Andrey Tarkovsky was harassed by Soviet critics but praised by the proletariat. I think his written remarks about masterpieces of art being immune to association or else prone to infinite association, which is the same thing, was an evasive action taken by a misunderstood genius trying to be bullet proof. Who can blame him?
It’s not that I disagree with his enlightened presumption, but I’m pretty sure that analyzing its components in order to discover layers of meaning in art is as natural for audiences as our search for meaning. No masterpiece can elude our need to break it into digestible units. To discourage us from analyzing complex works of art, when the human brain is conditioned to do it, is ludicrous. Great movies are displayed on the high altar of a movie screen, after all, like some blessed sacrament. Absorb as much of their greatness as possible; digest, assimilate, amen!
Surely Tarkovsky is warning us to not get carried away with the sound of our own digestion. Regarding analysis of jazz, Duke Ellington was quoted as having said, “too much of that kind of talk stinks up the place.” In other words, let the art speak for itself. If words could say everything, then we would need nothing else.
Why then, do I analyze films? Not to make definitive pronouncements on their merits. In discussing anybody else’s work, I try to limit myself to specifics that might provoke a common response or well-meaning debate. I don’t write to be quoted, but simply hope that someone reading this might discover the movie for themselves. If they’ve already discovered it, perhaps I will provide them an excuse to look again.
Tarkovsky’s suggestion that infinite associations can be provoked by a single masterpiece, is not entirely relevant, in my opinion, since the likelihood of most humans making identical associations is much greater than us making unique ones. Art reaches us through our imagination and through our senses. Our senses are all going to have a common reaction to certain stimuli. That’s one thing great art understands. It seems to me an artist depends on the fact that essential associations eventually will carve predictable lines through common precincts in our brains.
Getting back to Tarkovsky’s second film, as Act III of “Andre Rublev” unfolds, the narrative line shifts radically and our attention switches from the floundering faith of a monk/painter Rublev to the budding prodigy of an orphaned son of a bell maker Boriska. Rublev shifts to a supporting role, however we are still viewing the action through his eyes, so Tarkovsky really isn’t hanging the narrative out to dry.
How important is it for the audience to experience Boriska’s initiation from Rublev’s point of view? Critical. Rublev, the conflicted monk/artist, gets his religious faith and creative inspiration super-charged by witnessing the unknown craftsman take a quantum leap.
The ringing the enormous bell at the finale becomes an audio/visual talisman to forever remind us a truly great artist works in service to the people. A truly great artist’s and any truly holy mystic’s responsibility are one in the same. Both are pioneers, confronting the fact that whatever any of us does ripples through the culture with consequences.
What worker in the realms of imagination would not relate to their process as a fire burning off superfluous matter; getting out of the way and becoming a conduit for a greater power? Rublev receives a summons from the prince but procrastinates and waits for the juice to come down from God–the artist’s conscience, in other words–he is rewarded with the privilege of witnessing someone else step into their genius. this, in fact, melts the last of Rublev’s resistance. Observing the good vibe that Boriska’s sacrifice generates, Andrei rededicates himself and his talents to a life of service.
In the aftermath of the fiery rite of passage, mud takes the place of blood and coats the crowning shot’s pieta-like design. Borisky remains mired in regret, even though he has greatly succeeded. He gambled with his talent and won, but can scarcely comprehend such luck.
He’d have been beheaded if he’d failed. Instead his bell sends good vibrations out over the land. The royals ride off to party. Common folk take the day off as well, but pitiful Boriski weeps and wails for what he thinks he lacks. Mirrors in Tarkovsky’s movies come in many guises. Rublev looks down at this one, realizes Boriska is his reflection and lifts him out of the mud.
Tarkovsky did his best over the expanse of his short career to call out the best in his fellow artists. He was blessed with some consummate craftsmen with which to collaborate, capturing all the intricately designed and timely processes of his magnum opus. Nevertheless, political censorship bogged down this film after its premiere, dishonoring its great director as well as the top-notch crew that made it. While the Soviet’s government sealed the country’s fate as a failed state, their artists bequeathed us some of the greatest works ever made.
