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STANISLAW LEM, 1921 – 2006

One of my favorite science fiction writers, Stanislaw Lem, died yesterday of a heart ailment. The Polish writer’s work incorporated everything from Kafkaesque humor to political allegory to phiosophical inquiry in novels such as The Futurological Congress, Cyberiad, Memoirs Found in a Bathtub and Solaris, the latter of which was made into films by Andrei Tarkovsky and Steven Soderbergh. (All of the above are highly recommended.)

Those who feel they’ve gotten their Lem through one of the two filmed versions of Solaris should pick up the late author’s novel, which is much less a romantic fable and much more a treatise on religion and the limitations of human awareness. Also, Lem himself was not a big fan of Tarkovsky’s film.

From a July 2004 interview:

Tarkovsky was crazy about the idea of filming “Solaris”… During those times he was told by a number of high-ranking members of the Soviet Communist Party that one should not film this book, because this work is ideologically flawed: idealistic, subjective and metaphysical. However he would not listen to them because Tarkovsky was entirely made up of this idealistic-metaphysical stuff mixed with a “Russian soul” – hence he was not a good addressee of such warnings. I have serious reservations regarding his film adaptation. Firstly, I would like to see the planet Solaris. Secondly, during one of our arguments I told Tarkovsky that he never made “Solaris” – but “Crime and Punishment” instead. From this film we gather that this horrible Kelvin-guy lead poor Harey to suicide and later had some remorse about it – while the latter was strengthened by her reappearance in strange and incomprehensible circumstances. What was just awful, was the introduction of Kelvin’s parents and an aunt. But his mother was the worst, since this was the Russian mat’, i.e. Rodina – the Mother Earth. This really angered me a lot. At that point we were like two horses dragging the same cart in different directions. Peoples’ lives, that we get to know at the station, are no existentialist anecdotes, but grand questions concerning the place of humans in the Cosmos! My Kelvin decides to stay at the planet without any hope, while Tarkovsky created a vision with some island and a hut. I am quite irritated by this image… I cannot stand the “emotional gravy” in which Tarkovsky submerged my heroes, not to mention the fact that he entirely removed the scientific landscape of the planet and replaced it by a number of eccentricities. I can tell you very little about Soderberghs’ remake. I hear that critics perceive it as derived from Tarkovsky. From the financial point of view this movie certainly was a spectacular fiasco.

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