Remakes: “Solaris” by Andrei Tarkovsky (1972) and “Solaris” by Steven Soderbergh (2002)


Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2004

18 Pages, Grade: 1




I. Introduction into the Plot

II. Analysis of the two Films with special Regard to the Characters
1. The Visitors
2. The Relationship between Hari/Rheya and Chris Kelvin
2.1 Hari/Rheya
2.2 Chris’ Reaction to Hari’s/Rheya’s Disappearance
2.3 How real are any of us?
3. The different Endings of the Films
3.1 Tarkovsky’s “Solaris”
3.2 Soderbergh’s “Solaris”
4. Character drawing
5. Marketing of “Solaris”
6. ‘Look’ of “Solaris”

III. Remake or Re-adaptation?


IV. Works Cited

V. Filmography

VI. Overview: most important Characaters of the Films


Thom Patterson from CNN expresses the issue of the remake in a very nice way: „Remaking well-known films can be the Hollywood equivalent of replacing the family dog or a favourite bathrobe: sometimes only the old one will do and a replacement is unthinkable.”1

In my case study I will take a closer look at the two different versions of “Solaris”:

Andrei Tarkovsky’s “Solaris” (1972) and Steven Soderbergh’s “Solaris” (2002)

Is Soderbergh’s “Solaris” a worthy representative, replacement or addition to Tarkovsky’s “Solaris” or is it just like Patterson describes it, unneeded like the replacement of the family dog? Is Tarkovsky’s “family dog” so well-known and respected that a new “family dog” would be redundant? First of all, one should notice that both films are based on Stanislaw Lem’s book “Solaris”. At least that’s what one can read everywhere…but is this so? Is Soderbergh’s film a re-adaptation of Lem’s book or is it rather a remake of Tarkovsky’s film?

I would like to analyse in what way the two directors developed the characters in the film having the book “Solaris” as the basis.

By analysing the way, Soderbergh and Tarkovsky present the relationship between Hari/Rheya and Chris and how the two directors develop the characters, I will also try to find an answer to the question whether Soderbergh’s “Solaris” is a remake of Tarkovsky’s Solaris or a re-adaptation of Lem’s book.

What are the similarities and differences of the presentation of this relationship in the two films?

Soderbergh for example never personally said that his film is only a remake of Tarkovsky’s “Solaris” but also, or even more, a re-adaptation of Lem’s book. This would exactly apply to the theory of Jan Speckenbach, who mentions in his first part of “On the Remake. A cinematic phenomenon” that sometimes the director of a remake denies it to be one. Since it might sell better when it is a new adaptation of the novel - that also is used in the original film - that provided a basis for the remake and not just a remake of the original film.2 But did Soderbergh only refer to his film as a re-adaptation because it might sell better or is it really a re-adaptation?

Hari/Rheya (named Hari in Tarkovsky’s “Solaris”, differently in Soderbergh’s “Solaris” and same as in Lem’s book: Rheya) also plays a central role in the two films, and I would like to analyse the representation of her in the two films.

To avoid a confusion with the names, I will use Hari/Rheya when facts or observations I made apply to both films equally, and I will use only one name, when either Tarkovsky’s or Soderbergh’s film is addressed.

I. Introduction into the Plot

The psychiatrist Chris Kelvin receives a message from his friend Gibarian, who is on a space station orbiting a sea planet called Solaris that had only recently moved into the solar system. In the message, Gibarian asks Chris to come to the station to assist the crew but doesn’t really give him a reason why. On his arrival, the station is run-down and Chris discovers that Gibarian committed suicide. The other two scientists on the station behave strangely and tell him about weird occurrences. The planet appears to have some kind of intelligence and power in its ocean but no details about this intelligence can be found out, and so the crew of the base, three scientists, encounter numerous problems. They think that the ocean of Solaris is able to materialize apparitions from the subconscious of the crew members on the station. Soon, Chris’ dead wife appears to him first in his dreams and then in reality.

II. Analysis of the Films with special Regard to the Characters

1. The Visitors

The visitors of the scientists are products of their own conscience and provide them involuntarily with new knowledge.

The visitors started to appear after the ocean of Solaris was bombarded by the scientists of the station with X-rays due to an experiment. At the beginning of these visits it is unclear if the visitors are only hallucinations or if their appearance has other reasons.

Snaut found out that the visitors are no copies of persons or persons themselves but they are materializations, Solaris creates by using images of the scientists’ minds.

Tarkovsky, same as Soderbergh, uses these visitors as a mirror that reflects the unconscious images in mind and confront the scientists with those. By using these visitors, he raises the existential question about what it means to be human. Of course this also makes the spectator wonder about these proceedings and the unknown images in the human being’s mind. In “Solaris” the Solaris ocean is used as a kind of ‘looking glass’ that makes the inward images of the conscience appear and present the scientist some kind of reflection of themselves in form of their visitors.3

Although Soderbergh’s idea of the visitor embody the same concept as Tarkovsky’s, the philosophical aspects are stressed more in Tarkovsky’s film.

2. The Relationship between Hari/Rheya and Chris Kelvin

In both films the first appearance of Chris’s wife is presented in the same way: First, he encounters his dead wife in dreams and then, when he wakes up, she actually is present in reality.

Both actresses, Natascha McElhone (Soderbergh’s “Solaris”) and Natalya Bondarchuk (Tarkovsky’s “Solaris”) are angelic and very beautiful women.

