Movies: SOLARIS (2002) Explained

Steven Soderbergh’s SOLARIS (2002) is a challenging film. It doesn’t repeat its answers time and time again.  It allows you to make up your mind.  It mostly takes place in the characters’ heads.

Yes, it’s a pretentious art film.  It’s a gratuitously self-indulgent piece of cinema that’s not nearly as profound at it may think it is.  It’s under-plotted, bloated and would have made a better 30-minutes TWILIGHT ZONE episode than a feature film.

But wait!  It’s also a fine true Science Fiction movie. By putting very human characters in extreme situations caused by an unknown, but rational (?) entity, SOLARIS is able to study human emotions.  In an age where cinema-SF has become nearly synonymous with fancy special effects and overblown action sequences, that’s rare and maybe even important.

But there’s no denying that some hints may be required in order to appreciate the film jut a little bit more. If you can tolerate a few paragraphs of random rambling, keep on reading, because I’ll share my own take on the film, and maybe -hopefully!- help you along the way.

Oh, yes:  SPOILERS follow.  Do not read if you haven’t seen the film.

Let’s take a look at the story, stripped down to its bare essentials and very roughly re-arranged in chronological order:

  • Solaris is discovered
  • Psychologist Chris Kelvin (George Clooney) sees Rheya (Natascha McElhone) on the train and then meets her at a party.
  • Chris and Rheya live together; she initially refuses marriage, discovers she’s pregnant, has an abortion.  He doesn’t react well, blames her lack of commitment and storms out of their apartment. She commits suicide. He comes back and discovers her, dead, clutching his favourite poem.
  • Years pass.
  • Around Solaris, the scientists orbiting the planet in the space station start seeing… things. Phantoms from their pasts appear on the station, re-created by Solaris.  The phantoms are usually people (alive or dead) that the scientists long to talk to.
  • This, naturally, causes people some discomfort. Some try to kill their Phantoms.  Some succeed, but are further driven insane when the Phantoms come back to life. Others, like Jeremy Davies’ Snow, are less successful and are killed by their Phantoms in self-defence.
  • Some soldiers/investigators are sent to Solaris by The Company in order to help, but are plagued by the same Phantoms. All (!) commit suicide.
  • The leader of the expedition, Gibarian, makes a desperate plea for help to his old friend Chris.
  • One researcher on the station, Helen Gordon (Viola Davis) discovers a way to destroy Phantoms.
  • A grieving Chris receives the plea and embarks for Solaris.
  • Upon his arrival, he discovers that Snow is spaced out (he doesn’t realize that Snow is a Phantom, and so his puzzled “I don’t know” are in fact genuine memory blanks) and that Gordon is locked in her room.
  • He also sees a boy running around. The boy evades him when he attempts to pursue. Is it Gibarian’s child or a re-creation of the child he would have had with Rheya had she kept it? You pick. The story probably makes more sense (but not that much) with the second interpretation.
  • Not much progress is made until Chris sleeps. While he does that, the planet reads his memory of Rheya and re-creates her.
  • He freaks out, lures her in a lifeboat and sends the lifeboat away from the station.
  • He goes back to sleep, and once again Solaris re-creates Rheya.
  • This time, though, he’s a bit calmer.  Alas, Phantom-Rheya comes to realize that she is a simulacrum of his memories of her. She literally cannot remember her own past, and when she does it’s as if she’s not there (because he was watching her and remembers the events from his perspective)
  • Gordon wants to destroy Rheya, hypothesizes that they may end up carrying the Phantoms back on Earth if they don’t kill her. Chris, becoming more and more attached to Phantom-Rheya, doesn’t agree. Gordon argues that even if Chris doesn’t want to, Rheya will come to him while he sleeps. Chris vows to never sleep again.
  • Gordon reveals to Phantom-Rheya that she wasn’t the first and that Chris sent the first one away.
  • Rheya, driven nuts by the knowledge that she is a re-creation, tries to commit suicide by drinking liquid oxygen. (It could be argued that Chris’ recollection of her as a suicidal woman doesn’t help the re-creation think of better ways to deal with her problem. Then again, an awful lot of people try to kill themselves in this film.)
  • Her attempt fails. Everyone aboard the station sees her come back to life, demonstrating the resilience of all Phantoms.
  • Chris falls asleep (after gulping down some pills; this may have been a suicide attempt or just a few extra-strong sleeping pills.  In light of what happens later, it doesn’t matter one way or the other), has seriously bad dreams (sees multiple versions of Rheya, the child again), is visited by Gibarian (another Phantom, presumably) and upon waking up discovers that Phantom-Rheya went to Gordon in order to ask to be destroyed, which Gordon did with some satisfaction.
  • They discover that Snow is in fact Phantom-Snow, who killed Human-Snow in self-defence whenever the original tried to attack him when he appeared
  • Phantom-Snow points out that Solaris is getting bigger every time the Phantom-destroyer is used (insert techno-babble here as to why this is so. Maybe Solaris is angry at the destruction of its Phantoms), and that the station will soon crash down on the planet.  He recommends evacuation.
  • Chris and Gordon go to the last remaining shuttle.  Gordon enters and starts the engines. Chris stays at the doorway.
  • What follows is a dream/predictive sequence: Chris sees himself back on planet Earth, but as a Phantom who has to re-learn everything in his life and deal with his grief over Rheya all over again.  (Whether he is now truly a Phantom is a matter of interpretation, but I think it make more sense and has more poignancy, if he’s still the Human-Chris imagining himself as a Phantom-Chris.) Thought to ponder: Was this reverie Chris’ own, or was it caused by Solaris in an attempt to “keep” Chris? Or maybe even Rehya’s memory acting through Solaris? (Note: Maybe there is no dream sequence and this happens right before the last bullet of this list, in between his acceptance of Solaris and his last meeting with Rheya.)
  • He shuts down the door to the shuttle and decides to remain aboard the station as it crashes down on Solaris. Self-sacrifice out of guilt for not remembering Rheya “right”? Maybe. But then again, have I mentioned how many people kill themselves at the slightest excuse in this film?
  • Gordon leaves, presumably to return in the sequel. (I’m kidding!)
  • The station crashes into the expanding planet. Solaris “reaches out” to Chris (though the boy Phantom), who accepts.
  • Then the film slides well into transcendental mode, as Chris and Rheya meet again, this time forever happy. Life after death? Solaris triumphant, keeping Chris’ mind occupied like a little pet? Your particular take is as good as mine. I prefer “Screenwriter’s idea of a perfectly weepy ending”, much like the one in TITANIC. Naturally, some will argue that this ending, in fact, is merely Chris’ ultimate retreat from reality, him choosing to live his grief over and over again with whatever Rheya-substitute he can get. Any interpretation (just pick one randomly) should keep you busy the next time you want to argue with another cinephile.