Next month “a summersault into the unknown” beginning with “Nostalghia” (1983)
If I had seen Tarkovsky’s sixth film, “Nostalghia,” in the year 1986 when it was released, it probably would have infuriated me, but I was only twenty-six. It’s easier to comprehend after half a century’s worth of experience.
In Act I, the poet and his female interpreter arrive in a Tuscan village near a chapel with a miraculous fresco and some steamy, natural, healing baths. The couple stays dry and bickers over which one of them better understands the other’s culture. He tells her to throw away the book of translated poems she’s reading because “poetry, the whole of art in fact, is untranslatable.” This is Tarkovsky’s retort to the Soviet censors whose State he has fled in his quest for artistic freedom.
However, the conviction expressed by the poet in that little exchange of dialog flatly contradicts an opinion the director wrote in his book, “Sculpting with Time.” Tarkovsky proposed that the more successfully the artist’s views are hidden, the greater a work of art will be. Yet, here is a case where the main character blatantly expresses a view that the director lays claim to publicly.
So it appears he is contradicting himself, but perhaps there is an untranslatable view hidden within all of this. To help us get at it, I supply a quote from composer Paul Hindemith. I came across it decades ago in a very helpful book entitled, “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain,” by Betty Edwards. This quote evokes what Tarkovsky might be saying regarding what remains untranslatable.
“We all know the impression of a very heavy flash of lightening in the night.
Within second’s time we see a broad landscape, not only in its general outlines but with every detail. Although we could never describe each single component of the picture, we feel that not even the smallest leaf of grass escapes our attention. We experience a view, immensely comprehensible and at the same time immensely detailed, that we never could have under normal daylight conditions, and perhaps not during the night either, if our senses and nerves were not strained by the extraordinary suddenness of the event…”
The quote goes on to say that a bona fide master is capable of holding such an impression in his imagination and construct it with his chosen medium, remaining engaged in the task unto the very last detail. Tarkovsky worked that way.
Returning to our current film, no matter how beguilingly she offers it, the Botticelli-like beauty of the Italian translator fails to seduce the enigmatic Russian poet. Why has he brought such a desirable woman along and then arranged for separate rooms? This seems not quite right. He could have hired a friar for less. We won’t be attempting to answer that question here, although I invite you to.
It is clearly not what she had in mind when the poet retires to his quarters. He peruses the room, alone. The windows, walls, and furnishings are like living lines in a poem. Shift to black and white; a dark-haired woman beams at him in some recurring dream or vivid reverie. An adolescent girl gambols barefoot with her German shepherd dog on the edge of a pond.
When he snaps back to the present the light spectrum expands with him, but what’s the difference? Light is scarce. Colors are subdued. He pokes his head out a window. It’s raining, he closes the blinds. He turns on a wall switch then turns it off. He crosses in front of a whitewashed wall, past an iron bed. He pauses, framed in the dark doorjamb of a lighted bathroom, then goes in. On the wall hangs a mirror over a sink. The poet practically brushes it with his cheek as he bends for a drink, but never glances at himself. In the third act, he takes a rather long look in a mirror, making this one echo even more mysteriously, in retrospect, lit such as it is so deliberately, almost like the ring of Saturn.
At this time, the cinematic master begins riffing variations on a familiar pattern. He makes chords with objects and their resonances. For example the next visual harmony in the key of H2O is impressive. It involves rain that’s been shut outside, a stream that flows freely from a faucet and a bottle of aqua mineral standing still on the dresser.
Before we leave the bathroom, notice this dark sliver along the left limb of that disk-shaped mirror. Tarkovsky’s lens insinuates all possible depths. He does so by concealing the camera in a shot and then pointing it at you. What that black slit reflects, to the poets left, is a cleft where the audience sits. Go ahead, stare back at yourself with us, behind the man’s back. We share a magic wall with him and his double. You’re hiding inside there too, along with the camera and the director.
