Film When I was thirteen years old, I watched 2001: A Space Odyssey for the first time, or rather the first time when I was paying attention and not making a slush using a Mr. Frosty machine. It was the first Channel 4 widescreen broadcast, rendered tiny on my 14 inch Matsui portable TV. Even as I lay in bed that night straining my eyes to see what was happening in that little strip of colour, I was captivated. It was the music which struck me – even through that tiny tinny little speaker on the side it sounded like heaven was talking to me from the corner of my room.

It was also one of the first times I’d used my video recorder so I was able to go back and repeat the experience over and over, closer to the screen this time tracking each flicker as though some greater meaning was hidden in there. I didn’t know the director although I knew that it was by Arthur C. Clarke, who I remembered from that show with the glass skull – the old man walking on the beach. One afternoon, a friend who was more intelligent than I was came over and we watched it together and talked about it for ages afterwards, trying to work out the ending. He had read the novel and tried to explain to me what the bright colours and the smiling baby were driving at. Nothing he said convinced me. There had to be more to it than some astronaut being trapped in some other place. What did it actually mean for humanity? This was science fiction which made me think and I wanted more .. but in the end, at the time the only place to go was 2010, which was still a joy but lacked something. So I went back to Star Trek and boredom. Sometimes when I’m watching 2001 again, it feels like my friend is still there on my shoulder trying to explain everything. But he never quite gets it right because I still can’t.

Neither of us had heard of ‘Solaris’. In the malaise of the time I didn’t even know they made films outside Hollywood or London, let alone Russia. I think if I had seen the Tarkovsky work then I would have been equally transfixed, and I might have come to World Cinema a bit sooner. In fact didn’t even hear about that version until my final year at University when a housemate told me he’d spent an afternoon watching it. It didn’t register and the moment passed into history. It took ‘Farewell My Concubine’ to hook me into non-English celluloid. So really I was in the perfect position to see Steven Soderbergh’s version. Trained on 2001, eager for more of the same but without any expectations of it for being a remake. Something new to think about fifteen years later.

I’m reminding myself of all this, because as I sat in the theatre watching the electromagnetic patterns of Solaris, I wondered what the teenage version of me would have felt. I’m sure that I would have thought it was the second greatest film ever made. Better that 2001. Way better. Startlingly, this twenty-eight year old version cynical through having seen too many films actually felt the same way during its ninety minute running time. This version of me has seen much of everything the director and the star have done. So I can see all of their stylistic nuances throughout. The use of flashbacks are very similar to ‘Out of Sight’ and the less seen but no less brilliant ‘The Limey’; the lead actor here reruns a lot of the darker edged performance he gave in ‘e.r.’ It feels like the summation of something. Like a refresh of an internet browser downloading something new.

But like someone who’s been making science fiction for years Soderbergh understands that ambiguity is the key. Speculate, suggest, but leave enough room for the audience to wonder. His future world looks mostly like our own. Above all, present the events but don’t imprint your own opinion. Let the audience do that. And let them think they are right. It means your work can be discussed for years to come. So that when my future kids are watching they can discuss what they saw and try and wonder what it says about them.

The trouble is that like me, it’ll be their second favourite film. They still won’t think it’s better than Star Wars. You can win their minds, Steven, but not their hearts.

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