A waterworld caught in a loop of infinity as it orbits between two stars, one blue, one red, Solaris is a mystery which should not exist, always falling forward as it is drawn from one to the other, a Doppler shift of past and future forever switching places, the purely physical paradoxes of the planet superceded in the minds of the research team by the philosophical conundrum it has directed towards them.
Arriving from Earth towards the end of the 700 day mission, Doctor Kris Kelvin is a psychologist of the Institute of Solaris Studies whose cold attitude ill-prepares her for what she will find, the erratic behaviour of computer scientist Doctor Snow and biologist Doctor Sartorius, and that her former tutor, the commander of the mission, Doctor Gibarian is dead.
Viewing the video messages left for her, Kelvin finds that Gibarian believed the planet was conscious and aware of their presence, reaching out to them via “visitors” taking the appearance of friends and family, Kelvin presented with a representation of her former boyfriend Ray, hyperactive, demanding and tenaciously attached to her.
Based on the novel by Stanisław Lem, adapted by David Greig and directed by Matthew Lutton, Solaris is a distillation of the restless fluids of the dreaming ocean, projected on the curtains in the frequent but swift scene breaks as the minimalist set reconfigures itself.
Solaris itself never seen, the binary system it expressed as a wash of coloured light which bathes the otherwise white stage as the researchers gaze out the windows, the “visitors” given no other voice but that of Ray, a construct based upon Kris’ memory of his self-destructive flaws as much as her rekindled juvenile adoration of him.
Gibrarian played by Cloud Atlas‘ Hugo Weaving via video projection, he alone of the scientists has the authority to carry the part, Polly Frame, Jade Ogugua and Fode Simbo all too young to be believable as having the experience of the characters, Frame in particular pushing as she tries to see her reactions rather than coming across as natural, never touching the restraint expected of an adult or a professional.
While Keegan Joyce is annoying, at least his performance is in keeping with who Ray is in the context of the evolution of Solaris’ communications, the body of an adult with the comprehension of a child, curious and eager but without any sense of proportion or of the passage of time, every moment without company a reminder of eternity alone.
Lem’s novel already adapted numerous times in different media, this is an ambitious effort to explore the turbulent oceans of Solaris and the memories washing across its surface which with another cast more comfortable with giving depth and complexity to their parts might penetrate into the consciousness, but in this manifestation never wades past the shallows.