In shots we have already analyzed, from both “Mirror,” “Ivan’s Childhood” and “The Sacrifice,” it is evident that Tarkovsky loves to crowd three dimensions with illusion of more. Here in “Nostalghia,” he imbues the mirror with a total of ten.
Now there’s something for the imagination to stretch out in.
He is riffing comfortably on this water triplet, we’ve already described. Then he inserts this little variation for mirror and lens that opens like an accordion, but with a cinematic instrument, not music. If two mirrors opposed each another here it would demonstrate what is known as the Droste Effect.
Exchange one of those mirrors for a lens and hide it inside the other. Now we are not confined to look from one end to the next through a score of dead reflections, but can penetrate the image with our mind while each layer of the telescoping reflection penetrates in a backwards direction, through our perceptions, one after the other. We are introduced, through the vivid suggestion of this superficial edifice, to the intricate pleats of a hand-made, ingeniously embedded, pre-digital hologram.
The room you occupy at present happens to be connected to this bathroom on a movie set where the actor stood in a bygone time and place. Thanks to the filmmaker’s device we can locate ourselves peering out from behind that blind, decades later in a completely different physical space. You think I’m making this up? For more on this preoccupation, listen to postman Otto spin his yarn about a widow and her unfortunate son at RT 38:10:00 in Act I of “The Sacrifice” (1986 – Criterion 2011 Ed.).
Now let the rest of us proceed to RT 21:48:00 in “Nostanghia” (1983 – Kino Lorber 2014 Ed.) Help me decipher the number of dimensional thresholds through which we are looking. Glance backward, for a moment, through the camera, hiding in that dim sliver, is if your eyes were the lens. Behind it is some film in a compartment where the impression is fixed. Now see if your imagination will let you climb onto that image and travel with it wherever it goes. For no longer than it takes to fall in and out of a daydream there are nine coils packed in this jack in the box, hung vertically on the screen for your senses to expand through. You think I’m full of it? I don’t blame you. Let’s have a closer look.
In the center of this multidimensional point of view, a poet’s image subdivides. Right behind his back, in the same frame, find yourself looking both outward and inward. Through the clever, cinematic, domain-shifting telescope, witness how it simultaneously projects into dimensional recesses on screen and bounces backward through your irises and off the back wall of your brain.
Three distinct thresholds, on either side of the glass, delineate four dimensions; each counts as one volume and its twin for a total of ten domains stacked, unpacked, rewound, played and multiplied again and again, every time this clip is selected.
When I first saw this, I turned the movie off and went to bed pondering the rare perspective. Behind those indelible thirty-three seconds of film time Tarkovsky’s secret is protected.
Let us proceed to the end of the scene which we highlighted in the last post and we’ll leave the rest of this masterpiece for your own inquisitive appetites to feast. If we were to describe the action in the preceding shot, the poet gets a drink of water and simply acts inside the nucleus of this elegant ten-dimensional telescope as if it wasn’t there. He aims his mouth upside down under the faucet, never once glancing at himself, foregoing the mirror, foregoing even the drinking cup for a direct sip. As he wipes his mouth and turns, exits toward us, the mirror serves as a halo and the doorframe are like the edges of an icon as formal; lovingly composed as anyone of those introduced at the end of “Andre Rublev.”
The poet comes back out of the bathroom and transfers a heart pill from a tin into his mouth, then stomach; inviting our awareness to pass from one dimension into another as easy as the passage of that pill. The poet advances to the dresser with a mirror that reflects the open window across the room. The geometric shapes from the previous shot of the bathroom are all re-represented here in reverse as if, in some type of omni-dimensional reflection inversions of all kinds can spring out in all directions. There is a rectangular mirror framing his head instead of a doorway and a spherical lamp approximately where the round mirror was in the shot before. He picks up a Holy Bible that is lying there and flips through it enticing us to escape to and from different realities with the filmmaker as easily as vanishing into a good book. The poet then looks over his shoulder and right in to the camera, for an instant, inviting us to merge with the character as easily as can happen when any two sets of eyes meet squarely.
