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Film

Why Andrei Tarkovsky considered 'Solaris' to be an artistic failure

Andrei Tarkovsky has directed several acclaimed masterpieces, producing a filmography that is as flawless as it gets. The meticulous auteur directed only seven features during his lifetime but each of them have been recognised as world cinema classics by innumerable critics as well as future audiences who were deeply moved by Tarkovsky’s vision.

However, among all the works, the 1972 sci-fi masterpiece Solaris might be the most popular film Tarkovsky ever made. Ranging from Akira Kurosawa to Christopher Nolan, Solaris has influenced many other visionaries including Stanley Kubrick who named Solaris among his favourites even though Tarkovsky absolutely hated 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Interestingly, the reason why Tarkovsky disliked Kubrick’s magnum opus is very similar to the reasons behind his dismissal of Solaris as an artistic failure. Both 2001: A Space Odyssey and Solaris function within the genre frameworks of sci-fi and Tarkovsky did not like the genre trappings of science fiction at all.

“I don’t like fiction as I don’t like to escape life,” Tarkovsky declared in the documentary Voyage in Time which provided deeper insights into the mind of the artist. According to Tarkovsky, cinema should be an all-encompassing experience that captures the entire range of the human condition but sci-fi films often tend to move away from these subjects.

In the documentary, the revered auteur explained that he associated genre filmmaking with commercial cinema and he had an intense dislike for anything commercial. Talking about Solaris, Tarkovsky said: “For instance, I find the movie Solaris not so good because I could not escape from the genre, from the fictional details.”

While the original novel by Stanislaw Lem is a sci-fi gem, Tarkovsky was more interested in the human aspect of the story. He revealed: “Inner, hidden, human problems, moral problems, always engage me far more than any questions of technology.” Due to this difference in their artistic sensibilities, Lem denounced Tarkovsky’s Solaris as a sci-fi Crime and Punishment rather than a good adaptation of his own work.

Tarkovsky was frustrated with the artistic shortcomings of Solaris but he was very proud of what he achieved with his 1979 masterpiece Stalker. He said: “In Stalker, however, the movie that was made was based on a sci-fi story. I think I’ve managed to overcome this genre and to get rid of all the ‘sci-fi’ signs completely. This gives me a big pleasure.”

Watch the documentary below.