Steven Shaviro on Soderbergh's Solaris

[Steven Shaviro on Soderbergh's Solaris]

"Soderbergh's Solaris

Steven Soderberghĺ─˘s Solaris is an impressive film, if not a successful one. Soderbergh set himself a difficult task in making Solaris , since he was competing against two undoubted masterpieces: not only Stanislaw Lemĺ─˘s original novel , but also Andrei Tarkovskyĺ─˘s earlier film version . The power of Soderberghĺ─˘s version comes from its claustrophobic visual style: harsh, quite dark lighting, mostly shades of blue and black; minimal, oppressive interiors; isolation of faces or bodes in the frame; brooding pace, with lots of waiting between the lines of dialog, slow pans, and painfully juxtaposed montages of past and present; and overall an emotional coldness, which was probably the main reason the film did poorly at the box office, but which is perfectly articulated and precisely right, for this story of failed connections and impossible confrontations with incomprehensible otherness.

The film ultimately fails, however, on metaphysical grounds. Where Lemĺ─˘s novel was a meditation on the limits of knowledge and of human capacity, and where Tarkovskyĺ─˘s film (much to Lemĺ─˘s chagrin) was a spiritual meditation on loss and (heavily qualified) resurrection, Soderbergh ends up with a thoroughly unconvincing affirmation that love conquers all. The sense of otherness that is the main point (in different ways) of both Lemĺ─˘s and Tarkovskyĺ─˘s versions is evident in the early parts of Soderberghĺ─˘s films, but as the movie proceeds it drains away, without offering anything of similar weight in its place; the story is eventually diminished both intellectually and affectively. You might say that Soderbergh remains unimaginatively ĺ─˙humanistĺ─¨ where Lem and Tarkovsky both question the limits of humanism and the human (albeit from very different directions - Lem from an ironic socialist sensibility, and Tarkovsky from a deeply Christian one).

One thing, though: I donĺ─˘t want to be misunderstood here. Soderberghĺ─˘s relative failure is emphatically not because he would have substituted a crassly American Hollywood mentality for a refined, reflective European one. I think it is almost the reverse: Soderberghĺ─˘s failure of nerve, his inability to push the story beyond human limits, as it were, so that he falls back on humanist banality, is precisely the result of his determination to make a pure ĺ─˙art filmĺ─¨ rather than a crassly commercial one. I canĺ─˘t help thinking that, if he had been willing to be less tasteful and more sensationalistic, he might have arrived at a powerful pulp-fictional American interpretation of Solaris , rather than, in effect, falling back on the mere external form of European art cinema without its philosophical depth."

Steven Shaviro on Soderbergh's version of Solaris. Shaviro's blog is a fascinating trip through film and book reviews and political uptakes. The University of Washington English Professor is a cyberpunk cruising the halls of academe, one of few stark agitators in the dusty confines of the institution. He drove up to Vancouver in 2001 to speak at Refrains, delivering a stunning paper, "The Erotic Life Of Machines," on Chris Cunningham's music video for BjłĆrk's "All Is Full Of Love."

posted. Tue - August 26, 2003 @ 08:49 AM           |