- compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2002 1 Jan
They are not new questions, and
But it is remarkable how much Soderbergh accomplishes in that short space, and just how artfully he pulls it off.
Here's the premise: Chris Kelvin (George Clooney) is a therapist psychologist sent to a space station orbiting the planet Solaris after he receives a vague message of distress from the ship's commander. Upon arrival, Kelvin first interrogates Snow (Jeremy Davies), a confused, deranged young crew member who has no answers to Kelvin's questions. Questioning the ship's captain (Viola Davis) further confounds him. It is only when he is visited by an entity resembling his dead wife (Natasha McElhone) that he realizes why the crew is going mad. Each of them has a visitor supposedly dead and buried back on earth, but seemingly alive here in the far reaches of space. We are drawn into Kelvin's state of mourning and near-madness as he debates whether to rid himself of this somewhat alien presence or to embrace her as the resurrection of Rheya, his lost spouse. This leads to questions about the planet Solaris itself, whether it is the manifestation of an alien intelligence or some embodiment of God Himself.
Much of the film was familiar to me, as I have long been a fan of Tarkovsky's strange and spooky film. Soderbergh's version is somewhat disappointing by comparison. As we catch Kelvin's flashbacks of a dreamy courtship and a troubled marriage, Kelvin's relationship with the "original" Rheya seems more like infatuation than love. Clooney and McElhone look like movie stars rehearshing David Mamet dialogue instead of human beings going through the daily struggles of a real marriage. Thus, I did not find Kelvin's grief and struggle as compelling it was in Tarkovsky's work. Further, Jeremy Davies overdoes the Dennis Hopper weirdness in his role as a deranged survivor.
Still, I am very impressed with Soderbergh's courage to let so much go unsaid. His restraint giving us wide open spaces for thinking about what's going on. I am also impressed by Clooney's performance, which broadens his already impressive range. (This is the same guy who goofed his way through
Critics are bound to debate whether this is a meaningful film or the pretentious ravings of a snob.
Gerri Pare (Catholic News) says, "Initially intriguing, the mysterious premise gradually gives way to a sluggish pace and dreary tone that become oppressive. Clooney and McElhone do their best to convey emotional turmoil, but the vagueness of the dialogue and the chilly visuals eventually distance the viewer. However, some may find this somber meditation on grief, regrets and mind games to be a bracingly different addition to the sci-fi genre."
Mainstream critics go to even further extremes in their summations. Peter Travers (Rolling Stone) says, "
But Ed Gonzalez (Slant) calls it "a prolonged grief counseling session with a minimalist sci-fi backdrop.
Last week, Film Forum ran early discussion of Steven Soderbergh's
Simon Remark (Hollywood Jesus) is pleased with the result. "
J. Robert Parks (Phantom Tollbooth) sees pros and cons. "Soderbergh is a master craftsman, whose command of camera movement, lighting, and sound is brilliant. Having said that, though, this version still left me cold. Clooney doesn't quite have the depth to pull it off, and the film's conclusion is bizarre, New Age wish fulfillment. Like many adventurous science fiction films of the last two years (think
Dick Staub praises
Blaine Butcher (Preview) argues, "The story has positive themes of forgiveness, loyalty and personal responsibility, and some conversations about God, the metaphysical and the afterlife. These positives, however, are overshadowed by graphic images of sexual intercourse, some nudity, and bloody scenes."
Movieguide's critic says it's "a pointless movie with underdeveloped characters, plot and concept that touts a strong humanist message, removing God from existence and giving power to some unknown alien being."
Douglas Downs (Christian Spotlight) concludes, "
Bob Smithouser (Focus on the Family) says, "Soderbergh is an archer aimlessly firing philosophical arrows into the air in hopes that he'll hit something (which occasionally he does.) Without a target, this ambiguous intellectual exercise gets tedious. Many viewers will leave the theater more frustrated than fascinated."
Phil Boatwright says the film dwells on "the meaning of life and the existence of God. Unfortunately, it prefers to dwell on Clooney's naked bottom than giving much thoughtful merit to those questions." For Boatwright, two glimpses of Clooney's backside qualify as "a predominate visual that will remain the focus of discussion, bypassing the story's theme."
Hmmm. I've visited several online chats about the film, from Christian film critics and mainstream moviegoers. I've found no civil unrest about buttocks, only healthy discussion and debate over the film's thought-provoking conclusion and how this
For an excellent, detailed comparison of the two film versions, read Doug Cummings's review. "If the former film is about dealing with one's past in the form of unresolved guilt, emphasizing emotional work and renewal, the new film is about returning to the past to the point of complete immersion," he writes. "Viewers would scoff if a film presented a doctor who regularly smoked or ate spoiled food, but movies regularly depict psychologists making the worst emotional choices conceivable. Given the film's sultry visuals and sappy twist ending(s), self-destruction has never looked so sexy."
Mainstream critics are still at odds as well, but Jonathan Rosenbaum (Chicago Reader) speaks on all three versions. "The problem is, whichever version of
And Owen Gleiberman (Entertainment Weekly) says, "The movie wants to be a poetic evocation of Loss, but since the relationship, as shown, remains naggingly sketchy and abstract, it's hard to work up much feeling over its demise, or its restoration. Soderbergh, in essence, has come up with a plodding and far less psychologically arresting version of
Adam Palmer (Relevant Magazine) says, "