My decision to make a screen adaptation of Stanisław Lem’s Solaris was not a result of my interest in science fiction. The essential reason was that in Solaris Lem undertook a moral problem I can closely relate to. The deeper meaning of Lem’s novel does not fit within the confines of science fiction. To discuss only the literary form is to limit the problem. This is a novel not only about the clash between human reason and the Unknown but also about moral conflicts set in motion by new scientific discoveries. It’s about new morality arising as a result of those painful experiences we call “the price of progress.” For Kelvin that price means having to face directly his own pangs of conscience in a material form. Kelvin does not change the principles of his conduct, he remains himself, which is the source of a tragic dilemma in him.
Why is it that in all the science fiction films I’ve seen the authors force the viewer to watch the material details of the future? Why do they call their films — as Stanley Kubrick did — prophetic? Not to mention that to specialists 2001 is in many instances a bluff and there is no place for that in a work of art. I’d like to film Solaris in such a way as to avoid inducing in the viewer a feeling of anything exotic. Technologically exotic that is. For example: if we filmed passengers getting on a tram and we knew nothing about trams — let’s assume — because we had never seen them before, then we’d obtain the effect similar to what Kubrick did in the scene of the spaceship landing on the Moon. If we film the same landing the way we would normally film a tram stop, everything will fall in its rightful place. Thus we need to put the characters in real, not exotic, scenery because it is only through the perception of the former by the characters in the film that it will become comprehensible to the viewer. That’s why detailed expositions of technological processes of the future destroy the emotional foundation of film.
Interview Dialog s Andreiem Tarkovskim o nauchnoi fantastikie na ekrane with Nikolai Abramov in Ekran 1970-1971, Moscow 1971, pp. 162-165 [anonymous Pol. trans.]
I think the point is that humanity at each stage of its, let’s call it “technological,” development must fight against a kind of spiritual entropy, dispersion of moral values. On the one hand it tries to liberate itself from all morality, on the other — it tries to create one. This dilemma becomes the source, both in individual lives and in the life of society in general, of unusually dramatically charged situations. This dramatic liberation and at the same time the search for the spiritual ideal will last until humanity achieves a stage of development where it will be able to dedicate itself solely to moral problems. A stage at which man will attain absolute external freedom, let’s call it social freedom, where he won’t have to worry about his daily bread anymore, about a roof over his head, about securing his children’s future; where he will be able to go deep inside himself with the same energy he previously devoted to external freedom. For me what happened on the space station between Harey and Kelvin is simply a question of man’s relation toward his own conscience.
Film cannot follow a book slavishly. To follow in Lem’s footsteps would be performing a disservice to the author and to the book. I attempted to put on screen my own reader’s version of Solaris. In order to remain faithful to the author I had to deviate from the novel now and then in search of visual equivalents for certain themes. I needed the Earth for contrast although not only for that… I wished to make the Earth an equivalent of something beautiful in viewer’s mind. A subject of one’s longing. So that after he plunges into the mysterious fantastic atmosphere of Solaris, when he suddenly glimpses the Earth he again feels normal, at home. So that he begins to feel longing for this ordinariness. In other words, he feels the beneficial influence of nostalgia. After all, Kelvin decides to stay on Solaris to conduct experiments — he considers it his duty as a human being. Thus I needed the Earth in order for the viewer to realise even more fully, sharply, the whole dramatic significance of his decision, this surrender of returning to the planet which was and is our primal home.
Interview Ziemska moralność w kosmosie, czyli “Solaris” na ekranie with Zbigniew Podgórzec in Tygodnik Powszechny 1972 (42), p. 3
I saw Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 recently. The film has made on me an impression of something artificial, it was as if I have found myself in a museum where they demonstrate the newest technological achievements. Kubrick is intoxicated with all this and he forgets about man, about his moral problems. And without that true art cannot exist.
believe in maximal directness in film narration. And in this film as well I’m employing the simplest means without any gimmicks. I’m avoiding what is nowadays fashionably referred to as “spectacular”. Although, I admit, the film will be in colour. Until recently I’ve been adamantly opposed to the use of colour but what can one do, today it’s impossible to avoid it and I am trying to put this invention to the best use somehow, to make it fit within the boundaries of realism. Realism in a science fiction film? Yes, I think this is possible. We are striving to make this imagined world as concrete as possible, especially in its purely external manifestations. Reality shown in Solaris must be materially tangible, almost graspable. We are achieving it through the textures of the decorations, through Vadim Yusov’s cinematic style.
