Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A Capsule Movie Review - Solaris

by Bill Johnson

I enjoy writing capsule movie reviews that explore principles of storytelling. The first I'm posting here is a review of the movie Solaris. The goal of these capsule reviews isn't just to review the movie, but to set out what about a particular movie created either the mechanics that helped a movie transport its audience, or some of the causes of that failure to transport.

In general, any big-budget Hollywood film that fails to find and satisfy its intended audience will have flawed mechanics.

Other, more recent capsule reviews can be found on my website.

A Capsule Review of Solaris

posted 12/12/2002

This film has gotten some weak reviews that call the storytelling slow, and a few suggestions that Clooney wasn't right for the part. My take, the story has a basic flaw in its structure. The initial set up is fine. Clooney is a therapist who clearly is unable to process through his grief about something that happened to his wife. He accepts an assignment to investigate what's happening on a space station orbiting a planet named Solaris. When Clooney arrives, he finds blood, dead people, and two survivors. One of the survivors tells Clooney he'll understand what's happening as soon as he sleeps. When he does, his dead wife shows up.

So far, strong, interesting plot, and strong story question about what Clooney will do about the return of his dead wife. But a problem in structure derails the plot. Most of the middle section of the film is flashbacks about Clooney meeting and falling in love with his seriously disturbed wife in parallel with scenes on the ship with the replica of his wife. There's no real drama or narrative tension around Clooney meeting, dating, and falling in love with his future wife, so that aspect of the story drags. There are long, long shots of Clooney trying to decide what to do about the replica of his wife. These scenes also drag because of an overuse of close ups.

This story structure problem isn't something that Clooney as an actor can overcome. Another problem, this is a film that aims to be about ideas, but there are no serious ideas explored in Clooney's relationship with his wife, or the question of why a therapist would marry someone so emotionally disturbed (serious mood swings, depression, suicidal to the degree that she kills herself). All these scenes with Clooney and his wife look great, but they don't have a deeper point. This lack of a clear sub text pulls down the film.

The plot picks up speed when Clooney and one paranoid survivor who wants to destroy the replica of Clooney's wife must make a decision about what to do. Then it comes out at the end that what the story was about wasn't just Clooney getting a cosmic second chance with his wife, but his forgiving her for his role in her suicide. The film doesn't acknowledge the anger the dead wife felt toward him that she would punish him by killing herself, or that he would have to be seriously disturbed to want to be with her, then to stay with her, or to want to be with her again after the hell she's put him through. But none of that is apparent about his character. Clooney is asked to play a character who's moral and thoughtful when what's underneath that persona is not in the film. The film ends up having a glossy surface and not much underneath.

So, the fulfillment of the story is interesting, just not developed in a clear, powerful way. Because the ending doesn't fulfill what came before, the climax of the plot doesn't generate the power it might have.

The movie does explore some ideas about the nature of reality.

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To read some of my longer reviews of popular plays like Romeo and Juliet and 'night, Mother, check out my writing workbook, A Story is a Promise, available on Amazon Kindle. For more information abbout my plays, visit http://www.storyispromise.com/prenuptial.htm