[November 2006: Update! An anonymous correspondent writes to suggest…

I don’t think you got the ending w/ Chris quite right. He had a realization that there was (in fa
ct) a picture in his house. Reya very clearly mentioned that there were no pictures. This revealed to him the possibility of the nature of the being, Reya. If she was only a creation created from Chris’ mind, the memories she had would have to be the same as Chris’, but they were not. He had a glimmer of hope that she was indeed more than just a mere memory and stayed on the ship. You can extrapolate considerably from this.

Hmm, promising! I haven’t yet had time to verify this interpretation, but this would be a fascinating wrinkle to the ending.]

[January 2007: I still haven’t had the time to return to the film, but UK cinephile Dan wrote in to remind me of the thematic links between Chris’s favourite poem, Dylan Thomas’ “And Death Shall Have no Dominion“, and the ending of the film. If nothing else, the link highlights SOLARIS’ thematic exploration of love after death. Chris ends up getting what he most clearly wished for, regardless of the other consequences. True love through death, maybe.]

[March 2008: Jessica writes to add “I could be wrong, but I think that you may have misunderstood Phantom-Snow’s explanation at the end of the film. My understanding is that Solaris did not actually get physically bigger; it only looked that way because the space station had drifted closer to it. According the Phantom-Snow, because Dr.Gordon’s Higgs (Phantom destroying)device used so much power it drained the ship’s battery/power cells, and so the ship was unable to resist Solaris’ gravitational pull. That is why Gordon has to leave right away; the ship only has enough power to send one of the escape pods back to Earth.”]

[December 2009: Nate writes to add: “The ending to Solaris is pretty clear if you follow the literary cues throughout the film. At the dinner party they discuss the idea of God and Rhea (named after the Greek Goddess, the “mother of the Gods”) becomes upset with his atheism, apropos the concept of the afterlife. It is clear that he is swallowed up by Solaris, but they don’t imply that he “died”. The entire movie is in a suspension, a purgatory. Assuming that the last part is part of the afterlife only fits in with the grander stage of the metaphor. He couldn’t resolve his relationship with Rhea on Earth or purgatory (the land of ghosts) because Rhea outside of Solaris was nothing but a facsimile of her essence based on his perception. Assuming Solaris is a metaphor for a platonic God, which is suggested many times, there are mentions of its omniscience, Rhea inside Solaris would be the quintessence of Rhea. The last scene is the afterlife, they will live forever (the cut finger heals). Stanislov Lem is known for his philosophical and existential theories, and this is very apparent in Solaris. When seen through this tradition, the story is actually quite elegant, literal and succinct.”]

Despite the jumbled nature of the synopsis, I think that’s pretty much it. Keep in mind that this film doesn’t have to make perfect sense: It’s more of a psychological-experimental fable than a hard-tech story. It’s no accident if all we get to see of Earth are a few blurry rainy shots: the impression created stands outside of time and pure realism. Oh, and do remember once again that Soderbergh was in his arty-trippy mode when he did this film.

I’ll end up on a note on the book/movie differences: A plot point that got lost in the adaptation is that Solaris, the ocean/planet is intelligent and may in fact try to communicate with the scientists by the use of those “Phantoms”. I don’t think it adds much, though, to consider this explanation given that SOLARIS (2002) is more or less self-consistent without it.  Be advised that reading the book in order to have the film explained to you may result in even greater confusion.

There are still a lot of plot holes, naturally. (I just thought of a few just writing the above, most notably about Phantom-Snow’s incomplete memories and Gordon’s reactions.)

There’s a wealth of symbolic layering in this film (Is it about religion? What about the lock Rheya was holding on the train? Was it a symbol of a mystery he must unlock? [*] etc.), but that type of thing may be be left to better writers and more patient commentators. In the meantime, I’m sufficiently satisfied by the above. SOLARIS is obviously not an audience-friendly film, but on the other hand, it exemplifies a whole lot of what “real science-fiction” is all about. Please be kind to it.

[*]: About the lock: The Soderbergh/Cameron DVD audio commentary is vague about most of the film’s plot, but it does clear up the lock “symbolism”: Soderbergh needed the actress to hold something in her hands, and the lock was the most intriguing prop they could find. Nothing to see here; all symbolism is viewer-supplied!

57 thoughts on “Movies: SOLARIS (2002) Explained

  1. Steve

    “He shuts down the door to the shuttle and decides to remain aboard the station as it crashes down on Solaris. Self-sacrifice out of guilt for not remembering Rheya “right”? Maybe. But then again, have I mentioned how many people kill themselves at the slightest excuse in this film?”

