Monday, December 16, 2002

From Beneath It Devours

"I could tell you what's happening here but I don't know if that would really tell you what's happening here..."
-Jeremy Davis in Solaris

I experienced a startling moment of clarity while watching Steven Soderbergh's film Solaris (a thoughtful little movie that provokes such introspection). As the movie slowly unfolded I found myself thinking that it was nice watching a quiet movie with big ideas but it was all rather mediocre in the way it was being done in comparison say to an average episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Indeed given the themes presented in Solaris (whether or not it is possible for people to truly "know" another person or whether what we think we know is limited to our own personal memories and the values we attach to them) I couldn't help but think had Buffy's Joss Whedon directed and written the movie it would have been much more moving and enlightening.

Soderbergh's work is weighed down (way down) by its unrelenting solemn mood. We are constantly reminded (especially through the grim performance of George Clooney) that this movie is deep if not a little beyond pretentious.

Clooney plays a psychologist who is sent out to a space station near the planet Solaris. Seems something has gone terribly awry on the space station and Clooney is sent out to investigate. What he discovers are some dead bodies and two survivors who aren't exactly forthcoming as to what exactly has gone wrong. Clooney's character decides to snooze on it and when he awakes he is surprised to find his wife lying next to him in bed. He's surprised because his wife committed suicide several years before.

And this is where the movie raises some mind bending questions. Clooney knows that this wife really isn't his wife. But even more peculiar is this wife also begins to realize she isn't really his wife. She's composed only of his memories of her yet she has self awareness that that is not all there is. The crew of the space station want to destroy these 'beings" from Solaris because they don't know for what purpose they have been sent- yet Clooney refuses to destroy his "wife" maybe because he isn't really sure she is not his wife and craves a second chance but probably because the woman is self aware- a prerequisite of anyone with a soul.

This is where my Buffy moment occurred- and the moment means of course that I have reached the end of my ability to participate in any worthwhile pop culture discussion. When Buffy becomes your barometer it probably means other people won't understand or won't want to understand any of your remaining perceptions. I think it's no coincidence that early in the week I was feeling off my game and ill first suffering chills and then a fever. It was if my internal thermostat (or barometer or whatever) was defective. The TV show is deeply emotional, perceptive, insightful and great but it is (and it is not) about young people battlin' vampires. One can't/won't be taken seriously if Buffy speaks louder than Shakespeare, Magritte, Bergman, or Beethoven.

While Solaris doesn't entirely succeed it is noteworthy to mention that it is nice that a major Hollywood director and actor chose to make a quite little contemplative movie especially since just about everything else out there is full of loud action, loud and dumb characters who do loud and dumb things. It is nice to walk out of a movie contemplating the deeper meaning of things rather than trying to remember because it's all so forgettable yet another humdrum action scene, or love scene, or the latest wacky antics and offerings from a former Saturday Night Live alum that passes as inspired comedy.

Solaris has been compared with Stanley Kubrick's great 2001: A Space Odyssey mostly because it's science fiction that relies more on the cerebral rather than dazzling special effects. Indeed look up information on the internet about the original Russian film and it is inevitably referred to as the Russian 2001. Yet Soderbergh's version reminded me more of another film released the same year as 2001- the Beatles' swan song Let it Be. That film documents the disintegration of the group. It was the movie that gave meaning to my senior year of high school- I watched it over and over fascinated by the group dynamics it displayed (plus the wonderful music involved).

Let it Be opens with Paul sitting at a grand piano with Ringo at his side. He is playing a classical piece that sounds like a lost Erik Satie composition but likely is a McCartney original (maybe even made up on the spot). The somber tone sets the mood for the rest of the movie that seems to be about Paul trying to rally the group to get back to touring like they did in the old days. And it's not as if he just wants to recapture the past- he seems convinced that this time it will be different and by taking a sad song and making it better it will bring them all back together again. In the end Solaris makes a similar argument although it is unclear what side the movie finds itself on. It's all lyrical and beautiful- just not as good as Buffy.

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