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Solaris & 2001

Solaris & 2001

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Published by Ryan Sammartino

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Published by: Ryan Sammartino on Jun 06, 2012
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Solaris: A Soviet Odyssey?Stanley Kubrick's
2001:A Space Odyssey
was released in 1968 to mixed critical reviews, but has since been reevaluated as a landmark piece of science fiction and cinema in general.Andrei Tarkovsky's
Solaris
was released four years later and has been frequently compared toKubrick's work, often described as a Soviet “response” to its American/British predecessor.While some may dismiss the relationship between the two films as a result of a tendency tocompare Soviet and American works produced within a similar time frame, there are manyimportant parallels worth discussing. Specifically,
2001: A Space Odyssey
and
Solaris
offer slightly different but fascinating views on epistemology and a relatively consistent depiction of “unnatural” life.Knowing is an incredibly important function in
Solaris
. On the most superficial level,one must only glance at the script to see that the Russian equivalent of the word “know” is usedcountless times. Obviously a simple word count is an overly reductive way of analyzing such acomplex theme, but a viewing of the film reveals that it manifests itself in a variety of ways.Epistemology is first acknowledged as significant to
Solaris
during the old footage of Burton'stestimony when a professor comments that the work on the remote planet is “probing the verynature of human knowledge.” The professor's counterpart is dismissive of this idea, and insteadinsists that the research be terminated. From this point forward, the film works very hard toestablish man's fear of that which he does not understood, and his the limited and primitivenature of his attempts to gain understanding.Burton is the first man to publicly acknowledge the mysterious of Solaris. However,rather than being met with excitement and open mindedness, he reveals that his testimony istypically met with ridicule and skepticism. Such a reaction could very easily be a defensive
 
response in order to cope with fear. In fact, the fear of the unknown becomes increasingly prominent as the film progresses. Once Kris is aboard the space station, he is confronted withthe unknown and reacts predictably. He sees a tangible manifestation of his deceased wife, Hari, breaks out in a cold sweat, and hurriedly launches her away from the base in a rocket. What is perhaps most fascinating about the encounter is that Kris risks severe bodily harm to witness therocket blast off. He knows that staying in the launch area will burn him, but his desire to see thenew Hari depart outweighs his aversion to pain. The discomfort of burns, in his mind, is lesssignificant than the comfort in knowing he has eliminated the enigma that so troubled him.Kris and the academics who witnessed Burton's testimony are not the only ones whoreact with such great fear when faced with that which they cannot understand. The crew on theSolaris space station refer to the constructs they see as “monsters” and specifically refer to Harias “it” in a spiteful and derogatory manner. Likewise, Kris, Snout and Sartorius offer differingopinions on the reasons for Gibarian's suicide. The tape he leaves for Kris expresses a profoundremorse for the crew's lack of understanding and a pessimistic outlook regarding the potential toever understand the phenomenon they are experiencing. Consequently, his suicide may be aresult of “fear,” “cowardice,” or “shame,” but it clearly stems from an inability to comprehendwhat was happening around him.While the almost universal reaction in
Solaris
to the unknown is an expression of fear,the steps taken in response to a lack of understanding tend towards primitive and violent. Burtonasks Kris before he departs if it is wise to “destroy that which [they] are not capable of understanding,” which he believes is the intention of the other characters in the film. He goes onto state that he unequivocally does not “advocate knowledge at any price,” a mindset that, again,is not shared by everyone in the world of 
Solaris
.
 
In fact, the process of dealing with the unknown after the initial reaction of fear is muchmore militaristic than scientific. Whenever a solution is suggested, it features wartimeterminology, like “bombard,” and “surface sweep.” Likewise, the ultimate solution to the“problem” of Hari is a device called “The Annihilator.” This, of course, comes only after Sartorius expresses a willingness to experiment on her, regardless of the discomfort she mayexperience as a result. Sartorius also suggests a major attack of radiation to the surface of Solaris. The planet seems to be attempting communication with the humans aboard the spacestation, but the human's only response is that of violence and destruction. Even Kris, whoappears to be more invested in cautious procedure, initially suggests that the station be“liquidated” when he is faced with a situation he does not understand. Perhaps Snout says it bestwhen he declares that science, the organized pursuit of knowledge, “is a fraud.” In
Solaris
, it ismerely a disguised extension of man's primitive instincts of fear and destruction rather than amore noble search for truth and enlightenment. Burton stands alone in his belief that “knowledgeis only valid when it rests on a foundation of morality.”Questions of epistemology are addressed slightly differently in Stanley Kubrick's
2001: A Space Odyssey
. The film opens with a very primitive breed of man struggling for survival onearth. One faction fights at a watering hole with another and is driven to shelter in a cave.Eventually, an alien monolith lands outside the cave of the early humans. They are immediatelyfascinated by it, and spend several moments observing the new structure. Moments later, oneearly human is playing with a bone and discovers that it can be used to smash the other bones infront of him. The implication is of course that contact with the monolith influenced the earlyhumans and imparted on them an understanding of tools, and, more importantly, weapons.Here,
2001
seems to be saying that humans have always had an understanding of 

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