    Did you miss the part where phantom Rheya tells Chris maybe they could somehow be together and happy, but not on earth, and not not on that ship? This is why he stayed behind. He figured out he could hopefully join her on Solaris. And he seemed to realise she wasn’t really Rheya, but still loved her. So I don’t believe he tried to kill himself and then ended up in some hallucination on Solaris. I think he either really joined the phantom Rheya, or the pergatory/afterlife is plausible as well, as that crossed my mind on first viewing. But I so far prefer considering it a happy ending, that he reached another level of existence on Solaris.

    Reply
    1. John Bruno

      The link is clear, Solaris is God. The movie touches on a very basic Human desire, the do over. Chris regretted not being there for his wife, and Solaris gives him that chance. Back at his apartment, Rheya appears, and she says, all is forgiven, and the do over is validated. Who but GOD can forgive sins?

      Reply
  2. Malcolm

    So there are other possible explanations to the ending…
    What if the guy standing outside the pod is not the real thing? He’s a replicant, sorry, phantom and he just realised it when he hears the ‘voices’ from the cockpit…
    then maybe he died with the red pills? So if this is the case, who dreamed him? Perhaps it was Rheya?
    He cuts his finger and it heals, just like a phantom…
    Maybe the earth him is real and the Solaris him is invited back to the fold by the kid?

    Just sayin’ !

    Reply
  3. Wes

    My take on the entire story was that it was a meditation on existence and that our lives are the sum of choices we make. The entire story is told through the perspective of Kris Kelvin.

    Something conscious on Solaris was able to reach inside the consciousness of the people on-board the space station Prometheus and contact them in a way that was both profound and disturbing.

    By reaching into the emotional imprints left behind by loss and other significant moments in their lives, the crew experienced physical manifestations of these losses or fears or whatever they each experienced as a means of contact by the (as we understand it) conscious entity on the planet.

    Perhaps this is the only way in which Solaris can communicate in a way that has any reference or meaning to the humans on-board the station. However, the result of these manifestations is beyond the humans comprehension, except, perhaps for Gibarian, who directly beckons Kelvin to come to Solaris, because – we assume – that he believes it will provide Chris – perhaps singularly – what he seeks – a chance for redemption.

    Gibarian – after his son manifests on the station, kills himself for reasons that aren’t clear. Perhaps he was unable to come to terms with what he was experiencing. Or perhaps he chooses to end his life holding on to the memory of his dead son rather than replacing him with the newly manifested version, which he also desperately wants to hold on to. The why is left unanswered.

    However, Gibarian’s comment to Kris when he’s dreaming that, “there are no answers, only choices” – I believe is – actually Kris processing what he is experiencing in his subconscious mind through a dialog with his dead friend Gibarian – symbolized by Gibarian’s request to leave the light off.

    Gibarian, for his own reasons, chose to end his life with the memory – albeit painful – of his dead son intact – leaving the simulacrum behind.

    Gordon and Snow have two different perspectives. Gordon has manifested something terrible (alluded to by sounds of violence in her quarters) and yet somehow she can’t stop its return when she kills it. So her goal is to make it disappear completely by using the Higgs-Boson device and then returning to Earth before “it” can return.

    Snow, of course, being the simulacrum of his twin, is putting together his own existence as the story develops. Since we don’t know the purpose of Snow’s manifestation, all we can do is watch him come to the conclusion that he too must stay on-board the Prometheus as it is enveloped by Solaris – we assume – to go back to whence he came.

    So, in the end, as Kris decides to stay, it is then that Solaris truly succeeds in it’s attempt to make the human connection. And represented by Gibarian’s son’s outreached hand, Kris’ consciousness is absorbed or transferred or whatever you want to call it into a plane of existence where he and Rhea can exist free of the fear, grief and loss that defined him.

    That’s my take anyway.

    Reply
    1. DJ

      Yes Wes. You are able to explain what I believed. He is now “living” on Solaris and has come to terms with his past. What I find interesting, what will humans on earth do with their information about Solaris from Gibson? Go back? Stay away? What would you do?

      Reply
  4. Michael

    I think Solaris was attempting to get the people on the space station to deal with baggage they carried around. Guilt, loss, loneliness, despair, heartache. I’d like to think that Solaris saw the ability of the organism on the space station to “evolve” was being “retarded” by their emotional baggage they carried. Like any good “shrink”, you bring it out, you look at it, and you talk about it, until it no longer can hurt you. And just as our emotions are pretty messy, our ways of dealing with them are just as bad. As you saw in the movie, Solaris gave them the ability to finally deal with the issue, by bringing their pain to a state of reality. Thereby forcing them to deal with it. And as you can see, each chose a different path. Choice.

    Reply
    1. Elena

      Okay I can totally relate to this interpretation! 🙂 Really, it is quite an interesting view on the movie, each one of the characters had the possibility to deal with the situation, but they all had different ways of dealing with it… just like people dealing with their psychological problems everyday – it’s either pushing them away or killing them, or they might kill you… (metaphorically speaking), or truly standing up and working out the problem … and that is why there are no answers, just choices!

      Reply
  5. josh

    I think you may have it wrong with the finger cutting thing. If you remember, Rheya asks him how he got the scar on his finger and he said he cut himself while making food, they exact same scene when he is standing in the pod door. I think when he is thinking that, that it is a memory of right after rheyas death. So not a phantom version of him, and he didn’t kill himself with the pills.

    Reply
  6. richard

    Hi,

    Interesting movie. The reason I ended up here though was because I could not explain why snow’s phantom was himself. I figured the planet detected unhappiness in each character and thus presented the phantom that would most likely address this (I.e., Chris and Rhea). But one snow killing another snow combined with one snow being the person the other snow would most want to see left me very confused. Though maybe I am just confused. 😉

    Reply
    1. jon

      snow(fake snow) said his visitor was his brother right? maybe some sorta twin brother !!!

      Reply
  7. richard

    …also what happened to the security team? And who was the female physicist’s phantom?