In our film there are also scenes taking place on Earth which are not in the book as we know. I need the Earth for contrast but that’s not all. I would like the viewer to become aware of the beauty of our planet so that — having been immersed in an atmosphere of matters inscrutable and mysterious — with even more eagerness he would come back home to Earth, would freely and joyfully breathe its ordinariness. I would like for him to understand the bitterness of homesickness. After all Kris decides to stay on Solaris because this is what is demanded by his calling as a scientist, by the debt he owes to those who entrusted him with the project’s supervision. In this situation the images of Earth should act as catalysts of viewers’ psychological reactions making them see the full implications of Kris’ decision more clearly.
Andrei Tarkovsky, Zachem proshloe vstrechaetsa s budushchim?, Iskusstvo Kino 1971 (11), pp. 96–101 [anonymous Pol. trans.]
I don’t like science fiction, or rather the genre SF is based on. All those games with technology, various futurological tricks and inventions which are always somehow artificial. But I’m interested in problems I can extract from fantasy. Man and his problems, his world, his anxieties. Ordinary life is also full of the fantastic. Life itself is a fantastic phenomenon. Fyodor Dostoievsky knew it well. That’s why I want to focus on life itself — everyday, ordinary. Because within it anything can happen. My Solaris is not after all true science fiction. Neither is its literary predecessor. What counts here is man, his personality, his very persistent bonds with planet Earth, responsibility for the times he lives in. I don’t like your typical science fiction, I don’t understand it, I don’t belive in it. The fact is when I was working on Solaris I was concerned with the same subject as in Rublov. Human being. These two films are only separated by the time the action is taking place.
Interview Andrzej Tarkowski — spotkanie z rezyserem with Wiesława Czapinska in Ekran 1980 (1), pp. 18-19
Solaris turned out the least successful of my films beacuse I was unable to avoid elements of science fiction. Stanisław Lem read the screenplay, found in it my attempt to elliminate the science fiction factor and was distressed by it. He threatened to withdraw his permission for screen adaptation. We prepared a new screenplay from which we could quietly deviate during filming as I intended to do. But this intent was never fully realised.
Ian Christie, Mark Le Fanu, Tarkovski à Londres, Positif Dec. 1981 (249), pp. 24-28 [Pol. trans. Zygmunt Kwiatkowski]
I have fundamental reservations to this adaptation. First of all I would have liked to see the planet Solaris which the director unfortunately denied me as the film was to be a cinematically subdued work. And secondly — as I told Tarkovsky during one of our quarrels — he didn’t make Solaris at all, he made Crime and Punishment. What we get in the film is only how this abominable Kelvin has driven poor Harey to suicide and then he has pangs of conscience which are amplified by her appearance; a strange and incomprehensible appearance. This phenomenalistics [sic] of Harey’s subsequent appearances was for me an exemplification of certain concept which can be derived almost from Kant himself. Because there exists the Ding an sich, the Unreachable, the Thing-in-Itself, the Other Side which cannot be penetrated. But in my prose this was made apparent and orchestrated completely differently… I have to make it clear, however, that I haven’t seen the whole film except for 20 minutes of the second part although I know the screenplay very well because Russians have a custom of making an extra copy for the author.
And what was just totally awful, Tarkovsky introduced Kelvin’s parents into the film, and even some Auntie of his. But above all the mother — because mother is mat’, and mat’ is Rossiya, Rodina, Zemlya. [Russia, Motherland, Earth] This has made me already quite mad. At this moment we were like two horses pulling the carriage in opposite directions. Incidentally, the same thing later happened to the Strugatskys when Tarkovsky made Stalker based on The Roadside Picnic and dished up the sort of stew nobody understands but the stew is duly sad and gloomy instead. Tarkovsky reminds me of a sergeant from the time of Turgenev — he is very pleasant and extremely prepossessing and at the same time visionary and elusive. One cannot “catch” him anywhere because he is always at a slightly different place already. This is simply the type of person he is. When I understood that I stopped bothering. This director cannot be reshaped anymore, and first of all one cannot convince him of anything as he is going to recast everything in his “own way” no matter what.
The whole sphere of cognitive and epistemological considerations was extremely important in my book and it was tightly coupled to the solaristic literature and to the essence of solaristics as such. Unfortunately, the film has been robbed of those qualities rather thoroughly. Only in small bits and through the tracking camera shots we discover the fates of those present at the station but these fates should not be any existential anecdote either but a grand question concerning man’s position in Cosmos, etc.
My Kelvin decides to stay on the planet without any hope whatsoever while Tarkovsky created an image where some kind of an island appears, and on that island a hut. And when I hear about the hut and the island I’m beside myself with irritation… This is just some emotional sauce into which Tarkovsky has submerged his heroes, not to mention that he has completely amputated the scientific landscape and in its place introduced so much of the weirdness I cannot stand.
Stanisław Bereś, Rozmowy ze Stanisławem Lemem, Wydawnictwo Literackie, Cracow 1987,