I watched the sci-fi movie Solaris (from 2002) with George Clooney and Natascha McElhone for the third time the other night, and each time I watch the film I ‘discover’ something else about it that I didn’t remember from previous viewings. The film was directed by Steven Soderbergh and is a remake of the classic film (from 1972) of the same name directed by Andrey Tarkovskiy. I have not seen the 1972 film although it is on my ‘to watch’ list; nor have I read the novel by Polish author Stanisław Lem published in 1961. I’m guessing that the Tarkovskiy film would probably be as haunting a film as the Soderbergh film. Because that is the only word I can use to describe Soderbergh’s film—haunting. It gets under my skin in a way that no other sci-fi film/story can, with the possible exception of ‘I Am Legend’ (film(s) as well as the story by Richard Matheson). Everything about the film, the atmosphere, lighting, sets, music—combine to create a poignant and haunting film. In my view, the casting of Clooney and McElhone in the major roles as Chris Kelvin and Rheya (his wife) was a small stroke of genius. They are both wonderful to watch in their roles as partners in a sad marriage that ends with Rheya committing suicide. McElhone manages to portray Rheya as an extremely interesting and attractive woman despite her psychological problems—beautiful, intelligent, classy, and sad. Rheya is a seeker, open to ideas of faith and belief in things one cannot see, and she is uncomfortable with aggressive, all-knowing people who bark out their opinions as though they were the only correct ones. But she is also a depressive personality, a woman who lives on the fringes of life and society, looking in and wanting to be a part of the life she sees around her, but knowing that she does not fit in. Chris is a psychologist and a pragmatist; he only believes in what he can see and know and dissect, and there are several points in the film where he almost gloatingly scoffs at Rheya’s faith in something other-worldly. He is right and she is not. You know by watching her eyes and body language in the film that his lack of faith and his pragmatism are helping to destroy her slowly, because she loves him but does not seem able to reach him. But he does not understand this nor does he intend to hurt her deliberately. Theirs is a marriage where you know that they love each other but their love is doomed to difficulties and problems from the start because they are such contrasting personalities. You know that the only way that things will change for them is through a tragic event. Chris just does not understand his wife, her vulnerability or her psychological problems, even though he is a psychologist and even though she has tried to be honest with him about them. She aborts their baby without telling Chris because she does not want to pass her depressive tendencies on to a child, and he explodes in anger at her when he finds this out and storms out of their apartment, whereupon she commits suicide thinking he has left her for good. After her death, Chris ends up out in space, a long way from earth, in orbit around the planet Solaris, after having been asked to investigate the crew on board who are acting strangely and reporting strange events onboard the ship. Solaris is a planet that seems to be able to read the minds/dreams of Chris and his colleagues on board the spaceship, and manages to ‘recreate’ the people they have lost to death back on earth, the ‘visitors’. Chris’ visitor is Rheya, and even though he knows that she is not really human, he becomes involved with her all over again and realizes that he wants to be with her for the rest of his life, with all of the implications surrounding that choice. He is warned by one of the team members named Dr. Gibarian to leave Solaris and to return to earth, because otherwise he will die there. Gibarian is also another of Chris’ ‘visitors’ who committed suicide shortly before Chris’ arrival; on earth he was his colleague and friend. When Gibarian ‘visits’ Chris, they have a conversation, where Chris asks him “What does Solaris want from us?” Gibarian replies: “Why do you think it has to want something? This is why you have to leave. If you keep thinking there's a solution, you'll die here.” Chris replies “I can't leave her. I'll figure it out”, whereupon Gibarian says to him “Do you understand what I'm trying to tell you? There are no answers, only choices”. And Chris makes his ‘choice’, and it is a choice that moves him from guilt to forgiveness to peace—his own spiritual evolution that allows him to move beyond his pragmatism and to take a leap of faith into the unknown. It is only by taking that leap of faith that he can know happiness, but he does not know that before he takes it. But he takes the risk.
It was the sentence —“There are no answers, only choices” that caught my attention this time while I watched the film. I thought--how true that is. But I never ‘heard’ or truly internalized these words before, not the way I did the other night. Maybe because I have come to that point in my own life, where I have realized that there are no answers to certain situations, to certain problems—there are really only choices, and it is the fear of making the ‘wrong’ choice that can keep us stuck in one place. I seem to continue to want specific answers to specific problems though, and perhaps they will never be forthcoming. So if I learn to accept that there are no answers, then I turn to the choices to be made and ask myself, which is the right choice? But perhaps there are also no right or wrong choices, even though we want so much to make what we think is the ‘right’ choice—in love, in life, in work. Perhaps we need to take more ‘leaps of faith’ into the unknown—because really, even when we make what we think is the right choice, we can never really know for sure what we are doing and whether it was the best choice. It simply is a choice that we made, that then led to a life. This is what is scary—should we take the leap of faith into the unknown of a new life, a new job, or a new relationship? And could we have escaped sadness and problems if we had chosen differently? Perhaps. But since we also do not have control over the lives and choices of others who impact on our lives because they are part of our lives, we cannot predict what will happen to us. It’s not easy to accept this sometimes, which makes it difficult to take the leap of faith into the unknown.