    Reply
    1. Lac

      Yea! I was wondering about that too! We never had it clarified. She herself may be a phantom wanting to come to Earth.

      Reply
  8. Mark

    There’s no where, that I can tell, an indication as to who Gordon’s phantom was? Does any one have any thoughts as to who it was? The loud bangs coming from her room are meant to indicate that she’s got something in there. But I can’t think of who!

    Reply
    1. Lac

      Maybe that was the real Gordon and the one in the movie all along was the phantom. That would be a sick twist!

      Reply
  9. Mark

    The ending where he outstretched his hand to the kid parallels the Michelangelo painting of Adam reaching out to God. Except in the movie man actually reaches God and he ends up in the afterlife. That’s what I got from watching it for the first time there.

    Reply
  10. K

    A favorite movie. Rheya is the woman we could not live with, yet whom we loved and cannot get out of our mind. Solaris is sentient. Solaris responds to the seeking of resolution in each character’s mind. Solaris is compassionate. Solaris is here to serve. Would we really benefit from what we think we should have done, instead of what we did, or what actually happened? Are some things, even the things that haunt us, best left alone?
    When Kevin enters the space station he finds Gibarian’s body and a second body. In Lem’s original story it was a nubile black woman, of Gibarian’s making. Dr. Gordon’s creation was her drug addicted daughter (not shown in this movie). In the original story and in the earlier Russian film by Tarkovsky, at the end the main character finds himself in the home of his long dead father after being assimilated by Solaris. In the current American version he finds himself in a simulated earth living with Rheya. He cuts his finger but it heals, defying the laws of physics, a synthetic world that seems real, yet it is an intricate simluation like the film The Thirteenth Floor, and Vanilla Sky. Seems to be saying like Cipher in the Marrix, I prefer to live in a dream existence to living in the real world if I had a choice, the fork in the road I didn’t take.

    Reply
  11. Brad Zimmerman

    I have loved this movie since I first saw it in theatres. There are multiple understandings and interpretations of this version of the story created by Lem. His original explanation of the story was to create a story that deals with humans and an inhuman concept or a concept beyond human understanding or imagining. I love the 73 version and this one for different reasons but the 2001 version and the other versions including the book are all dealing with an alien or at least an unknown intelligence which has inhuman or unknown reasoning or logic when it interacts with humans. I always took the idea from all of them that ethics and morals were not a factor for its motivation or that motivation was even a factor when the unknown entity or presence had interaction through its phantoms with humans. In the end scene and throughout the 2001 version, the physical shape and general look of the unknown entity changes based upon the interaction it has with kelvin specifically and had not changed previously with any of the other characters or assumably the other dead characters as well. Yet the very last scene shows specifically the planet or entity has changed permanently or at least for a longer time than previously recorded by the crew and earth observers. Therefore it’s has always been my postulation that the planet(entity) had not ever established or made a connection that it understood on its communication level or within its conceptual potential up until that point. At least not enough to show a real or reality based sign that can be seen on a human level. But in the end…the one person or the one memory or experience or the one concept that it related to or wants to or can relate to is the either the feeling kelvin has for his wife or the concept that kelvin has for his former wife. It’s the feeling or concept of longing for something gone or possibly something else not understood in that experience(memory) kelvin has that the entity latched onto. I loved the movie because I always felt or wanted to think it was the idea of an alien falling in love with another alien(foreigner) based on a lack of communication ability and the love arising from a shared understanding of a common or learned concept whatever that concept or idea was may never be known to the audience perfectly but it was always to me a love story of a human and an alien. The attraction for either being was something obviously appealing to both at some level in their own potential for understanding. In the end though I want to believe the planet or entity did not understand or connect with anyone else because their thoughts and prominent motivation were selfish and not conducive to having a connection to other beings outside themselves. Kelvins motives and thoughts were of his love or a being outside himself. Anyways the last scene is of Solaris…but I always see it has having changed permanently because of Kelvin and his understanding of love or connection that Solaris has now. Whether kelvin is alive permanently inside of Solaris I don’t know but I always liked the idea of it. An alien falling in love with a alien but not for the exact same reasons. But love is still love. A connection.

    Reply
  12. Alan R.

    Hmmm… I didn’t read all the replies but I get the feeling none of you really got this film. The main character never left earth. Everything after he gets grabbed by the ‘guys in white’ is all in his mind. He has basically lost his mind due to the death of his lover and can’t cope. So he creates this story in his mind of going to this space station. You can tell all the the people on the space station are parts of his own mind. He has to make a decision whether to let go of his love and move on with his life or hang on to it and lose his mind. Everything is a struggle to be sane again.

    Reply
      1. Christian Sauvé Post author

        Read it twenty years ago. I may have forgotten a few bits.

  13. Buh Berto

    Rainy day Jan 18 2017.

    Finally saw this movie and as I first thought when it came out.

    It’s lame.

    Who cares.

    Coulda watched Goodtimes reruns.

    Reply
  14. Michael John Dooner

    This is about the definition of humanity. Can it be copied, can it be studied, dissected and recreated in all it’s true forms regardless of physical damage and death. This film is a testament to affirmation of continuation! That our loved ones are always with us and in this scientific experiment the proof is real and tangible but entangled with a new definition of what it means to be human.