When the appearance of his dead wife first appears, Chris feels horror of this materialization.

Although Hari/Rheya looks exactly like his dead wife, he knows she isn’t. Her memory of the past is fragmentary and she doesn’t know who she is and how she got to the station. Another point is, that Hari/Rheya, exactly like the other visitors on the station, cannot be killed - at least she cannot die like “normal” human beings die.

Chris is still haunted by the death of his wife and also feels guilty. The beginning horror of his wife’s materialization swings to the opposite: As time goes by, he starts to appreciate and love Hari/Rheya, not having any concerns about her origin or any other consequences that might take place because of the nature of her (not-)being. He loves the appearance for what it is, or better, realizes that he never stopped loving his dead wife. Now he is offered a second chance to redeem the mistakes he made with the human Hari/Rheya.

Actually, one can only guess what actually happened to Tarkovsky’s human Hari, because he doesn’t really address the issue of her death explicitly. One gets the clue that she committed suicide because things in the relationship went wrong but this is never confirmed for sure.

On the other side, we can see Soderbergh’s human Rheya committing suicide by taking sleeping pills in a flashback scene. So the situation is much clearer in Soderbergh’s film.

Now Chris loves the appearance, which, he admits, isn’t really Hari/Rheya but he thinks of her as human. While Chris allows this new love to take possession of him, Hari/Rheya starts getting aware of the fact that she, although she has the same memories as Chris’ dead wife, isn’t the same person, but only a materialization that is formed by the memories, Chris has of his dead wife - which later leads her to conclude that she is only the Hari/Rheya that Chris wants her to be - since he has subjective memories of her.

2.1 Hari/Rheya

In Soderbergh’s film the fact that the materialization of Chris’ dead wife becomes aware of herself is stressed more than in Tarkovsky’s film. Actually it is much more elaborated than in Tarkovsky’s film. Like most of the time in Tarkovsky’s “Solaris”, where the audience has to contribute a lot of thoughts to the story, one can only guess how far Hari is aware of herself as a materialization. But in my opinion, the self-awareness of Soderbergh’s Rheya is much stronger than the one of Tarkovsky’s Hari. It becomes clear that Rheya gets aware of the fact that she exists not only because of the Solaris ocean but also because of Chris’ feeling of guilt because of his wife’s suicide. She recognizes that she is a product of Chris’ memories of Rheya and that she will never be the same Rheya as he used to love. Although or better because she loves him - has to love him because the “real” Rheya loved Chris - eventually she ‘commits suicide’ to free Chris from the need of staying on the station because he can only be together with Rheya there and not on Earth. So, at the end Hari/Rheya demonstrates her humanity (which is paradox because she is not human but only the reflection of Chris’ memories of his dead wife, produced by Solaris) by sacrificing herself (“killing” herself with the device) to give him the possibility to leave the station without having the feeling of leaving her behind.

But also her developed self-awareness is a reason for her decision of ‘committing suicide’. As she becomes aware of the fact that she is only a reflection of Chris’ mind, she is not able to accept her own “alien-ness”4 and same as the human Hari/Rheya, she kills herself.

2.2 Chris’ Reaction to Hari’s/Rheya’s Disappearance

Now Chris feels remorse because of Hari’s/Rheya’s death and starts to understand why Gibarian/Berton committed suicide. It wasn’t because of fear of Solaris or the visitors, it was because of shame: He might have started to feel the same for his visitor than Chris did, that is to act with the person as if it were an actual human being.5 In Soderbergh’s film the spectator even is introduced to Berton’s visitor: his son. He is the first visitor, Chris sees when he arrives at the station. In Tarkovsky’s film, one can only guess who Gibarian’s visitor was when taking a closer look at the message, Gibarian taped for Chris. When he explains him the circumstances why he chooses to die, one sees a women in the picture. Probably this was Gibarian’s visitor in Tarkovsky’s film.

2.3 How real are any of us?

Both Tarkovsky and Soderbergh use the relationship between Chris and Hari/Rheya to raise the question of how real any of us are. On the space station, which is far away from Earth, does it really matter what is real and what not? Hari/Rheya got aware of the fact that she isn’t Chris’ dead wife but only a materialization. She is aware of herself.


1 Patterson, Thom. “The Dangers of Remakes.” (Jan. 2004). 31 October 2004 <>.

2 Speckenbach, Jan. “On the Remake. A cinematic phenomenon. Part one.” May 2001 <>.

3 Green, Peter. The Winding Ques.t Houndsmills: Macmillan, 1993, p. 65.

4 Lucas, Gerald R. “Three Visions of Science: Lem's, Tarkovsky's, and Soderbergh's Solaris” Ragnatela Magazine. 2 November 2004 <>.

5 cp. Green, Peter. The Winding Ques.t Houndsmills: Macmillan, 1993, p. 68.

Excerpt out of 18 pages


Remakes: “Solaris” by Andrei Tarkovsky (1972) and “Solaris” by Steven Soderbergh (2002)
Utrecht University  (Media Studies)
Remakes & Parody
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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Remakes, Adaptionen, Stanislaw Lem, Solaris, Andrei Tarkovsky, Steven Soderbergh, Filmanalyse, Filmvergleich, Science Fiction, Russische Filme, Thriller
Quote paper
Anna Zafiris (Author), 2004, Remakes: “Solaris” by Andrei Tarkovsky (1972) and “Solaris” by Steven Soderbergh (2002), Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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