A coin can be heard falling and rolling on the floor and fluttering to a stop with no apparent explanation other than beckoning our imaginations to slip between the threshold of curiosity as effortlessly as a coin slips through a slot. He walks away and leaves the book open on the dresser. Inside the front cover is a black hand comb with a hank of white hair wrapped around it.
The poet opens the door to the hallway. There stands the statuesque silhouette of the Italian interpreter. She leans back into the strong side-light in the hall facing him like Venus on the half-shell. Probably, she was responsible for the coin. What a bewitching way to capture the Poet’s attention behind his door. His book of poems she has calculatingly clutched to her breast, with which she next begins subtly whacking herself between the legs. Such an exquisitely encoded erotic gesture I have rarely seen.
It sure seems like it would be a nice time for a poet to make love to the beautiful and intelligent admirer with some of the passion she’s just finished devouring in the pages of his poetry. He takes the book from her, shuts the door again and throws it across the room. It lands in the corner. What is wrong with this guy? I think I know. I can’t answer for his love life, but what’s a piece of art to an artist after it’s made? A former mistress.
Left alone outside his room, she turns away, plants herself on all fours, sets her elegant frame in the starting position of a track racer, then she takes off fast-as-she-can through a threshold in the hallway beneath the staircase. High heels immediately loose their grip, she slips and collapses on fresh-waxed tiles like a baby bird trying out new wings. It’s such a beautifully quixotic scene. In any other film, we’d laugh, but it’s not presented as a pratfall. She picks herself up and bounds up the stairs laughing all the way as if nothing could make her happier than to be leaving the poet in his gloom.
Back inside his room, the Italian interpreter’s infatuation makes his dream all the more distant and irretrievable. He is simply in love with someone or else an idea of someone and someplace that perhaps represented home. He walks over to the window. The rain starts to get on my nerves. It’s sound is sharp and trebly, as if bits of glass or shards of broken china were being slowly raked and it positively saturates, dribbling on, relentlessly. He turns off the bedside light, opens the blinds. He sits on the edge of the bed in deep shade. He falls asleep sitting up but catches himself before he falls to the floor. He sits back up but swoons again, almost immediately, surrendering head first to gravity. He stops himself again in the nick of time.
This character might be said to have a female double in the part of Maria in Tarkovsky’s third film “Mirror,” the movie I started this series off with several months ago. Both characters seem lost in an obsession with the past.
The poet lies down on the bed. He could be crying. I feel like crying for him at this moment and just when the camera seems to have overstayed its welcome, in-through the bathroom door slips a German shepherd dog, just like the one in his dream. It encircles the bed and settles on the floor at the poet’s side. The poet reaches down and puts his hand on it.
Set aside, for the time being, the novelty of the dog’s appearance, practically out of thin air and appreciate with me the consequence of all the slow camera movements that precede it, all those dominant shadows, the poet inside them fluctuating between water and mirror, drifting between depression and sleep. We’ve been waiting for something to change and not much has.
Tarkovsky keeps it interesting but time has slowed down so much that we’re on the brink of snapping out of it. After he finally lays down, I expect a cut to the next scene, any second now, or else my thoughts will start to wander toward what I’m going to do after the movie, or perhaps those thoughts have already taken over for some of us in the audience when that magical dog steps through the bathroom door.
By the way, the animal comes from the room with the round mirror where the previous transcendent moment took place. This sleek, healthy, dog strides in and traverses the room. As if it knew just what to do, it then spirals into a prone position on the floor beside, where the poet lies. This bit of business suddenly puts us back to what we were waiting for all along and it rewards us for the extra time it took. This could be an example what Tarkovsky means when he talks about sculpting in time. In a sense, we travel to the future and back again in the last sequence of this scene.