    Reply
  15. Charles Blanchard

    I don’t know if this is still functional, but here I go …
    I see one major theme running through this … that Solaris is trying to understand this new element that orbits it, a new element that is not itself. A sentient, world-like organism with the abilities it apparently possesses, very likely created the ‘phantoms’ to interact with those aboard and learn to understand them. But it was the human reaction, the fear, that caused a problem for them all.
    Had they used the opportunity to communicate more with their ‘phantoms’, they might’ve slowly developed a better understanding of what Solaris was about … maybe. But a being of that magnitude would be mostly incomprehensible to us.
    In the end, I believe, and I could be wrong, that it was Chris’ love and longing for Rheya and his guilt as well, that ‘encouraged’ Solaris to ‘invite’ him down. The nature of this ‘recreation’ is subject to debate, as is most of the book and both movies. But this would provide Solaris a human to study, for an indefinite period of time.
    Also, I like the idea stated earlier that Gordon was actually a phantom, too, thus was going back to Earth, likely to study humans from that perspective, too. This would allow it two environments in which to study humans, to work to understand them.

    Reply
  16. Wesley Parish

    One pointer that occurs very early in the film that no one seems to have noticed, is when Gibarian appears on a screen and says words to the effect that we say we’re looking for something alien, something foreign to our experience, but we’re actually looking for a duplicate of everything we already know.

    That is the central theme of Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris. I was hoping for more mention of it during the film, but no, it got lost in the muddle.

    Solaris is a planet that orbits a binary. It has developed its own “intelligence”, whatever that may mean to a planet-spanning protoplasmic ocean with powers that appear supernatural.

    How is such an entity to communicate with bipedal pack animals? The phantoms are the answer the book suggests. Though the communication is far from obvious. What is the ocean saying?

    As it happens, the novel lends itself to movie adaptions that attempt to extend the philisophical speculation this engenders ….

    Reply
  17. Cameron Michaels

    I believe Solaris represents a manifestation of the all-mighty Spirit. Kris asks, “Am I alive or dead.” Rheya answers, “We don’t have to think like that anymore. Were together now. Everything we’ve done is forgiven… everything.” Rheya is affirming that redemption is possible. I love a happy ending.

    Reply
  18. Toby Hechanova III

    I’ll give my own take of the movie, some of what is said here is same as how I understood SOLARIS but not quite. I think there are some scenes that are really important in understanding the movie which I think hasn’t been discussed or at least given much importance here. I did try to read every single one of the comments but I did just skim through some of them. So here goes:

    In order to understand the movie there are some scenes or plot devices that are very important to remember:
    -The dinner date where a bunch of Kelvin’s colleagues (scientists) discuss about how God is just a creation (dreamed up) of man and that man gives manly attributes to this GOD. Meanwhile Rheya essentially argues that there is a GOD and that GOD is just a higher intelligence, and by higher she means something that humans will not ever understand. Kelvin’s colleagues shuts her down and Gibarian in that dinner tells that humans essentially ascribe human characteristics to SOMETHING THAT ISN’T HUMAN.
    – The recurring poem by Dylan Thomas, particularly the one line that says “And death shall have no dominion.”
    – What Rheya said to Kelvin in the end that they are not to think of themselves as either alive or dead and that “Everything we’ve done is forgiven.”
    -How Kelvin near the end reaches out to the child’s hand, alluding to Michaelangelo’s painting of how Adam reaches out to GOD.

    To understand the movie we can always go back to the dinner date. Everything that happens in the movie in some way or another tries to resolve the argument that Rheya had with Kelvin and his colleagues.

    Solaris is in fact GOD , a HIGHER INTELLIGENCE. Kelvin’s colleagues in the dinner date said that there is no GOD , for GOD is just something conjured up by the human mind with human characteristics, even with human limits. How ironic and poetic
    that in the movie the team of scientists headed by Gibarian is here presented in front of them an entity that is not human, with godlike powers, something which would in their own logic in the dinner would fit the bill of GOD – yet still they didn’t understand. That’s the paradox. No matter how intelligent a human gets, this human when coming face to face with GOD will never understand what it is he is seeing, because he is just human, and GOD is of an intelligence higher than human. As Rheya correctly said in the dinner, GOD can only be described as a higher intelligence, something no one will ever understand. That is why we are never really given any appreciable description of what SOLARIS is in the movie, because how can Steven Soderbergh describe GOD? How can the writer-director describe something which in the movie is conveyed as something indescribable and unknowable?

    There is no denying that in the movie God/Solaris is being connected to the Christian God. I think this choice was made because well most of the audience for the movie are of course Christians. It’s just easier to convey the message that way. Therefore I am going to connect parts of the movie to established Christian ideas. Knowing this we can go on and process the other parts of the movie and see that it supports the idea that SOLARIS is in fact GOD.
    -The recurring poem, tells that “…death shall have no dominion.”. Who else defeats death but God himself, particularly the Christian God where it is written in the christian scripture that God has conquered death through Christ’s resurrection.
    -When Kelvin reached and held the boys outstretched hand, that meant he accepted SOLARIS/GOD, in contrast others before him never did accept SOLARIS. The others before him being atheists were so consumed by the reality they know that in fact it did consume them, Gibarian killed himself, Snow tried to kill his phantom but got killed by his phantom instead, Gordon wanted humans to win. In the end Kelvin had FAITH that the phantoms are not just some facsimile, that there was something of Rheya in his phantom. Kelvin had faith of what GOD/SOLARIS had to offer and there he accepted GOD/SOLARIS.
    -When Kelvin saw Rheya in his apartment in the ending, she said that everything they have done was FORGIVEN, an allusion to sins being forgiven thus they are accepted into heaven. Then in this apartment when Kelvin cut himself, the cut immediately healed further supporting that he is in a heaven of sorts. Also she said that they should neither be alive nor dead or at least no think of themselves that way, therefore wherever they were then was an afterlife.

    Why did Solaris send phantoms of loved ones? Well maybe because it was conveying the message that love can be found there in SOLARIS. Gordon was very convincing is her science-ing of the situation, the audience is even persuaded to believe and root for her, but again that is part of human folly clinging to human understanding even when faced with GOD (a higher intelligence) himself. Remember that in the bible, Christ was always talking in parables and that He said that some will hear but not understand. This is the same with the phantoms. The phantoms were the message that Solaris sent, the team of scientists, Gibarian, Gordon, Snow heard the message but did not understand.

