21 November 2011

Solaris: A Film That Snobs Think We Should Like

2001: A Space Odyssey is overly long, pretentious, up its own arse, and just plain boring. Look- I've said it, it's out there and I refuse to take it back. It's nothing against Kubrick particularly as I love all of his other films from Dr. Strangelove to A Clockwork Orange, it's just 2001 bores the hell out of me. I want to like it (I really do!), but I've just never clicked with it. I know I'm wrong and it's a masterpiece, but I just can't get into it. However, I do think I have just discovered a new-found appreciation for it as the other day I sat through the original Solaris.

I say 'sat through' because I certainly didn't enjoy it. It was more of an endurance test than anything else. Everything about 2001: A Space Odyssey that I didn't like was here- and worse. At least 2001 has a good soundtrack and I can see effects and shots in it that I admire. Every second of Solaris made me long to be watching 2001 and I can't wait to re-watch it now, so that perhaps finally I can see what all the fuss is about.

As for Solaris; well, fuck me, it was long and dull. If I thought 2001 was up its own arse well then this one is so much further up that you can't tell what's arse and what's not. I don't mind long films but it would be nice if, in a three hour running time, something fucking happened. It's sort of like an anti-transformers movie. Transformers is crap (or at least the sequels are), the reason they're crap is that there is nothing 'to' them except explosions and loud noises. Michael Bay has spent so long trying to hold your attention by blowing shit up that he forgot to include any subtext, meaning or story. What Solaris seems to have done is cram in so much meaning, self-importance and subtext that it forgot that it also needs to be able to hold your attention with a story... or not even a story, just something happening would be nice.

The story, for what it is, is about a man who goes to a space base and meets his wife who's been dead for almost a decade... and that's about it. For the remaining time we just watch him mope about in his undercrackers trying to figure out what's going on, wondering what it is that makes us human and thinking about maybe staying on the base forever... literally nothing else happens. It's just a man with his balls out having a good hard think about things.

Inland Empire is one of my favourite of David Lynch's films. It's about the same length as Solaris and makes even less sense, however with that film I find the events enjoyably baffling, engrossing and nightmarish. Inland Empire is complete waffle but it still has subtext, interesting characters and unlike Solaris, things happen. I don't entirely know what is happening but the fact that something is happening means my attention is being held.

There is a sequence in Solaris in which we see a man driving down a road and appear shots of lots of traffic - I'm not sure how long this lasted for but it felt like fucking hours. I read afterwards that one of the reasons that this is the length that it is, is because the director had to travel from Russia to Japan to obtain the shots. As this kind of thing was quite difficult to do back in the early 70's, they made the sequence last to justify the effort that had gone into acquiring it. I appreciate the dedication involved but surely I'm not the only one who thinks a man driving his car is boring to watch. And when I say 'boring', I of course mean the 'so-mind-numbing-that-you'd-consider-finding-some-actual-traffic-just-to-throw-yourself-in-front-of' kind of boring. Couldn't he have just shortened the sequence and justified it on the grounds that getting those shots was simply necessary. To me that is just the same as Michael Bay lingering on a car chase because he's been given the money to do it; surely it's best to get the shots that are needed for a film as opposed to altering a film to accommodate the shots.

Don't get me wrong however, I would rather watch Solaris on a continual loop with my eyes pegged open like eggy-weggy Alex than sit through Transformers 3 again. There was plenty to admire about it from its use of colour, set design and even its themes and ideas, I just wish it had been a little more watchable. To me, it was a thirty minute story stretched out to three hours- it was like an overly long, pretentious episode of the Twilight Zone written by the worst dullard at the peak of his raging alcoholism.

I can see, as well, how it has influenced so many films that have come afterwards. In fact some of my favourite films such as Sunshine, Moon and The Fountain can all clearly be seen to have taken ideas from it. Moon deals with two characters secluded on a moon base; one of which can't be real. Sunshine too deals with the nature of our humanity, with Danny Boyle repeatedly claiming to have been influenced by Solaris. The Fountain, beyond anything else, seems to have borrowed the visuals- particularly those of a more surreal but organic nature. It also proposes space as a more spiritual place and even has its lead character haunted by the memory of his selfishly dead wife.

However just because something can inspire things I like doesn't mean I like it. The difference between those three films and Solaris is that they are ninety minutes long with more happening in ten minutes than the entire running time of their Russian inspiration. In just ten minutes of Sunshine, we go from the discovery of an old space craft, the decision to locate it, the attempt to locate it, a fault in their own ship and the death of a crew member. In ten minutes of Solaris we go from a man standing in the rain staring out ponderously to a man deciding to stop standing in the rain, staring out ponderously.

In fact the only exciting bit of Solaris was the three seconds in which a semi-naked dwarf appears and is promptly thrown back through a door. I've no idea what the fuck that was about, and at no point does anybody mention it. It's one-hundred-and-eighty minutes of being lectured about 'what we are' with a quick cameo from a midget with his arse out. It's like the director Tarkovskiy just threw that bit in to see if everybody was still awake.

Having said all that, part of me would still like to see it again. Like 2001, I know it must be me that's wrong; it's supposed to be a classic and I could see things I would have liked to like, it just annoys me when a film seems completely up itself. If there's one good thing I can say about this, its that it does make me want to re-watch Kubrik's supposed sci-fi classic. Then if I can acquire the taste for that, maybe I'll come back to this one too. They're both quite long so next time I have a spare week I'll give them a chance. They're like an abusive partner in that I want to like them but they're making it difficult... and they always think they know better.

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