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Solaris is a film that will probably divide audiences more then any other picture this year. Challenging and provocative, this sci-fi love story was produced by James Cameron, but don't go in expecting a big, special effects extravaganza, because director Steven Soderbergh takes a different road. This is a small, quiet picture, and I found it very effective.
George Clooney plays a psychologist mourning the death of hi wife. While trying to put his life together, he is asked to journey to a space station called Solaris, to determine why the scientists on board have cut off contact with Earth. When Clooney arrives, he finds that the crew are not at all themselves, and within a short period of time, he begins to have strange visions.
Solaris will no doubt bore many people with it's pacing (even if it only is ninety-eight minutes long), but I've always felt that a movie doesn't have to move like a bullet train to be compelling. It's important that audiences go into this film in the right frame of mind. This is science fiction, but Solaris is more of a cerebral story. This is not a movie with action and laser gun battles. Solaris is the thinking man's science fiction film.
Steven Soderbergh is one of the most exciting film makers around and he takes an enormous chance with this project, especially after breaking through with commercial hits like Erin Brockovich, Traffic, and Ocean's 11. But then that's one of the things I love about him. He makes the movies he wants to make. He even took a big chance with his last film, the little seen experimental gem Full Frontal. While his take on Solaris (a remake based on a novel by Stanislaw Lem) may pose questions and theories that might be beyond mass audiences' comprehension, it is, at heart, a simple examination into how we as people deal with loss and feelings of guilt.
In many ways, this feels like a Kubrick film with it's metaphors and highly intellectual approach at a number of subjects including that age old debate between religion and science.
And while I'm on the subject of Kubrick, I have read a few reviews that suggested Solaris is nothing more than Eyes Wide Shut meets 2001: a space Oddysey. Is that supposed to be some kind of insult? I, for one, thought that was a fantastic picture. And like that masterpiece, I'm sure Solaris will be misunderstood by many who see it.
Solaris is also a love story, but I wouldn't call it a fully developed one. But then, I don't think it's supposed to be. Soderbergh treats the romance as a series of snapshots. We are only given glimpses, but never once did I doubt Clooney's love for his wife.
This is a fantastic, heartfelt performance by Clooney, who has very little dialogue. He still manages to display vulnerability, hope, and a great sense of yearning in one of his very best performances. While Jeremy Davies turns in a terrific bit part as an eccentric crew member and Natascha McElhone is a beam of light as Clooney's wife, it is the ex-ER star who carries the movie, with his portrayal of a psychologist forced to deal with his own problems.
There has been much talk about Solaris in the press lately, most notably Soderbergh's bout with the MPAA. To the director's shock, the film was given an R rating because of a scene in which we see Mr. Clooney's bare bottom. After Soderbergh appealed, Solaris was justifiably given a PG-13. Hopefully, the publicity will help the film, for this is not an easy picture to market. It's safe to say that it probably wont find a huge audience. That's a shame too, because Solaris is a fascinating, poetic oddysey.
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