Wednesday, August 2, 2017

A Return to Solaris

Though lovers be lost love shall not;
And death shall have no dominion. 
And death shall have no dominion.
Under the windings of the sea
- Dylan Thomas

The 2002 film adaptation of Stanisław Lem's Solaris is a worthy meditation on the book, despite the author's insistence that it may have redirected the focus away from his intended target: the Ocean, rather than the lovers. This may be so, but the film does not pretend to stand on its own; it is clearly a meditation on the book. A taut one at that.

Having read Solaris once, my thoughts are not so much initial as they are impressionistic. To read the book once is to experience the Ocean for the first time and no matter how often we return to the book, it is one of those few literary works that crawl into us, leaving an impression richer than any number of intellectual reassessments. All the more reason I will not be returning to the book in this post.

Instead, I should like to raise what I consider to be the central premise of the film (regardless of whether or not we agree that it was a more or less central premise in the book), namely the weight of love relative to the notion of man as a social animal. More precisely: would we be willing to abandon all human forms in exchange for an eternity abreast our beloved? The answer should be obvious. Personal love is the highest everlasting human bond.

Perhaps the entire social structure characterizing humankind exists to facilitate true love? Aristotle's maxim that Man can only be happy in political society tells us nothing about the forms this society takes. We wonder if Aristotelian happiness might consist of political activity, of ruling and being ruled, but we never consider the scope encompassed by the many who inhabit this political life - is it possible that the ultimate, personal destiny of human beings is to simply find love in the other? For men and women to fall in love? Is the highest happiness in the form of two lovers?

Certainly there is much in human experience which suggests it. And yet the sensation is so very personal, a truth so intimate (more intimate than religious faith even) that it seems elusive and can, even if witnessed, be mistaken for madness. When Kelvin decides to stay with Solaris, Gordon no doubt attributes this to the same insanity that consumed Romeo and led him to prefer sharing the crypt alongside Julia's corpse rather than living on this Earth - going through the motions of regular human life, as Kelvin puts it.

Children grow and leave, parents and grandparents pass, nations rise and fall, friendships go quietly into the night like time itself. The entire whirlwind of worldly community exists only to find love and drown in that happiness. When it leaves us for the grave we realize what a blessing our own mortality is. In death's mystery lives the hope of Love's return.

Yet unlike Romeo, Kelvin is not committing suicide. He is not determined to die for love. He has already let the emotion of anger overpower love once, now he realizes - on the brink of stepping into the escape vehicle - that he is about to succumb to another emotion, fear. He refuses to let love slip through his fingers a second time. Is he dead, or alive? In the end, because he remained true to love, he didn't have to think like that anymore. If we remain true to love in our personal lives - then neither will we.

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