Solaris

dir. Soderbergh

Opens Fri Nov 29

Various Theaters

Movies that grip you emotionally are the hardest ones to discuss rationally. Few things are more frustrating than telling someone about an experience that pierced you to the core, and then seeing their attempt to relive it with glazed, confused, or angry eyes. All of which is a feeble preamble to saying that I think Steven Soderbergh's Solaris is a brilliant film, the best I've seen all year, and that I'm not positive that I should recommend it.

The basic story remains unchanged from Stanislaw Lem's novel and Andrei Tarkovsky's uber-lengthy 1972 adaptation: a haunted psychologist (George Clooney) is sent to a remote space station to investigate the sudden collapse of its skeleton crew. The planet being orbited (Solaris) is alive, it seems, and may not like being watched. What's more, Solaris has discovered a very real way to communicate its feelings--by evoking people's pasts. Plot-wise, nothing much happens beyond that. And yet, just beneath the surface, everything does.

Things that can be praised without reservation include the dazzling production design, Cliff Martinez's percussion-rich score, and the luminous Natascha McElhone as Clooney's semi-estranged wife. Less tangible, but equally undeniable is the director's skill at illuminating the many ways regret stains memory (similar to what he accomplished with The Limey, but far less reliant here on showy Mixmaster editing). Any other enjoyment or significance may depend upon your personal feelings about love and loss, and how well they synch up with the filmmaker's.

The nearest correlation to this film's polarizing potential may be The Thin Red Line, which had some enraptured viewers trying to crawl inside the screen, while the majority left scorch marks fleeing the multiplex. Likewise, many will justifiably find Solaris a heady experience akin to 90 minutes of watching paint dry. Others will see that paint forming something close to a masterpiece. Your mileage will vary.