For a man who was reported to dislike science-fiction, Tarkovsky sure creates amazing sci-fi films. All good science fiction, even the hard sci-fi that I love, should, at its very heart, tell us something about ourselves and Tarkovsky is a master of portraying the many facets of humanity, even within a construct that he loathes.
Solaris is a Nietzschean sci-fi in which Tarkovsky seems to ask three questions:
1) How important is it to face your fears and regrets as, in the process, we can either transform them into something wonderful or let them consume us.
2) Should science should be tempered by morality or does this limit our progress. This is exemplified by Kelvin's twin angels/demons of Dr Snaut (science tempered by morality) on one shoulder and Doktor Sartorius (unbound scientific exploration) on the other. How we deal with a something is just as important, if not more so, than the end product itself.
3) Is humanity defined by our memories and experiences or is there something greater?
There are a few little things that really popped out, to me at least:
I loved how Tarkovsky makes a comparison between the hive-like city with its roads, cars and noise and the reflecting, intelligent ocean on Solaris.
The differences between the Solaris and 2001 space stations reminded me of the apocryphal cosmonaut pencil story:
"During the height of the space race in the 1960s, legend has it, NASA scientists realised that pens could not function in space. They needed to figure out another way for the astronauts to write things down. So they spent years and millions of taxpayer dollars to develop a pen that could put ink to paper without gravity. But their crafty Soviet counterparts, so the story goes, simply handed their cosmonauts pencils."
The intermittently featured Bruegel painting. Bruegel was also a master at portraying humanity in its many, sometimes unflattering, forms.
As Nietzsche wrote "For when you gaze long into the abyss. The abyss gazes also into you.", but surely if we destroy the mirror, how do we recognise ourselves?