Tarkovsky: Intentions as an ‘Auteur’?

November 11, 2009

Continuing from my previous inquiry, I will analyse how Tarkovsky’s construction of Solaris suggests it has been manifested with his own specific conventions and how his personality echoes the characters within the clip.

To firstly carry this out it is imperative to look at Robert Bird’s book ‘Elements of Cinema‘ to give an objective look at Tarkovsky’s work. Below a section devoted to the motif of memory that runs throughout Solaris exposes its reasons:

“The particular ability of cinema to address the imaginary is evident in Tarkovsky’s treatment of photographs. In the prologue on earth we are shown the black-and-white photograph of Kelvin’s mother in a frame on the sideboard. Then, when Kelvin is burning his archive, a photograph of Hari lies on the grass alongside a partially burnt photograph of an unknown woman in a bonnet standing at a window. It appears that Kelvin takes the photos of his mother and of Hari to the spacecraft. When Hari finds her own image she fails to recognize it until she sees herself looking at it in the mirror, although she later recognizes Kelvin’s mother in the family film he shows. Still photographs are also used by the other crew members: Gibarian left a book with photographs of Armenian churches, while Snaut is examining photographs of his infant guest.

At the end of Tarkovsky’s Solaris Kelvin’s memories, films, photographs and visions all merge into a continuous fantasy that tempts him with its fluidity. His earthly home, the spacecraft and the alien planet ‘Solaris’ merge into one; simulacra of Hari multiply and fill his visual field. These representations promise to settle into symbols, that is, conceptual representations that will yield some determinate meaning. Yet Kelvin is frustrated by the immateriality of it all and resists tarrying in the realm of representation. The problem is revealed to be not that of accessing one’s past but of getting back from the past and the entire imaginary realm into the present and into self-possession.

This is, in a sense, the very problem that any moviegoer experiences when the lights go up. Tarkovsky hoped that the spectator, having been immersed in the previously unknown and fantastic atmosphere of “Solaris” and having returned to earth, would acquire the ability to breathe freely and in the familiar way that he become refreshingly light in this familiarity. In short, that he feels the salvific bitterness of nostalgia.

It is not the viewer’s own nostalgia, but that of Kelvin for the planet to which he cannot return, unlike the viewer who walks confidently out of the door. Nonetheless, the viewer’s consciousness has been disrupted by the sensory plenitude of the film, which resists the mere flow of time with a semblance of presence. It suggests that if any ethical or metaphysical programme can be ascribed to Tarkovsky, it is that of cultivating a patient attention and appreciation of the unrepeatable and unrepresentable tissues of life within each present moment.”

An extract from the book Andrei Tarkovsky: Elements of Cinema by Robert Bird (2008 published by Reaktion Books ltd page 122-123)

Throughout this descriptive section one thing remains evidently unmistakeable, Solaris deals with many themes however, memory not only is the forefront of the narrative, more so it is the way in which the subject matter is dealt with that is the point of interest which Tarkovsky envisioned. The conceptual theme of memory is kept constant throughout the narrative of Solaris, and achieved throughout by focusing on a character’s journey throughout their present and past. The protagonist in this case is Kris Kelvin and from the beginning visual insight into his world, we as an audience take on the role as overseers of his life for the duration of the film. Although Solaris deals with a broad range of other characters, Tarkovsky loosely adapts Stanislaw Lem’s source novel to maintain a way of sculpting the character of Kris into a persona that not only acts as the main premise of the film, but his existence is allegorical as he accounts for Earth’s being on the alien planet of Solaris. In a way, this expresses to the audience that he represents them, his journey is similar to that of the audience they, like Kris will view the landmark entrance onto Solaris at the same time, for the first time. Although the film is not at all influenced by a documentary style the way in which the action unfolds leads the audience to go through the same journey process of the film’s protagonist, similar to a way a documentary focuses on its theme and ‘documents’ it. As a result Tarkovsky crafts the notion that the audience are slowly introduced to Kris and his family through documented gestures, images around his home, introduction of family members, so that when the dramatic events occur on the space station they feel threatened and touched much in the same way that Kris feels, consequently evolving into an empathic connection.

“Art as I said earlier, affects a person’s emotions, not his reason. Its function is as it were to turn and loosen the human soul, making it receptive and good. When you see a good film, look at a painting, listen to music (assuming of course that its ‘your’ sort of art) you are disarmed and entranced from the start – but not by an idea, not by thought. In any case, the idea of great work is always equivocal, always has two faces, as Thomas Mann put it; it is as multi-faceted and indefinite as life itself. The author therefore reckon on his work being understood in one particular way and according to his own perception of it. All he can do is present his own image of the world, for people to be able to look at it through is eyes, and be filled with his feeling, doubts and thoughts…”

Taken from Tarkovsky: Sculpting in Time: reflections on the cinema, by Tarkovsky A., translated from Russian by Kitty Hunter-Blair (1986, published by Texas Press, Page 164-165)

Although Tarkovsky’s films are more open to interpretative meaning in contrast to mainstream cinema, as he discloses “the idea of great work is always equivocal”, the level of emotional involvement that the audience has with the cinematic experience asks whether his films are not sole narratives with specific ideas but in fact epistemological questions and responses that Tarkovsky himself realizes through the medium of film. The application of crafting his own concepts  and messages through the ideas taken from Lem’s source novel is a perceptible quality within the texture of the film. Tarkovsky has many codes and themes within his work and it is this fact that highlights his quality as an auteur. It is his ability to attain his own conventions and reoccurring structural themes no matter what subject, leads the deduction that he is fundamentally an auteur with an inimitable trademark.

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