Solaris (1972) and Queer Science

I watched Tarkovsky’s film adaptation of Stanislaw Lem’s 1961 novel, Solaris, today and I think it warrants a blog-post. The film follows Kris, aptly given the surname Kelvin, who is a scientist of Solaris, a peculiar electro-magnetic ocean on a foreign planet. The project lasts for years with a space ship and scientists commissioned to orbit Solaris in order to better understand its properties. After the government decides to end the project, Kris sets off on a mission to Solaris. He finds that of the 3 scientists left–Snout, Gabarian, and Sartorious–one has committed suicide (Gabarian) and the surviving two seem to have gone mad. Kris soon discovers that Solaris acts as a sort of brain, capable of syncing itself with one’s neurons, and producing memories into physical, embodied form out of neutrinos. The neutrinos are self-generating and cannot be destroyed as long as the individual remains on the planet. Kris begins seeing the neurtrino version of Hari, his ex-wife who killed herself by using his injections in the lab. Kelvin falls in love with the neutrino, spending every waking minute with her. Sartorious in particular finds Kelvin’s attachment to the neutrino object foolish and wants to experiment on her like he has with his own neutrino apparitions. But Kris refuses, claiming Hari is his wife. At the beginning, Hari’s identity is completely tied to Kelvin’s given she is a manifestation of his memory. She screams and claws if he even leaves her room. As time progresses, Hari becomes more “human” and develops an existence outside of Hari’s. By the end, unbeknownst to Kevlin, Hari agrees with Sartorious and Scout to bombard the ocean with magnetic rays to kill the neutrinos and stop the apparitions for Kelvin’s sake. She understands he would never leave the ship out of love for her. When Kelvin discovers what has happened he still refuses to leave. He is informed that the apparitions have stopped but the ocean seems to be forming islands. Snout believes the island is finally listening to them. In the very last scene of the film, Kelvin seems to be back at his family home. He sees his father in the house and rain is eerily pouring from within the house as it remains dry outside. The camera then pans up and away to reveal that the island is on Solaris. There are many ways to interpret this. I argue that Kelvin’s love of his neutrino is precisely the kind of relationship the Solaris requires. Snout and Sartorious choose to remain detached from their object of study, refusing to develop an attachment to the neutrino. But the secret to Solaris is choosing to exist within its parameters. Snout and Sartorious believe their science can destroy Solaris, but in doing so they begin building Kelvin’s memories onto this very island. In doing so, Kelvin then has the opportunity to develop connections with these “copies” or “reproductions,” which we have already learned he has rejected as a way of being. The film then offers an interesting take on “queer” or non-normative science.  For Snout and Sartorious, “bad science” is one that creates an amorous network between scientist and object of study, thereby eliminating objectivity, which is precisely how “good science” operates; “bad science” is the love story. In a certain way, Solaris itself is bad science-fiction, more occupied with love, feelings, and crises of emotion than aliens, robots, and technological warfare.


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