Tarkovsky (USSR, 1972) Donatas Banionis,
Anatoley Solonitsyn, Natalya Bondarchuk,
Viewed: Star and
Shadow Cinema Newcastle; 16 Nov 2014; Ticket: £6.
2001 Stanley Kubrick (USA 1968) Keir Dulleaviewed Tyneside Cinema; 5 Dec 2014; ticket £6
A future haunted by metaphysics
It’s interesting to think about Tarkovsky’s Solaris and Kubrick’s 2001. Both use the medium of sci-fi to project their own present-day concepts onto future time. And although these films were produced some 40 years ago, the respective concerns that drove the two director/writers are still relevant .
Tarkovsky’s script presents as pure allegory as he ponders the enigma that the further we travel out of history, outside time, the more are we overwhelmed by the processes of time, mediated through: memory reliquaries museums. The journey the Space Station and Solaris the mysterious new planet, all elements projected outside human history unleash the hounds of time as living uncontrollable forces, hunting down the interiorities both of the cosmonauts and of ourselves.
This allegorical voyage represents Tarkovsky’s metaphysical understanding of the place of time in Soviet Russia. Since the November 1917 revolution, history as a living force, had been abolished by the USSR, replaced by the chrono-mechanics of the Communist Party. So Soviet Russia was unable to respond, except with regimented suppression, when the forces of history inexorably returned to haunt the land its leaders and its people. Solaris is a pure psycho-metaphysical contemplation of time/history that imprints itself on the film with increasing weight as the scenario unravels. What are understood at first as separate presences, phantoms that are different to and alien to us, finally reveal themselves as being our own mirror like reflections. The metaphysical insight of an eternal recurrence that we shall return to haunt ourselves.
Kubrick’s 2001 comes from an entirely different direction. The central pillar of Kubrick’s thinking in 2001 is the control of humanity by mysterious exteriorised entities. 2001 looks at this through both cosmic and social frames. It is the social frame, projected through advanced intelligence technology, that is the most successful. Although Kubrick always talked about making a movie about Artificial Intelligence, 2001 is his AI movie.(His failure to make another AI movie may simply reflect that in 2001 Kubrick had said all he had to say about this idea, remembering that power relations were a core concern of this director)
The most successful sections of 2001 posit a spaceship world controlled by AI. Actually this clean hi-tech world wonderfully anticipates the products and ethos of Apple Inc. Kubrick’s spaceship sequences with the wonderful clean lines of the sets complementing the soothing ingratiating voice of HAL, feels like it seduces as much as serves the crew (and the viewers) with its expression of a certain techie perfection. Kubrick’s Discovery 1 suggests, like Steve Jobs, (who would have been 13 at the time of the release of 2001) an encompassing corporate concept: products built with powerful operating systems, designed with intuitive controls and built with the consumer in mind. In fact when I think about it there was something of HAL in the way Steve presented himself. Products that seduce. But what seduces can also betray. So the saga of the betrayal by Hal of his human charges is the central drama that grips the movie. And this betrayal stands as Kubrick’s sharpest insight into the the core problems of technology and AI. The more we trust and the more we try to build into our systems safeguards against betrayal, the more are we vulnerable. No current film maker to my knowledge has penetrated this proposition in relation to our current technology. And where might we be lead? To the sacrificial stone of our own collectove hubris?
As for Kubrick’s cosmology? It is vacuous. Despite starting with huge promise with the type of image fusion that only film can make: between Dawn Men with their the discovery of weapons and projectiles leading to Techman and Space Flight. The connection is magnificent expressed through a majestic cut. An idea of human development is linked to the appearance of a Dolmen at the Dawn of Man sequence and mankind’s subsequent movement into out of planet earth into space. Kubrick implies a destiny for man shaped by another mysterious realm of intelligence. As long as this is left vague, it is Ok as a story driver.
As the theme is persued by Kubrick in the latter stages of the film, a terrible vacuity opens up as you realise Kubrick has nothing to say beyond the truism that life is an enigma. Kubrick tries to substitute his ‘nothing to say’ by overwhelming us with images that appear to have meaning but in fact have none. When Bowman leaves the spaceship he is first sucked into a psychedelic tunnel warp, designed to overwhelm our visual sense, which deposits him in a room where he experiences Shakespeare’s Ages of Man. The problem is that is doesn’t signify anything beyond a desperate attempt to end the movie on a significant image: the embryo floating through space. The problem is it has no significance, The embryo has no referents, no grounding in the earlier part of the film. It is just a floating empty image. A testimony to Kubrick and Clark’s failure to resolve their material. But then metaphysics never was either Kubrick or Clark’s strong point.
One thing for certain, Solaris Station could never be mistaken for a product conceived by Steve Jobs. It does not have that Apple look. It looks tired, as tired and used as the civilisation that built it. It bears the marks of its own history, scuffed dirty litter strewn, mired in time. Whereas Discovery one is a linear structure, an arrow pointing at a target, Solaris Station is circular, those who live there doomed to circulatory, of meeting themselves as they try to escape from themselves. Decked out with the arbitrary trinkets of history, Solaris Station is in itself a time trap, locked into geostationary orbit over a terrifying plastic lake that feeds back only memories.
And it is this plasticity of time that marks out the ultimate vision of Solaris. As the lake gurgitates into vision a replicant of the home farm where the film begins (shot with visually suggestive fluidity) the realisation is that the significance of Tarkovsky’s film is as an allegory. We are critically lost in time. If we are cut off from the mechanism clock and calendar, we have no temporal anchorage. The actual and the hallucination start to elide and merge. As the home farm emerges out from the waters, we understand that the imputed events of the film may be only a cycle of repetitions. What we thought was a beginning was only the illusion of a beginning. We have lost the means of penetrating our realities, and like the Soviet Union, we too perhaps, the European West, are about the learn the lesson of Solaris. Adrin Neatrour email@example.com New documentA future haunted by metaphysicsA future haunted by metaphysics