In 1972, a Russian movie called Solaris bowed, wowing critics and forever frustrating film students and putting to sleep audiences. This is science fiction at its most cerebral, not necessarily dealing with robots, aliens, and the future, but with concepts and ideas. Auteur filmmaker Steven Soderbergh (Full Frontal, Erin Brockovich) opted for a remake of Stanislaw Lem's novel. His version is half an hour shorter, but still feels obtuse and slow. At its core, this is a philosophical movie, so events are almost beside the point. Everything here is about self-examination, discussion, and reality. Although Soderbergh is careful not to place anything in the movie to overtly state it takes place in the future, the majority of the movie takes place on a space station orbiting the planet Solaris.

Strange things are happening on the station, and Chris Kelvin (George Clooney, Welcome to Collinwood, Ocean's Eleven) is sent to investigate. He arrives to a nearly deserted station, with ominous signs of blood. The only two people left are Snow (Jeremy Davis, CQ, Secretary) and Helen Gordon (Viola Davis, Far From Heaven, Kate & Leopold). They are both under severe stress, and not that willing to explain what's going on. It becomes clear to Kelvin something extremely odd is happening after he begins seeing his wife Rheya (Natascha McElhone, FearDotCom, Love's Labour's Lost), who died years ago. Rheya has no memory of her death and initially seems to be a shell of a person, but the more they interact, the fuller her personality becomes.

Solaris takes things further. Rheya recognizes the fact that she may not be alive. So there are different people grappling with issues of what is or isn't real. Soderbergh never takes the easy way out by offering pat explanations (aside from the fact that the planet is the cause), but in doing so alienate much of the dumb moviegoing public, who want explosions, violence, and nudity. Aside from two well-publicized shots of Clooney's rear, there is little of the above. Solaris has an introspective tone, and as a result moves slowly as Rheya and Chris try to deal with what is happening. There is a very sterile feel to everything, so it feels sometimes like they are part of a grand experiment. Soderbergh alternates between Clooney and McElhone in the present, and flashbacks to happier times. The hard part is that as a couple, they are not that interesting. They are dealing with some fundamental questions about existence, but in the end, nobody really cares.

Mongoose Rates It: Okay.
1 hour, 35 minutes, Rated PG-13 for sexuality/nudity, brief language and thematic elements.

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