In previous posts I have speculated about how difficult it must have been for filmmakers like Shepitko and Tarkovsky to make such outstanding films within the Soviet system. In his film, “Solaris,” which is the next one in our series, Tarkovsky simply vaulted right over their pointy little heads, eventually ascending to a sort of king of kings on the international scene. I’d venture to guess that, with successive films, he is not only proving his theories about sculpting time but also delivering what amounts to scathing rebuttal to the Soviet censors. The psychologist, Kris Kelvin stands in for all of them. He has the power to shut it all down. In Tarkovsky’s third film, Kelvin falls under the spell of the sublime even more than everyone else.
I should clarify here that it doesn’t seem as though Tarkovsky was much influenced by his critics. His retorts were formal, not personal. They changed nothing of the way he experimented and searched. His films are sincere acts of faith, self-sacrifice even. There’s nothing petty about them. He’s not messing with anybody’s head but his own.
In the opening shot a bright leaf floats through the frame on a current of crystal clear water. Note the sinuating moss carpet on the river floor. We’ve have seen the entire film right there. As soon as we become detached, the death process begins. We simply cannot exist apart from Earth. The leaf becomes the car floating through tunnels of earth, a space station floating over the ocean of a far off planet, space lovers experiencing weightlessness in its orbit, or those fleeting visitations from the past that manifest his deceased wife to spaceman Kelvin once he enters the orbit of Solaris.
Incidentally, it would seem to me a worthy expedition to explore how closely the ocean of Solaris resembles the motion picture screen. Equally fascinating is how, by causing Kelvin to have a love affair with a mental projection from his past, Tarkovsky lays bare his critics’ utter incapacity to get their heads out of their own asses.
These threads and more are woven into act one, but according to Tarkovsky’s theory of sculpting time, the feature of most importance dominates the first shot of the film, but it is also brilliantly articulated and intentionally enhanced by the one that follows. See if you can find the tiny bright leaf floating at top center of shot two. Water flows at the same speed the camera pans across the river’s face, so that we merge with its languid pace. One shot is static; relying on subject for motion, leaving us detached observers. The second one connects us with the velocity of the subject and absorbs us. We are of the Earth, synced up and attuned to Nature.
Tarkovsky invites us to peruse, closely, his cinematic proofs on the essence of nature, reality and perception. Watch a genius use a leaf, a horse, a child, some enraptured scientists, their spaceship and an enigmatic planet to float home his point. In an early episode, disgraced space-jock Burton will recount from memory the details of a past encounter with alien life on Solaris. After words, he will part ways with an old colleague and float downstream on heavily trafficked freeways, hurtling through tunnels with his brow in a furrow. The future in the form of a little boy drowses on his shoulder.
In his film, the tribulation that the filmmaker inflicts on his character Burton reflects the ordeal Tarkovsky was subjected to by Soviet snobs. The same types of minds that eventually drove her greatest artists away from the motherland, ground spaceman Burton in the first act of “Solaris”. This bit calls out the critics of “Andre Rublev.” They meddled with his first masterpiece even though it won the FIPRESCI prize at Cannes. Can you imagine how he felt making Solaris? The authorities shelved Rublev for nearly half a decade while they continuously tampered with the cut. No wonder, in his final film, “The Sacrifice,” Tarkovsky burns down a critics house.
Coming soon! Tarkovsky achieves the most poignant post-apocalyptic scenario ever put on screen in his fifth feature, “Stalker” (1977). We’re near the end of a yearlong examination of one man’s intentions to define and defend the sacred.
Tarkovsky may have known that “The Sacrifice” would be his last film, but it would be trite to say that he was putting himself up on screen as its tragic hero. Certainly the filmmaker would not deny a common bond with that man. Both are confronting the hour of their death.
I think what the filmmaker was revealing about his own personal drama, coping with terminal illness, was that he felt like the wrong side was dying. Their reputations were made off of his. His critics were a cancer, not him. They claimed his work as justification for their own and were forever trying to rebuild his art in their image.
But in Tarkovsky’s universe there surely should be some sort of natural law to spare the poet before the critic. At the same time, I can understand where any dying man might entertain the hope, wish, fantasy, whatever you call it, that a sacrifice of sufficient magnitude should bring about salvation for his loved ones. Here, I believe, is the common coordinate point where Alexander the main character of “The Sacrifice” and Andre, the director’s, predicaments overlap.