    So that’s it. This is my take on the movie. Even upon writing I was very reluctant and uneasy in using the Christian God and related ideas to explain the movie, because some of you would say that I’m a religious nut, or pontificating about the truths in the Christian religion. In fact, full disclosure I am an agnostic, and I am only going through about this objectively, connecting the dots between the movie and other source material the movie alludes to.

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    1. Michael

      Michael
      7-28-17

      I have to say, after reading countless interpretations here, that YOUR explanation makes the most sense to ME. Ive watched the movie again and again and actually have it saved, and when i cannot sleep, i watch it because it has some strange comforting power over me. Its a deep and beautiful movie, and for some reason i connect with it.

      Reply
      1. Andrea

        Well, I am a Christian, and I am now going to watch this movie with my eyes wide open to your eloquent interpretation!

    2. Todd S

      Toby I think much of your explanation is right on; I had many of the same thoughts after viewing and remembering all the events. Another crazy thing to consider is what if Rheya was sent from God to interact with Kelvin? I initially thought of this after pondering the idea that Gordon was in fact a phantom (perhaps an angel?) trying to make its way to earth to study more human activity. Kelvin being a man of science like his colleagues at the dinner table appeared to share the same beliefs as them at the time. Perhaps his time spent and experiences with Rheya opened his mind to possibilities outside the scientific realm? Introducing to Kelvin that perhaps God is not just some manmade idea/fabrication and truly a higher power and intelligence thus making it possible for Kelvin to easily accept Solaris (God) in the end.

      Reply
      1. Jon

        I wish there were more threads like this on the internet. Whether people agreed or disagreed these are all great comments. I came here looking for an easy explanation or interpretation as to some of the finer points in the plot of the movie. I found many insightful, well thought out points and counterpoints. While most of the interpretations are fairly similar, what surprised me the most was the tone of the thread itself. People expounded on other’s ideas, made valid counter arguments, and respected each other’s thoughts. All this while refraining from the usual escalation of vitriolic comments that end up in infantile name calling or ending up so far off topic as to lead the reader to forget what the original question was in the first place. This reminds me of what a discussion looked like in the early days of the internet, long before the proliferation of social media and the trolls associated with it. It gives me hope that there’s still some human decency left in this world, or at the very least a moderator that won’t tolerate trolling. Congratulatuons to everyone that has thus far commented on behaving like human beings. 🙂 Hopefully this isn’t the one to jinx everything lol

  19. jason Kesser

    These were easily the best comments on the internet, about almost any movie. I wish pages like this existed more often. I have faith in everybody that wrote here, whether I agreed with them or not. The one person who brought up the photograph, I’d like to know if any one else caught that, and if it actually happened. I’d have to rewatch, but can’t now. The film has driven me into a fevered thinking. I do have one suggestion though, that I didn’t see here, but it’s only a small addition. Is it possible that it isn’t Chris’ projected imagening of returning to earth, but perhaps a phantom of him returning? I don’t want to twist things further just to be more confusing, but that is what I thought was happening while watching it naively. I thought perhaps from his descriptions of being there, having to learn the ticks and habits of body language, that the whole concept of earth was foreign, and I guess in my mind, I imagined that perhaps as real Chris crashed into the planet and perished, that a replicant had appeared with Gordon. The physics of the phantoms never stated that if you destroyed one, or perhaps satisfied what you had to do with that one, that a different one didn’t try to appear. It seemed, as far as its physics, that Rheya didn’t return. Only the boy was there. I have to think that there was a permanence of Rheya being destroyed. Now of course, it wouldn’t really make sense in accordance with the above posted ideas for Solaris to “want” to return to earth. But what if it was just functioning on instinct and out of control? And by that I mean more freakish and without intention? As if it crossed quantum lines without real control or boundaries, aimlessly? Which would be possible with something that could twist the fabrics of time and quantum possibilites into reproducing things with instruction as random as a persons psychology, buried psychology at that? Perhaps it’s powers were as out of control as the person. Anyway, I guess I imagined Chris letting the doors of the ship close without him, and at the same time Gordon was getting the ship in gear, he appeared for her. And flew home with her. The true Chris perished with the ship.

    I must attest this, for Snow, that had to be his twin brother. But, phantoms seem to come back at the age that they were last remembered. I’m still confused about that. If Solaris would simply create a you, if he didn’t have a twin, that’s a whole different kind of fucked up. Another thing that stuck a hot knife in me, was that we never knew what Gordon manifested. There is nothing better in science fiction than not answering a question that way. The horrors are endless. But then that question would be, did she kill it, did she contain it. “Promise me you won’t come into the room” will stay with me forever, but in retrospect. It was meaningless when she first said it. It explodes in my mind after the credits are rolling.

    I think it’s divine that people postulated that the true acceptance of your phantom made a union between this consciousness and the human it was talking to. But, again, maybe it was so random, and misguided, he just happened to get lucky with his phantom, no pun intended. This film fucks my mind because it is either extraordinarily beautiful, or horrifically random, and that is the most like god Solaris could be.

    (All I know is, to me this is real science fiction. And I’m thrilled that I’m totally freaked out tonight. In the 30 min between the movie ending and me writing this, and it’s 1:30 in the morning, my sleeping girlfriend sat up out of nowhere and yelled out, then was embarrassed and confused, and quickly passed out again, there were the strangest sounds outside my window, and when I came into the kitchen to research this, a refrigerator magnet flew four feet of the fridge, a minute later a clock fell off the wall, and then my phone in my pocket started to make that amber alert or silver alert sound, so loud, but when i pulled it out, there was no alert on the screen. Seriously dude. Way to make an introspective movie freaky with totally real life sound effects.)

