I’m avoiding what is nowadays fashionably referred to as ‘spectacular.’ Although, I admit, the film will be in color.
––Andrei Tarkovsky 1
The “magic center of Solaris” happens when the space station enters a momentary loss of gravity. 3 The scene is filled with memories that represent Kris’ longing for home, such as a candelabra with candles lit, a crystal chandelier, an open book of Don Quixote, and a painting of The Hunters in the Snow.4 The Hunters in the Snow contains, yet another, perhaps submerged group of memory paradigms as we see painted images from Earth: trees, dogs (echoing the image we saw earlier in the film of Kris, as a boy, holding a dog). The winter scene also echoes an earlier image of Kris in the snow. The objects that are floating are some of Tarkovsky’s favorite objects; this creates a personal connection for the director to the character’s longing for Earth and emotional unity. Tarkovsky also dressed the space station set with objects that are not typically seen in a science fiction film. This was a deliberate choice to avoid creating a technologically futuristic look for Solaris: “I’d like to film Solaris in such a way as to avoid inducing in the viewer a feeling of anything exotic. Technologically exotic that is.”5 By placing his favorite objects in the scene and allowing them the freedom to float, he has symbolically placed himself inside the moment and thereby expressed his own transcendent autonomy. Was Tarkovsky, like Kris, trapped? Perhaps Kris’ desperate situation mirrors Tarkovky’s feelings of stifled creative freedom under the censors of the Soviet Union? Like Kris, he is trapped inside a place in which there was no escape.
The scene is not technically complex nor is it directed in the same dazzling slant manner that I have described in Lurhman’s and Scorsese’s films. He could have shot the film with special effects to create the kind of science fiction movie that everyone expects, but instead he chose to show the emotional story: “We need to put the characters in real, not exotic, scenery because it is only through the perception of the former by the characters in the film that it will become comprehensible to the viewer. That’s why detailed expositions of technological processes of the future destroy the emotional foundation of the film.”6 The “30 Seconds of Weightlessness” does not dazzle us with lightning effects, but rather, it surprises us with ease and lifts us with its beauty that quietly and gently unfolds the truth of Kris and Hari’s love, and, at the same time, is able to communicate transcendence. Tarkovsky’s effects are there, but they’re quiet and subtle. Transcendence is achieved for the lovers, and transcendence is achieved for the film as art. “Tarkovsky spent his career proving that cinema was an art form as important as every other art—a message that this scene brings home unmistakably.”7 Tarkovsky ensures the scene’s artistic legitimacy by including the accepted art form of painting, The Hunters in the Snow, and the accepted art form of classical music, a Bach prelude. The scene’s rhythm is another devise that is effective in achieving a feeling of transcendence. The scene begins in silence as we watch a close-up of a candelabra float off and ascend into the chandelier. The soaring candelabra moves as in a ballet; it glides toward the chandelier until it passes out of view. There is an anticipatory pause as we wait for the expected gentle colliding of the two objects. The tingle of crystal is heard followed by a cut to Kris and Hari as they begin to levitate. Their reactions are consistent with the rhythm; they do not jerk or flail their arms; they simply surrender to the gravity-free environment. Once they levitate the Bach prelude is heard. The meter of the prelude is consistent with the rhythm of the scene and appropriately accompanies the objects that float by. In the foreground, an open book of Don Quixotedrifts past; it seems to soar by in double time, thereby adding a visual dynamic, yet remaining true to the rhythm. The couple embraces, while in the weightlessness their bodies slowly spin in unison passing before The Hunters in the Snow. The camera slowly and smoothly pans into the painting, filling the screen with the images, and then we cut back on the embracing couple, who are clearly in love as they float. The camera, once again pans across The Hunters in the Snow. It meditates on the details in the painting and then returns to the lovers, who are now on the floor huddled together. Next to them is the candelabra lying on its side with the wicks still burning. Tarkovsky takes the emotional connection of the lovers with their earthly objects. It is followed by a quick cut to Kris as a young boy in the snow, warming himself by the fire, and juxtaposes that with a cut to a stark image of the Solaris’s ocean. He holds the shot for forty-five seconds. The beauty of this scene makes you feel as if you are also levitating. Vida Johnson eloquently describes the transcendent feel of the scene: “The lovers transcend the boundaries of ordinary life to achieve complete, if brief, communion and understanding as Kris and Hari seem to do here. Huddled, protected together and enveloped by these beautiful reminders of earth. They seem, at last, to be content.”8 This film moment is, yet again, another example that can be characterized as vertical. The scene can easily be separated from the film; it stands out from the narrative and soars on its own with lyrical beauty. The “30 Seconds of Weightlessness” is a visual poem of transcendence that expresses multiple layers of meaning notably through rhythm and sound. “Then suddenly, in a moment of breathtaking beauty, Kelvin and Hari begin floating through the air, as a candelabra and books glide by them. It is a moment of transcendence that illustrates the power of love and art to take us to another level. It’s a moment that seems to come out of nowhere and that transports us the way of music or a painting can.”9
–John David West