“The Sacrifice” it’s about WWIII and the hero is an aging intellectual, not some hunky, wisecracking superstar in a carnival costume. Even more interesting, this one’s a film critic. In the last act, the critic barters his reputation and all his material possessions away, to God, in exchange for the salvation of his loved ones. Then he sneaks off and sleeps with a witch. Next morning, we can’t possibly guess which desperate act did the trick, but something did. One senses it was a bit of both. In any case, in the end, his family is spared and Alexander has to fulfill his part of the bargain.
It appears as if Tarkovsky means to humble his critics, but in the end, a critic, saves the world? Consider how he did it. By giving up his reputation and all that it bought for him. Ironically, the message becomes that a critic’s highest achievement is to censor them self. The filmmaker sends this poor slob out into the world homeless, mute, stripped of reputation, literally escorted out of the picture by the men in white coats. With the great conflagration at the end of his movie, one could conclude Tarkovsky’s dying wish, at least as an artist, was to burn those critical voices out of existence.
The opening title cards of “The Sacrifice” play over a detail in a reproduction of an unfinished painting “Adoration of the Magi,” by Leonardo. Meanwhile, we listen to The “St. Mathew’s Passion” by Bach. As the titles conclude, the squeal of seagulls fades up. Eventually it will become evident that we are in an upstairs room in Alexander’s Swedish seaside sanctuary. For now, the camera cranes up on a lushly depicted tree in the painting, on a wall. The tree towers over the rest of the composition. The action cuts from that image of a tree, to an actual tree by the seashore, where seagull sounds make more sense.
Already, we are being invited to distinguish between a picture of a tree and an actual tree, Painter René Magritte did a similar thing with a pipe and caption in his “The Treachery of Images,” (1935).
After a few more frames, we will be supplied with the story of a tree to add to the equation, in order to thoroughly uproot any preconception that art is interchangeable with the things it presents. Besides a preview of the end of the world, we are being availed of an opportunity to challenge our preconceptions in a way that only cinema can supply.
It’s Alexander’s birthday and with the help of a very young boy whom everyone calls Little Man, an old man planting a barren tree by the sea. The little one is too young to comprehend a story the old one is telling. It’s about an elder monk that plants a barren trunk with his protégé. After much nurturing by his pupil, the monk’s tree eventually blossoms.
Alexander concludes his monk’s tale with a digression on how a method or a system can be applied to change virtually anything. No matter how insignificant an action is, if done consistently with focused intent, it will change the world. He proposes, one could simply rise up out of bed at precisely the same hour every morning, draw a glass of water from the sink, flush it down the toilet and that would tip the scales of change.
Smells positively Zen-like on the surface, but with a peculiar after scent. I’m almost certain it is a veiled insult, mocking censors who prefer their own idly formulated prejudices over an artist’s hard fought insights. Andre strikes back, making one of them admit how absurd their occupation really is. I didn’t fit these frames together until after I’d watched the film three or four times.
Tarkovsky endured the misunderstanding of men like Alexander throughout his career. Still he got up out of bed every morning, turned on his imagination and made one world-changing work of art after the other. Whatever his censors perpetrated against him, in his final film he flushes all their efforts down the drain.
Will we be forced to cut our losses with planet Earth altogether and bond completely with high technology in order to survive? That leaf drifting downstream in frame one of “Solaris” (1972) contains the entire conundrum. Tarkovsky continues to riff on the natural world’s virtues with his third film.
All his films contain poignant ruminations on war and apocalypse. In this one, the spacelab’s declared mission is to evaluate the planet Solaris for exploitable resources. As it turns out, the main character mines a treasure of human potential onboard the ship, even though it is exactly the opposite of his orders.