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  20. M. L. B

    Go to philfilms.utm.edu and IMDb.com for more commentary on this movie but if you pay attention to the part where she said there were no pictures in the apartment and in the end there is a picture it would seem that he did perish in the crash but is now living some semblance of a life created by the alien intelligence. If you pay attention to the film some mistakes are made with the alien intelligence’s imperfect representation of those that have been lost or facts about them. So it would seem that, in a more theoretical way, Solaris might be more Devil than God, by providing temptations to those within its’ reach? I don’t think we are left with a clear understanding of that reach… I am glad I finally watched this movie …I will watch it again

    Reply
    1. Toby Hechanova III

      Devil or God, doesn’t really matter, what matters is that Kelvin was happy. He had the second chance he hoped for. So looking back if you consider happiness is found in heaven, then Kelvin in the end was in heaven and Solaris is God. There isn’t really anything to be gained with Solaris being the Devil. There are no hints for ulterior motives in Solaris’s part aside from giving Kelvin and his wife the life they really wanted. If Solaris did tempt them, instead of just sending them a kind of prophetic message, remember that the devil tempts for people to gain earthly and temporary pleasures and the long term consequence is pain and suffering. This is certainly not the case for Solaris, Kelvin and his wife longed to be where they were in the ending (apartment), and it was not temporary, their romance would find no end in Solaris.

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    2. LJ

      The picture was placed on the fridge after Rhea died, and before Chris went on Solaris. This is also the same time frame that he cut his finger (before Solaris). When they show this scene, it is from his memory looking back at the time of his time of mourning. He decides to make the choice to stay on Solaris because on Earth he is “faking his life”, and if he stays, he no longer needs to mourn her death because they are together on Solaris. They are both dead, but death shall have no dominon on Solaris, only love shall dominate, as described in the poem

      Reply
  21. Ray

    This is exactly why Starfleet issued General Order 7, forbidding travel to Talos IV, under penalty of death. The Federation does not fully trust telepathic sentient races (or self-aware planet/ocean/protoplasmic constructs). LoL.

    I surmise that just as 99% of Homo-sapiens-sapiens are lethal to the clinging morass of their fellow human-beings so are any alien entities we, as a species, might encounter. It’s the “Law of the Petri Dish” playing out again and again; eat the thing next to you before it eats you.

    Regardless, I did enjoy the (2001/2002?) movie. I found it leaning towards the artsy/philosophical genre while I gravitate more toward hard SciFi, but then I am a Telecom/Network Engineer who deals daily with absolutes – cause & effect.

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  22. Andrew Jackson

    Mmm. So this highly intelligent professional carer decides to shove his beloved into space, on her first night back, coz it’s all a bit wierd for him. We, perhaps, should ask ourselves is this really a best practice reaction. Doesn’t this make him some sort of psychopath. She seems alive, so I’ll kill her. Nope – don’t need to think this one thru at all, i’ll just use this very expensive escape vehicle and shuv her in. Jobs a goodun. So, ok the lady returns. Is this the same lady or another version. So he gets two? Why not. 2 identical ones. … Or maybe 3, or 33. Are they only allowed one visitor? Why? Wots the rules here. This is all of us. Do any of us only have issues with one? Bring half your family in. And seven of your ex’s – alive or dead – it’s the same thing given the space time continuium bit, were all alive and dead. And Is she really there? She drinks, presumably eats, and poos That’s “there”. What was in her system when she arrived? (ok maybe earth food from the time he last SAW her). Also,I don’t buy the AI planet needs to study us, on Solaris or earth. AI would “get” animal behaviour and motivation pretty quickly, as predicted in other sci fi’s.

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  23. Andrew Jackson

    And the romance thing. It’s great!! Like an emotional orgasm. Nature’s method of motivating survival behaviour. We crave it. We crave bacon sandwiches. So Solaris has an interest in giving us a perpetual orgasm? Really? Why not an itchy back and a tree?
    How are the two ghosts supposed to carry on with their lives? A loop system with memory blackout to prevent boredom? Or is it a parallel universe idea. All the same, but she lived.
    That’s a choice is it? That would involve some sort of form with a box to tick. Or else infinate universes with all possibilities. Mmm

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  24. Andrew Jackson

    A planet with properties that creates out of memory doesn’t indicate a “god”, anymore than the existence of the sun, or all that we knew in years gone by. Today’s scientific discoveries are always yesterday’s magic.

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  25. Andrew Jackson

    And why does Solaris have to wait until you’re asleep, before it raises humans from your subconscious? A pretty specific tease? How would it differentiate between all of your strange thoughts in the warehouse of your mind? – and come up with something relatively rational, and relevant to give you a CHOICE ? Playing is it? Wouldn’t it wanna play harder?

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  26. Andrew Jackson

    Mmm, no, how silly of me. I don’t think it’s possible for a character to be created just from memory. Insufficient data. Too many data corruption probabilities. Thus proximity to the planet is not the issue. Not the key issue. It holds the necessary data universally. (Proximity triggers a reaction)?) – I have a totally inadequate knowledge of partical physics theory, and quantum computing science, – But as I understand it, instant universal data communication is believed to be a reality.

    Reply
    1. Andrew Jackson

      Correction. I’ve read some stuff today, and it seems, “universal data communication” is not necessarily believed to be a reality, at least not yet, as it were. However, entanglement, other dimensions, wormholes, who knows. Solaris presumably knows, is the premise.

      Reply
  27. Andrew Jackson

    … so considering all the amazing things we’re discovering about the universe today, perhaps fiction is fact in the sense that AI has been created by physics, somewhere.
    (It’s life Jim, but not as we know it). … Is proximity an issue?

    Or are our concepts of our “reality”, merely convenient, and the effects of AI already here.

