Hailed as one of the greatest sci-fi fantasy films of our time, Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1972 film Solaris is more than space travel. It substantiates the idea that the further we progress technologically, the farther we are from ever truly familiarizing ourselves with the human condition. A tumultuous scrimmage between science and human emotion, Solaris is a poignant reconciliation between imagination and real life.
The longevity of any piece of art is rooted in its ability to maintain relevance. In the case of Solaris, much of this is due to its considered styling. Tarkovsky was decidedly against simulating a futuristic aesthetic—”future” ages poorly. Thus the parallels between Solaris and our current social climate closely mirror the dichotomy of life online and IRL.
Tarkovsky was austere in his stylistic decisions—he considered the reception of his films in years to come, and adamantly rejected any ideas that seemed ostentatiously futuristic. He was steadfast in his hesitance to include a soundtrack, employing music only when other art mediums were not enough. This vigilance is depicted in a sartorial capacity as well. After blowing most of the budget allotted to costume expenses, Tarkovsky fired his original hire on the basis that the designs were too futuristic, and would subsequently be shunned by future audiences.
With what remained of the budget, he hired Nelli Formina, responsible for creating the deliberately inconspicuous looks—though iconic in their relevance—interspersed throughout the 3-hour sci-fi masterpiece. Tarkovsky’s aesthetic prudence functions as an appropriate vessel to encompass the psychological hysteria of the film’s characters.
Psychologist Kris Kelvin traipses through the marshes that surround his childhood home. He kneels in the mist to study an eddy of reeds in a slow-moving stream—a swirling action that echoes throughout the film, often as a representation of the churning sentient seas on Solaris. Layering a blue leather coat over a staple gray sweater and dusty khakis, Kelvin has a peculiar flair, which runs counter to his pragmatic role as a psychologist and a man of science.
Already scarce in the flora and fauna of our natural world, the color blue is implemented thoughtfully throughout the film. Water is often depicted in green or yellow hues—the seas of Solaris, Kelvin’s reed-laden stream—which by contrast highlights the color blue as deliberate and unconventional, often to preface times of transformation.
Perhaps the most iconic example of our contemporary materialization of blue is the blue jean. Harnessed as a versatile staple, denim in our present climate functions as a dependable ally that simultaneously changes and transforms with us—a cypher for the sort of life we’re living.
Kelvin’s rocketship attire just as convincingly casts him as a man who has forgotten the address to an after-hours party he had planned to attend. His furrowed brow accessorizes a neon chartreuse string-mesh shirt—a prophetic nod to the 90s hacker and its subsequent revival today. Equipped with pants that are seemingly designed by Alyx and a matching backpack that must be Y-3, Tarkovsky’s subtle implementation of such a contemporary look is almost clairvoyant. What was once deemed appropriate for space exploration is currently accepted and revered as a look for social exploration—partying, self-expression, the quintessential hacker garb. Yet the frontiers we aim to conquer are now digital and social, in place of the intergalactic.
What constitutes modern-day exploration for the everyday human? Perhaps it is the intellectual challenge of creatively overcoming the limitations of digital systems in an attempt to better understand people. At the very least, we can dress for it.
Imbued with the comfort and familiarity of your grandmother’s coffee tablecloth, the crocheted dresses of the reincarnate of Hari (Kelvin’s late wife) and Kelvin’s mother, boast a humble and unpretentious homage to the hand-crafted components of couture.
These manifestations of the hand-crafted technique in Solaris establish delicate refuge, which stands in stark contrast to the anguished characters who so desperately need it. Hari picks up a photo of herself and asks, “Who’s this?” looking from the mirror to the photo. The inability to recognize oneself in a photograph prevails today. Confused by the younger self we see—even devastated—by all that lay before us which has now passed.
“I have the feeling as if I’ve forgotten something,” she says as the shower dribbles ceaselessly beside her. The perpetuation of traditional couture in a time that snaps at the heels of the next technological breakthrough is a humble and comforting solace.
The symbolism of ripped or disheveled clothing has cycled through functioning as a barometer for affluence, then poverty, then back again.
Without jobs, we can wear ripped jeans and tattered hems. While Professor Snaut’s torn sleeve is characteristic of living on a space station for an extended period of time, it is equally open to interpretation. In a modern context, Snaut could pass as an avid sneaker-head ready to snag a pair of Yeezy Boost 350s to match his eloquently tattered and oversized blazer. These tatters, however, are misleading—through a contemporary lens, they seem deliberate.
In the context of the film’s narrative, they denote Snaut’s psychological unraveling. This dichotomy intensifies through his ability to keep composure as he breaks down the fundamentals of a dismal situation, “We are in a ridiculous predicament of man pursuing a goal that he fears and that he really does not need.”
Text: Rebecca Storm