- What film or TV show is this from?
Solaris (1972) – Andrei Tarkovsky
- Do you have the actual script of the film—not a transcript?
No, but Jeff and I discussed the possibility of my writing an English version of the script. There does exist an official translation, but the book it appears in is prohibitively expensive and hard to obtain outside of the UK.
- Did you receive approval from Jeff for this scene? (If “no”, do not proceed until you have approval!)
- In 3-5 sentences, what is the story of the entire film?
It’s the story of a psychologist who tries to help diagnose three scientists who have undergone emotional crises. They are aboard a spaceship, orbiting the planet Solaris.
- What is the theme or message of this film?
It is about grief.
- In 3-5 sentences, what happened in the story immediately before your selected scene?
This is the opening scene, and it sets up the character and his internal emotional world.
- In 3-4 sentences, what is the story—the beginning, middle, and end—of this scene? In other words, what happens as the scene starts, as the action rises, and as it ends?
This scene isn’t very heavy on conflict and instead is more poetic and internal.
The scene opens on a leaf floating down a river. These are small details that are presumably seen by our protagonist. It’s his last day on Earth.
He walks through lush greenery, dwarfed by the beauty of the Earth. He watches a horse run by, saddleless, trapped behind a fence. He washes his hands in a river, then sees his handlers arrive in a car. He isn’t too happy about it.
- What, specifically, must the audience understand narratively/plot-wise in this scene in order to remain oriented and engaged in it, as well as in the entire film? What did the director shoot in order to communicate each of these pieces of information?
The real core of this scene is the melancholic performance of the protagonist, and the contrast between his melancholy and the lushness of the environment. Tarkovsky often used the setting to tell most of the story, the external being a representation of the internal, and this is a superb example of him playing with this.
Logistically, there isn’t much to orient us at all, as it’s the opening sequence. He just exists in this space. The narrative is not yet begun, this scene will not make sense to anyone going in blind without the rest of the movie.
- What is the narrative and thematic purpose of this scene within the larger story?
It establishes him as a character, and his world, his place in it, his appreciation of it.
- What is the progression of emotions that the director created for the audience in this scene? (In other words, the audience felt ______, then _______, etc.) Why did the emotions progress in this way? Specifically, how did the director achieve this progression of emotions?
The scene begins with awe and carries it throughout, with a final sense of wistfulness and perhaps regression as he first sees the horse and then washes his hands.
- What is the first image of the scene? What is the final image of the scene? Why do you think the director chose these specific images?
The first image is the leaf floating down the river, the final is the protagonist washing his hands. The river is the recurring image, perhaps signifying his ties to the Earth.
- Why is this scene personal to you? What specific personal experience(s) in your own life does it remind you of? Ask yourself, “Why does this scene speak to me? Why do I need to make it?”
I have left places before, and have felt grief in doing so. I have experienced the last day at home too many times. The small rituals become enormous in your mind. You try to cling to whatever you can, even if it’s as small as washing your hands, feeling the water one last time.
- How does the lighting feel in this scene? Use the most descriptive language you can. Why?
It is mostly very natural, though there are small highlights here and there. It feels like early morning/dawn light, very clean, very fresh, with a sense of mugginess or of heavy eyelids.
- Which specific visual elements (space, line, shape, tone, color, rhythm, movement) do you notice the director is using to purposefully communicate the emotion of the scene? What other elements is the director using to evoke emotion? (Be specific! Don’t just say “art direction,” although that’s a start, say, “scattered clothing on the bed, open closet doors…” etc.)
Color is the key here – blue is artificial, and it is the color of our protagonist. Green is the world he is in, it is everything. There is a fluctuation between deep space and flat space – flat when he is looking, when he is interacting, deep when he is within the space, and we are looking. Everything has a white-ish tone to it. Everything is very still, usually only a single thing moves in the frame at a time.
Aside from the visual elements, Tarkovsky’s timing and pacing is world-class in this scene.
- What focal lengths does the director appear to be using? Why?
85 for closeups of the leaf and river, as well as the man, then 24 for the vista shots. He goes from telephoto to wide. It works – we can’t be wide all the time, or it means nothing in the end to the viewer. We go from narrow to wide to create contrast.
- In a bulleted list, describe three or four potential obstacles the filmmakers faced in creating a successful scene. How do you think they overcame these?
- Finding the right time to shoot – early morning was a really interesting take on this, and it works really well here. It matches thematically with what’s going on in the scene.
- How do they decide to show what they show, and cut out what they cut out?
- How do we get such a complex emotional and deep performance without dialogue, in just two closeups?
- Making sure nobody else was around. How do we keep on top of that?
- In a bulleted list, describe three or four potential obstacles you may face in creating a successful scene. How can you be prepared to overcome these? Be specific!
- How the heck do we get a horse? I know there are a couple in Provo that I’ve driven past, maybe we could ask them if they’d be willing to let us shoot? If not, we can just grab a telephoto and do it guerilla style without them knowing.
- We need an actor who can pull this off, who has the look.
- These environments and settings are iconic. We need to find locations that look as close as possible.
The weather will probably be different. We gotta hope it’s clear out.