encounters we see him having on earth. This notion visually accentuates to the audience the gradual decay present not only on the ship itself, but which the characters aboard (Kris and Dr. Snaut) are initially feeling as the mise-en-scene highlights a pathetic fallacy.

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