To bring a previous subject in this movie marathon forward, let us consider, briefly, that Hari represents the problem of conscience. Hari’s first close-up is extreme. We pull back slowly. She puts a hair comb up to her cheek, hinting that she is some artifact combed out of Kris’s past, but nothing could prepare Kris for the shattering his ego receives next. If Hari is conscience, then the planet Solaris is God, or else a much more highly evolved intelligence than our own. Whatever you call it, close contact with its ocean forces Earth’s finest psychologist’s unresolved issues to the surface.
Everyone take a breather before moving on. Go to the support materials on disk B of the Criterion release (2011) and watch the documentary interviews of Vadim Yusov who, more than anyone else, helped the director realize his vision. Then watch Natalya Bonderchuck, who played the role of Hari when she was barely eighteen and went on to act in over 40 roles, declare “Solaris is my favorite film.”
It’s the same sort of sentiment you’ll hear from Vadim Yusov, the man behind the lens that helped juggle the literal and abstract so visually in “Solaris.” If you get hooked on this stuff as I have, you will also find your way to the interview of the film’s composer Eduard Artemyev. Just about everyone in Tarkovsky’s crew talks as though they were of one mind with the director.
Madam Banderchuck goes on to recount a meeting of Tarkovsky’s closest admirers at a film fest in which all of Tarkovsky’s titles were shown over a few short days. “It was like watching a single film…all…about Andrei Tarkovsky.” “When it was over we didn’t want to leave,” she enthuses.
I didn’t personally know the man so, for me, his movies are about the ideas and implications embedded in his images. That is what we’ve been endeavoring to analyze.
Thanks to modern preservation and distribution, I too am able to watch all of Tarkovsky’s films in succession. We’ve been on a Tarkovsky pilgrimage for almost a year now and I don’t want to leave. If you enjoy returning to this same well often, as I do, you can own his entire output for something like $200 even if you’re paying retail.
In “Solaris,” a hotly hued leaf glides through the opening frame. It looks alive as it floats along propelled by the stream. Feast your eyes on that grass below, undulating and green. But, unlike what’s thriving underneath, the leaf is detached from its source, adrift; similar to the way Hari arrives on the scene, drawn back up to the surface by the misty, wet, heavenly abode of Solaris.
Kris is the man they sent up there to take charge of the mission, yet he is confronted with the unfinished business of his past. First, he tries to get rid of her, then he falls head over heels. Grief and denial are wed each time this space shrink’s deceased wife manifests. He wants to take her back to Earth with her, yet ignorance never quite adds up to bliss.
Hari comes to understand she’s just a facsimile but claims she’s gaining authenticity. What an exquisite performance she gives strutting between the two male doctors with that horned tribal mask frowning on the back wall in the background. Indeed, there is never a time she appears more like one of us but she’s merely a mask over Kelvin’s conscience, a disguised deity if you will, a Solaristic apparition, resuscitated in the present from living memory.
In Tarkovsky’s cinematic language, which he calls sculpting in time, we race to outer space like we we’re surrendering to the pull of greater forces, as the leaf does and partly also out of sheer exuberance, like the horse does. But we also do it out of fear, like the child sprinting away from the horse in the same sequence. Whatever the motivation for this race, you can’t elude your emotional baggage on earth or in outer space.
I have not read any other analysis of these film. I simply watch each one a few times, then record my impressions. However, I recently began reading “Sculpting in Time” (1986), Tarkovsky’s compelling journal about art and film making. In it he outlines many of his theories on how cinema has its own poetic language. It is an art form entirely distinct from music, painting or lit, despite the fact that almost every other filmmaker makes a crutch of it.
Tarkovsky’s writing reminds me of a book I read decades ago called “Architecture for the Poor,” by Hassan Fathy. Both men are authors of such deep humanity, I recommend them whether you are interested in their subjects or not.
Tarkovsky’s book confirmed many things. Most of the subjects, themes and ideas that I have discussed in these posts turn out to be addressed in his writings. Part of what has been so satisfying about diving into his art has been being able to make sense of the films after repeated watching and writing, when much of them seemed so impenetrable to me at first.