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Science Fiction Thriller <i>Solaris</i> Features George Clooney in 'Difficult' Role - 2002-11-28


George Clooney stars in writer/director Steven Soderbergh's reinterpretation of a Polish science fiction novel that was previously filmed 30 years ago by Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky. Alan Silverman has a look at the enigmatic romantic drama Solaris.

Chris Kelvin is a psychiatrist with personal issues of his own: most notably, the suicide death of his wife 10 years earlier. Summoned by a friend's urgent message, he travels to the spacecraft Prometheus, in orbit around the planet "Solaris," where mysterious goings-on threaten to destroy the mission and its crew. Onboard he is startled to awake in the warm embrace of his long-gone wife, Rheya: a flesh-and-blood hallucination created by the planet from Kelvin's memories.

At first skeptical, Kelvin comes to believe he's been offered a second chance; but among the philosophical questions in Solaris is whether, given that new opportunity, can anything really change?

"These people are all intelligent," explains Clooney. "He's well aware that she is not alive and doesn't exist, but is willing to forego that at some point because the sensation is so good."

George Clooney stars as Kelvin and calls it the most difficult role he's ever played, because of the enigmatic and ambiguous nature of the story.

"We had so many different arguments about whether you're given a second chance to do things over, are you desinted to repeat all of the exact same mistakes," he says. "There are some other questions like does God exist? Are we a part of just random cells firing off each other, exploding, or is there a plan? What I liked about the film was that it doesnt take a point of view. It just says the questions are all that you get. It's a film that everybody goes home from saying 'I'm not sure what I just saw.' But they talk about it and discuss it. Questions come up and answers come up.... and they're all right."

"It asks questions and it's provocative and some of it incomprehensible at first, says Natascha McElhone, who co-stars as Rheya. "I love that. I don't like being given things on a plate and told what I must feel and what I must think."

The British actress embraced that ambiguity, but says it made the finished film a surprise, even to the cast members.

"I had no idea how it was going to be so I was surprised, " she says, " but I expected to be surprised. Because there are so many options and so many different ways it could have gone, from one take to another we would do it differently and it would mean the story could kind of go that way or that way. How nerve-wracking to have to actually make the decision of which way it was going to go and that would impact upon the next. "

Solaris is based on a 1961 novel by Polish author Stanislaw Lem. A decade later, Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky made it a landmark Soviet film; but writer/director Steven Soderbergh prefers that this film n-o-t be called a remake.

"I felt pretty clear about the thematic elements that I wanted to discuss, which were slightly different than those in the book and certainly different from those in the Tarkovsky film," says Soderbergh. "I feel it is really about two things. I think most people have experienced some sort of loss in their lives or been in a situation where they were not able to express what they wanted to express to someone who is no longer around. The other is about realizing at a certain point and reconciling that you can't know someone else the way you know yourself. It's just impossible and how frustrating that is. It's the difference between romantic love and real love."

Solaris is produced by James Cameron, the Oscar-winning director of Titanic. The cast includes Viola Davis and Jeremy Davies; and the ethereal musical score Solaris is by longtime Steven Soderberg collaborator Cliff Martinez.

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