Tarkovsky’s Solaris and the Frailty of Perceptual Certainty

My interest in this was piqued while watching Adam Curtis’s excellent documentary Bitter lake (available to watch here or here).

He used the main narrative motif of Tarkovski’s film as a metaphor to explain the impact of the Afghanistan campaign on Soviet Russia in the 1980’s. Curtis’s thesis was that like the living planet Solaris, the Afghanistan campaign led many Russians to question the certainties of their perceptions of the world as they had understood it for 70 years. What had once seemed so unimpeacheable became subverted so easily, which by his reckoning led to the ultimate break-up of the Soviet union. It should be obvious to most that Tarkovski didn’t make Solaris with this in mind, he couldn’t possibly have predicted the morass the Soviet Union got into in their ill-conceived Afghanistan adventure, his film was released in 1972 (nearly twenty years before the events Adam Curtis’ documentary relates to). But it is an index of the greatness of his film that this narrative motif can be used to describe a situation which would arise nearly 20 years later. This is perhaps suggests that what Tarkovski hit on in Solaris was an archetype in his central theme; the fragility of our firmly held convictions of reality (oh no, had a TOK moment there).

So why is this archetype so powerful in Tarkovski’s film? And how does it relate to the actual context of production? This is where a film student might take over; exploring Tarkovski’s motivation and trying to relate it to the personal, political and social contexts of production.

This work might make a pretty good start for the new comparative study element of film proposed in the curriculum review, but is a bit too lengthy for this forum.

I do feel that Tarkovski’s take on these notions are so much more powerful than the Warchowski’s (The Matrix, US 1997) and Nolan’s (Inception, US 2010), although there is potency in Christopher Nolan’s earlier foray into the unreliability of perception in Memento (Nolan, UK/US 2000).

I think that the power lies in the clear focus on the impact in human frailty elements of the story rather than the special effects driven spectacles that Hollywood seems to require of every feature film these days.

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