'Solaris' leaves audiences adrift

When, early in a movie, a character says something like, "I could tell you what's happening, but I don't know if that'd tell you what's happening," you can assume it's meant as advice to the viewer.

Jeremy Davies says that to George Clooney at the start of "Solaris," aboard a spaceship where the dead seem to be returning to life, and if you're wondering what that's all about: I could tell you what's happening, but I don't know if that'd tell you what's happening.

Steven Soderbergh's "Solaris," a surprisingly faithful remake of a 30-year-old Russian film, gets metaphysical on us. Early on, the film creates a hushed, funeral atmosphere in which Clooney's surrealistically golden skin tones stand in contrast to the steely blueness of his world, where the color has been drained by grief. Clooney's wife, we soon realize, has died, and he hasn't dealt with his own emotions.

So there's plenty of time to work on his inner self when he jets into outer space, especially when wifey shows up, too. Is she a ghost? Is he the one who's really dead? Has he conjured her essence because he hasn't allowed her spirit to rest? Has she always been lurking in his subconscious, waiting for him to realize she was there?

Soderbergh has leaned on his cast to supply an involving human element, and the fierce Clooney and vital Natascha McElhone, as his wife, deliver. Their first meeting is a witty winner, and the action that follows, in flashbacks, is mighty sexy. That was enough "Solaris" interesting -- the spare use of the color red, the lack of green, the Dylan Thomas poem that functions as a clue -- even as Soderbergh continued to plant bigger clues ("There are no answers; only choices," one guy says) that assure us "Solaris" means whatever we want it to mean.


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