The Polish author felt very negatively about the Russian director’s adaptation of his novel – Lem quarreled with Tarkovsky about the script.

By Balthazar Malevolent


Stanislaw Lem's famous science fiction Solaris, published in 1961, poses many difficult questions to the reader, without giving direct answers, and yet written in such a fascinating way that it has not lost its charm to this day. In Solaris, Lem simulates an algorithm to contact the extraterrestrial life form with incredible imagination and philosophical depth. What is this book about? Lem invites the reader into an uncertain future. The distant planet of Solaris is covered by a living thinking Ocean - or rather, this intelligent Ocean is the planet's only inhabitant. One day, the Earthlings send Dr. Chris Calvin to Solaris research station - he has to deal with a series of strange and ominous phenomena occurring there. Soon Kelvin discovers that an intelligent Ocean is able to read people's minds and penetrate their subconscious, it is trying to establish contact with the astronauts, and for this purpose materializes their deepest and embarrassing desires, fears and obsessions. For the Ocean, there is no difference between dream and reality, it communicates with people blindly, populating the space station at night with phantoms that come to people from their own subconscious or diseased memory. The night at the research station is a time of cruel miracles, as people's most important state is sleep, when they are identical to themselves.

A few years after the publication of Solaris, the first Russian authorized translation of the novel appeared, is has been published by Dmitry Bruskin. It is still considered canonical, despite some discrepancies with the Polish original. In particular, the name of Lem's Solaris is feminine, and in Russian translation, it is masculine - for the Polish reader, it is easier to imagine that the mysterious planet ocean is livebearing. Despite the fact that the first reviews by Soviet critics were mostly negative - or perhaps thanks to that - Lem's novel quickly gained cult status in the USSR. Solaris was so unlike the dull literature of Socialist realism and Soviet science fiction of the time that Lem's admirers literally carried the writer on their hands during his visits to the Soviet Union. He himself recalled: I was quenching a kind of metaphysical hunger, so it seemed. Not surprisingly, the novel in which each reader sees something different didn't have to wait long for a screen adaptation - the temptation to interpret Lemov's masterpiece in the language of cinema was incredible.

Ten years after the release of Tarkovsky's Solaris, which Lem had never seen (the film was shown on Polish television in 1974, but Lem himself said he switched off the TV after the first series because he couldn't stand it), the writer told Stanisław Beresius, the literary critic about his objections in principle to the film. What was it that Lem didn't like so much?

According to Lem, Tarkovsky did not shoot Solaris at all, but a kind of Crime and Punishment. What emerges from the film is that that vile Calvin drives Hari to suicide and then is tormented by remorse, augmented by her reappearance, and Hari's appearance is accompanied by strange and incomprehensible circumstances. The phenomenon of her repeated appearances was for the writer the embodiment of a concept that can be deduced almost from Kant himself. For this is Ding an sich, the Incomprehensible. The Thing in Itself. The Other Side that can never be crossed over to. Yet in Lem's prose it was manifested and orchestrated completely differently.

"And utterly appalling," Lem continued, "was that Tarkovsky introduced Calvin's parents and even some kind of his aunt into the film. But above all, the mother. And the mother is Russia, the Motherland, the Earth. This made me quite angry. I have Calvin deciding to stay on the planet without the slightest hope, and Tarkovsky picturizing a sentimental thing in which some island appears, with a house on it. When I hear about the house and the island, I get furious."

Tarkovsky at Solaris set

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