Steven Soderbergh is the first to admit that Solaris is likely to polarise audiences and critics alike, something which actually pleases him, he happily admits as we chat in a Los Angeles hotel room. “It should have that effect, because there are a lot of opened ended issues in the film, and it’s a movie that forces you to consider where you stand on the issue of higher intelligence, any form of higher intelligence, and what happens to you when you die,” insists the Oscar winning director of Traffic and Erin Brockovich.
“So clearly, if everybody came out of the movie with the same take, then we’ve failed, miserably. But I don’t know how to even talk about it anymore because the culture and the industry are such, that when you say, well we wanted to make something that is provocative…that’s looked at as a bad thing and uncommercial,” says a fiercely unapologetic director.
Soderbergh’s film may be dividing those that see it, but he was passionately drawn to the material from the outset. Based on the classic novel, Soderbergh’s film revolves around psychiatrist Dr Chris Kelvin [George Clooney] who is called to investigate the strange goings-on at a space station orbiting the distant planet of Solaris. There he is forced to confront all of his love, guilt, and various conflicting feelings–figuratively, by way of memories of his turbulent relationship with his late wife Rheya (Natascha McElhone). and literally, as physical manifestations of Rheya begin to visit him at the space station. “Solaris just seemed to me to be about everything I’m interested in,” explains Soderbergh when asked why he was so passionate in bringing Solaris back to the screen. “It was about memory, love, guilt, loss, about issues of whether you were a religious person, or whether you are not a religious person. To me it seemed to incorporate everything that was worth thinking about, and yet in a context that I think allows you a little bit more leeway than if you’ve got just a bunch of people walking around a city talking about these issues. That’s the great thing about science fiction in that it helps mask the conceit in a way that when you’re making a movie like this, I think it’s really helpful because it’s a sort of side door into the themes you want to discuss. I’m a big believer in kind getting to a place where you’re not constantly living in the past or constantly trying to imagine this future, but you’re living your life in a way that’s present tense, and this is his issue. That’s the decision he makes at the end of the film, by not getting onto the Athena and not going back. He decides to go strictly on his gut and his instinct, and would in that instance rather die then go back to earth. He’s not sure that he’s going to see her again, but he would rather die hoping that he will, then to go back to earth knowing that he won’t, and so I like that.”
In casting the central role, Soderbergh took a risk in asking friend and production partner George Clooney to be the lead. Having worked with the actor a number of times, Soderbergh says that the reason the two work so well together is that “we both share a commitment to basically pushing ourselves. What it comes down to, is that we both feel like if you’re not using whatever juice you have at the moment to try something different then you’re just taking up space, and that is combined with a very similar work ethic and similar taste in films. It makes it pretty easy, we agree a lot. Even on the occasions we don’t, we understand why we have a difference of opinion. He may read something that I’ve liked that he doesn’t like as much, and he’ll articulate why, and I’ll say, yeah okay I can see that, so it’s just been pretty fluid.”
The film’s audience division has been replaced by the media’s obsession with Clooney’s naked backside, and while that might be an obvious distraction, Soderbergh laughs it off. “Let’s put it this way, I think it’s worth sitting through the whole movie just to get to that.”
While the director has no immediate plans, he says that he has “some good ideas for a sequel to Oceans 11. I liked that movie, but I think we can do it better.”
SOLARIS OPENS ON FRIDAY
– PAUL FISCHER