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The Vault: Solaris (2002)

Steven Soderbergh has always been an interesting filmmaker, but for the most part all of his wide variety of films have been centered around: a cool heists (Ocean's Eleven, Twelve, Thirteen, Out of Sight), biographies (Erin Brokovich, Good Night & Good Luck, Che), and the odd (Kafka, Bubble, Schizopolis). Solaris is a venture of sorts for Soderbergh as it is his most intimate film to date. There is no cool sheen to replace substance - only a heart that beats throughout the story.

Chris Kelvin (George Clooney) is urged to the space station by friend and colleague Dr. Gibrarian, whose distressed message to Earth lures him away from his grief of his dead wife. Once aboard the Prometheus Chris finds his friend dead on a slab and two distraught crew members left. There appears to be a small child, but Chris shrugs it off, or at least until he finds out the truth: everyone on the Prometheus has either gone mad, or killed themselves after receiving a "visitor".

Rheya (Natascha McElhone) is Chris's dead wife. So at first Chris does not know how to react to her sudden existence at his side in bed the following morning. His wife is dead, but here Rheya is. She looks like her, speaks like her and shares her memories and feelings. Pain-stricken he traps her into a pod and launches her into space. Chris speaks with Snow and Gordon (Viola Davis) about this phenomena. Gordon theorizes that Solaris is to blame for the facsimiles and warns Chris not to treat her as his dead wife.

After dreaming of her again Rheya appears with Chris the following morning and he decides to make it work. Unfortunately, Rheya becomes self-aware after speaking with Gordon and attempts suicide. She heals almost instantaneously and Chris's determination to keep her alive stops her from completing the act, momentarily.

George Clooney has been extremely brave in choosing roles this past decade. He could have just coasted off of his People's Sexiest Man Alive awards, but instead he chooses films like this and The Men Who Stare at Goats, and Michael Clayton. Hardly box office assurances. The character of Chris Kelvin involves ripping open a lot of still healing wounds and Clooney never sells a false emotion throughout.

For many Solaris 2.0 was merely a love story in space instead of an adaptation of the provocative Lem novel before it. I have never seen the original and can not speak to whether Soderbergh's attempt is better or worse, but I will say that this is a superb drama. What can we really know of the people we love? Rheya's utterings of "I'm suicidal because that's how you remember me." "I'm not the person I remember. I don't remember experiencing these things." suggest that maybe Chris didn't know his wife. These aren't merely replicants but actualized, thinking beings, that probe into our consciousness. It asks the audience, "What really makes us human?"

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