Solaris (1972): The Consciousness of Love

A soliloquy of humanness.

Andrei Tarkovsky’s thought-provoking “Solaris” asks grappling questions: What does it mean to truly love someone? Is love something that happens in the conscious or the subconscious? Is it possible to experience love when we are actively seeking it out?

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The story follows Kris Kelvin, a psychologist that is emotionally struggling on Earth. He is sent to a space station that is in orbit above the fictional planet of Solaris, where three other cosmonauts have fallen into emotional crises. He goes to assess the situation, and in the process becomes entrapped in a similar psychological phenomena.

As the cosmonauts attempt to understand the planet’s nature, Kris finds his late wife, Hari, aboard the space station. Kris’s emotional crisis stems from interacting with his “wife,” and attempting to stay emotionally detached from her. And his efforts prove to be unsuccessful.

Both Kris and Harri react to their own existence aboard this space station, orbiting this strange planet.

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Although she may not be the real Hari, she appears to be; and Kris ends up loving her more than he loved his real wife. This points to something profound: sometimes we love our idealizations of a person more than the person themselves.

If we lose our memory, do we lose who we are? Is memory considered a physical aspect of existence?

Alternate poster for the film.

Alternate poster for the film.

While the purpose of orbiting the planet Solaris was to learn about the cosmos, the cosmonauts soon find out that the planet teaches them more about themselves…

One’s self-hood cannot be determined by isolation. It is determined by human recognition of existence. This is demonstrated as Hari persuades Kris to think of her as an independent person. When he does this, she becomes that very thing: independent. She begins developing a greater consciousness of pain, memory, and even love.

Does this mean that the human recognition of humanness is what gives us our humanness?

Can something so necessary to life—namely love—also harm life?

These are all questions Tarkovsky grapples with in this beautiful piece of Russian cinema.

Andrei Tarkovsky on the set of Solaris (1972).

Andrei Tarkovsky on the set of Solaris (1972).

Tarkovsky believed in love. He believed in a transcendental sort of love; one that transcends the far corners of the universe, that suspends time itself. And that’s what makes this film so intoxicating; when you lose yourself in this love, you find yourself.

Perhaps love can only be fully realized when the subconscious meets the conscious.

If it involves less than total giving, it is not love. It is impotent; for the moment it is nothing.
— Andrei Tarkovsky

Tarkovsky, as a devout Christian, believed that this paradigm also extended to humans’ relationship with God. With humans, to commit yourself to love someone so deeply, is one of the riskiest and scariest things a person can do in life. With God, we see a perfect example of unconditional, giving love that can never be replicated on the same level with human beings.

For any love to succeed, you have to allow yourself to be changed by it. This is what true, unconditional love does: it is giving; thus enhancing yourself to a different state of existence. Even if it transports you to other worlds.

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