Solaris (2002)

Reviewed By wintermute
Posted 12/04/02 04:05:52

"If Robots Could Love, They Would Love Solaris"
2 stars (Pretty Bad)

It is a terrible shame that Steven Soderbergh's gift of communication has been completely wasted on someone with nothing to say.

Watching a Soderbergh film is akin to hearing Itzhak Perlman play light classical music - beautiful structure and form, but ultimately, completely devoid of any deep emotional or psychological message. It fills space and time with a non-to-unappealing presence, yet fails to fill up one's soul with anything more than a sense of somehow missing the point.

When staying within the bounds of standard entertainment fare, such as Ocean's 11 or Erin Brockovitch, Soderbergh's lack of substance is usually palatable. But when he decides to stray into the world of auteuristic creation, audience beware. Unfortunately, Solaris is such a film.

Essentially, George Clooney plays a psychiatrist struggling with his own personal tragedy who is assigned to investigate the mysterious goings on at a faraway space station orbiting the planet Solaris. Upon arrival he discovers that an old friend is dead and the only two 'surviving' members of the crew are Snow and Gordon, played by Jeremy Davies and Viola Davis.

I am not going to get into a detailed description of the story of this film because, honestly, it really doesn't matter. The plot is merely incidental in this vehicle for Soderbergh's faux-intellectualization of Clooney's loss and the mysterious goings on surrounding the pleasantly pink planet. 'People' appear and disappear, Davies acts all wacky, and Viola Davis might as well have stayed locked in her cabin for the contribution she makes to this film. Natascha McElhone materializes as Clooney's dead wife, and while he manages to get rid of her once - (actual line: 'I sent her away - Into Space!') - unfortunately she keeps coming back. McElhone is a wasteland of an actress, completely devoid of any soul or humanity, and her enourmous physical features were an incredible distraction. I kept expecting her face to swoop down from the screen and devour everyone in the theatre. Sadly, this didn't happen, and I was required to spend a full 99 minutes in front of this heartbreaking work of staggering genius.

At the end of the film, I just wanted to go home. I am sure that most film students out there will be asking the requisite subtextutal questions - Did Clooney die? Is Solaris Heaven? Was the little boy God? You know what? I don't know, and Steven Soderbergh doesn't know either, because if he did, then he he would have been able to employ his vast cinematic vocabulary in telling us, instead of vacuously showing off his chops like so many stainless steel surgical instruments.

Perhaps at some point in the future, scientists will create an artificial intelligence that will direct full length feature films. And maybe they will name it the Soderbergh Device, in honour of it's inspiration. Until then, we can only hope that our very own biological Soderbergh Device can one day find a message to go along with his voice.

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