    (I say this having read inadequate amounts of Kant etc).

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  28. Andrew Jackson

    …And it’s not god. Because god is worshipped, as a being we imitate. As a “Father”.

    I’m reluctant to let go of the purity of atheism !

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  29. Patrick James

    Never in my life have I read so many comments about a movie. I couldn’t help it. As bewildering and confusing as this movie is, it’s that much more intriguing and fascinating. I agree with much that was said. One point not mentioned however is the main premise behind God. It’s such a given point that it is only barely touched upon at Gabarians dinner. (Supposedly) God created man. Not only did God create man but (again supposedly) God created man in his own likeness and image. If Solaris is God he/she/it would have no need to study humans. Solaris/God created humans. Gabarian committed suicide because of these Phantoms that were coming from Solaris. No God no matter what religion you believe in would toy with its own creations to the point that said creations take away the most precious thing ever created life. Which brings us back to another point sort of skipped here. Rhea had an abortion without even telling Kelvin. She even goes on to further say “I had no idea you felt this way.” Someone who has that much callous indifference towards life clearly has issues beyond simple boredom and depression. This is proven as she kills herself not 5 min after Kelvin leaves. Rhea’s suicidal nature is brought up multiple times as being a result of the way Kelvin remembered her. But Rhea was extremely troubled long before her and Kelvin got together. Hell Gabarian even says when Kelvin is staring at her “Her name is Rhea, she’s a bit tricky but I guess she’s worthwhile.”

    A lot of people have said the major theme to this movie is love. Though you see it through out, I believe the story to be centered around life and death. The preciousness of life to be exact. The first thing Kelvin says to Rhea is in fact “Am I alive or dead?…” She responds “We don’t have to think that way anymore.” Above all else it is our morality that makes us human. The fact that we can die anytime (and are conscious of this) makes life the most precious thing in the entire universe. Kelvin couldnt grasp this so he shut the door and plummeted to his death. Further evident by the cut healing and the picture on the refrigerator.

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  30. Jeff

    Wow – amazingly enlightening discussion of a challenging, captivating work. No easy answers, of course, but I wonder again about Rhea locked in the escape pod drifting for eternity. A dead phantom gets resurrected – oddly; violently. So is Rhea phantom 1 trapped forever in a death and rebirth spiral, somehow reincorporated into the corporeal uber-Rhea, or but a plaything of Solaris to be reabsorbed as perhaps Kelvin and the station is at the end?

    And while I buy the positive, progressive nature of the God/Solaris parallel, I really like the quantum-like discontinuity in the plotline, and perhaps in the Solaris decisions/reactions. Perhaps in this corner of this universe, quantum potentiality overrides probability to bring back the dead? Solaris’s true power to shape physics. Sci-Fi indeed!

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  31. scott

    its very simple everyone. She said everything is forgiven and we dont have to worry about life and death. They are in heaven!!! that’s the best explanation period. It even references it earlier on about creation and god at the dinner party. God is everything. You dont have to try to hard to understand it or turn it into science. If god is all knowing and powerful he/she created science too. The point is the ending ^^^^

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  32. David Calver

    A film with many thought-provoking angles. For example, to what extent are we humans (or any entity trying to imitate a human) just a collection of what we remember. When people we have known die, they live on in our memories. The phantoms in the film were created from those memories, but appeared to be troubled by the fact that made them incomplete beings, being defined by a human’s memories rather than through their own. So I wonder whether the phantom’s actual experiences on the spacecraft, and their interactions with humans, could have been explored more as being a means by which the phantoms could achieve meaning in their (ie the phantoms’) existences/lives. Was this an alien intelligent being trying to understand humans by letting a part of it try to become human? If we humans encountered a much more intelligent and advanced life form in the universe, how would we communicate, let alone physically interact. These are some of the aspects of sci-fi that make it a great genre at times – exploring what it means to be human and how encountering a non-human intelligence would potentially cause us to examine what it is to be human.

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  33. Jake Becker

    How about: The first phantom-Rhea jettisoned into space reached earth. I am no engineer just a welder but if I where to design a rescue pod I would incorporate a foolproof system that makes it impossible to endanger human cargo. It would override any programming to “get rid” of a living human being. So the rescue pod brought her safely back to earth. Maybe Kelvin was dreamed up by Rhea. It would explain her last remark to him in the movie, that everything was forgiven. And it would explain the regeneration ability of a phantom, the healing of the cut.

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  34. Dale Clark

    What is the significance of the “bloody/mangled” door in scene 20,
    when Kelvin is popping pills to avoid going to sleep?
    In repeated viewings of this movie, I came to the conclusion that
    Kelvin did fall asleep, at which point he was killed and replaced by
    a Kelvin simulacrum.
    But in viewing the commentary, it is tossed off as a “happy accident”
    during ‘panning’. I don’t know what to make of that. (Not ‘panning’).

    Also, I like the interpretation that Solaris is God-like. It does explain
    many things. But, having read the novel, Solaris was not God-like,
    just completely alien to us humans. Lem seemed strongly to make
    the point that we should not expect life on other planets to be
    anything like our expectations.

    Each time I see this movie, I learn something new. Which makes it,
    to my mind, the greatest science fiction movie to date.

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  35. Ward, Melinda

    Wow like others have said above it was interesting to see people are still talking about this movie came out in 2002 and here it is 2018 and we’re still discussing it crazy!!!

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  36. Erik

    “Forgiveness” implies a Christian theme whereby they are in the afterlife in perfectly heavenly bodies…

    Reply
  37. Brian Mays

    I think it is one a story of one mans descent into madness because of grief and self pity in his mind due to his suicidal wife who had an abortion ie he cannot leave her or forgive himself. So everything is happening in his mind and nowhere else not even on Solaris !

    Reply

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