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Forgotten Films: Year 2002, Part 1

By Bert Ehrmann

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Fort Wayne Reader

2011-03-20


I’ve always been amazed at the way pop culture consumes itself. That what’s captured the interest of the public one minute can be all but forgotten the next. But what amazes me even more are the things, specifically films, that I thought would have captured that interest but, for whatever reason, didn’t. What I’ve done is to list a selection of films throughout the 2000s that I thought should have made more of a cultural impact than they did.

Careful readers will note that there were no films listed for 2001 and that’s no accident. While I wouldn’t categorize that year as a great one for film, it wasn’t a bad one either. And while there were plenty of fine films that year, there weren’t any I felt were overlooked. So, onward to 2002!

I hate to admit it, but I didn’t see the movie Solaris in the theater and I think I know why. I had been looking forward to that movie for quite some time as the idea for a Solaris film had been floating around Hollywood for a number of years. (I specifically remember director Jim Cameron being set to direct in the early 00’s.) But when this version of the movie was finally announced and the marketing materials began to be released, I was underwhelmed at best.

Was Solaris a sci-fi drama, a horror flick or a love story? The posters and trailers never made it quite clear and this worried me, so I skipped seeing this film until it was released on DVD which was a big mistake.

Solaris is a complex psychological drama that just so happens to be set in the future. At its core the story of Solaris is about a group of people trying to work through the true nature of reality when all around them their reality is being called into question.

Most of the action of Solaris is set in a space station above a, what everyone assumes to be, sentient planet called “Solaris.” When communication with the station is cut off and a rescue ship sent to the station goes missing, psychologist Chris Kelven (George Clooney), friend of one of the station’s scientists, is sent to investigate.

What Chris finds is what’s left of the crew — there have been numerous murders and suicides, on the verge of collapse after having suffered some kind of collective breakdown when people the scientists know, from friends to family members, began mysteriously appearing aboard the station.

The scientists believe that Solaris is somehow manifesting these beings on the station but can’t comprehend as to how. Chris doesn’t know what to believe until on night his wife, who had died sometime prior to the events of the film, appears in his bedroom. Is Chris’ wife Rheya (Natascha McElhone) some manifestation of Solaris? If so, is she a true recreation of the real person, or some “shadow” representation of the real Rheya built from Chris’ memories? And what if the memories Chris has of Rheya aren’t all good; like the fact that Rheya committed suicide and that Chris might be partially responsible? And, most interesting of all, if Solaris is able to resurrect people with real memories, motivations, wants and desires does that make it some kind of god?

To its credit, there are a lot of questions asked in Solaris but not many answers. And while this might be frustrating to some, the story of Solaris never felt like these unanswered questions were due to sloppy storytelling. In fact it all felt natural.

The end of Solaris is not really an ending to the story in the true sense of the word. Chris is presented with a choice; he can either stay on the station with the facsimile of Rheya and be consumed by the Solaris planet or he can travel back to the Earth and return to his life of loneliness without her.

And, again to the credit of the movie, we’re never quite sure what decision Chris makes. Both are played out on screen and it’s left up to the audience to decide Chris’ choice. Does he go home? Does he stay? In the grand scheme of things, does it really matter?

Part two of 2002 is coming soon. Visit me online at AlphaEcho.com.

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