'Solaris,' 'Another Earth,' and 23 other heady sci-fi flicks to see after 'Interstellar'
By By Caitlin Goldblatt
Nov 21, 2014 at 6:01 PM
In this week's issue of City Paper, we reviewed "Interstellar" which critic Max Robinson saw as "a tripping-balls space epic with as much heart as cinematic vision," and paired it with Daft Punk's "Interstella 5555" (which happens to be coming to the upstairs of the Ottobar tonight) and provides an equally wide-eyed though much less self-serious visual space spectacle. To keep the conversation going, here are 25 other sci-fi flicks to watch. Whether you liked "Interstellar" and want more of the same or thought it could've been better and batshit crazier, there's something on this list for you.
Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky
Streaming on Hulu Plus
Psychologist Kris Kelvin (Donatas Banionis) wanders around the grounds of his picturesque childhood home while his father nears death inside. The audience quickly discovers that, soon, Kelvin will travel to Solaris Station, the space station orbiting the titular planet, to assess the mental and emotional well-being of its crew, whose members have been transmitting confusing and distressing signals to Earth. A former Solaris crew member attempts to warn Kelvin about hallucinations he experienced at the station, but Kelvin does not believe him and departs anyway. This is the quickest the film ever moves.
When Kelvin arrives on Solaris, he is dismissed by the two remaining crew members. They've forsaken their research to embrace the phantasmagoric effect the planet has had on them. Initially, they not only fear Kelvin's potential interference with their lives at the station, but worry he will be driven insane by what he sees if they do not ease him into understanding that Solaris will force him to confront physical manifestations of memories he has otherwise repressed. Here, Tarkovsky presents an elegant cinematic representation of extraterrestrial life that communicates by reproducing the people and places best remembered and most missed by visitors to Solaris. How and why the planet does this remains unexplained, which allows the story to focus primarily on the emotional lives of its characters, past and present.
Kelvin must confront Hari (Natalya Bondarchuk), his dead wife who reappears, and struggles with the crew's insistence that she is ultimately a hallucinatory composite of Kelvin's memories of his wife, despite her realness to Kelvin and her own intense feeling that she is human. Like all of Tarkovsky's films, "Solaris" is about the internal and external politics of memory and forgetting. As such, this one, set in space, dealing with death and aliens, feels like a horror movie and plays out like a ghost story.
A college-bound girl named Rhoda (played by co-writer Brit Marling) drives home drunk and crashes into the car of a composer, killing his family and putting the composer in a coma. But it's all more atmospheric than dramatic. So, what does that have to do with space? Well, the same night of this accident, scientists have discovered a planet in our solar system, on which all people, places, and things are identical to those on Earth. It might be an alternate universe, or a time cube situation. Rhoda's repeated and strange attempts to make amends with the composer serve as the contents of the film (she goes to his house and doesn't identify herself, pretending to be a maid offering to clean his home and, well, things get more complicated from there). This melodrama is framed by the notion that the loved ones and opportunities each character has lost may still exist in another place.
"Another Earth" saves its audience from enduring the difficult feat of a director explaining the real-world scientific explanations for the sci-fi elements of their film (We're looking at you and your physics montage and wormhole exposition, "Interstellar") because, really, science isn't the most important element of science fiction. It might be the least-important element, actually. Fully explaining why things are the way they are in a sci-fi universe would be like if pornographers decided to start showing us how those characters ended up in the warehouse without their clothes.
Come to think of it, though, we guess it would be nice to find out how something larger than our moon, which shows up in our sky, was only just discovered by the scientists in this story? Then again, that is part of the appeal of "Another Earth," which is bold in its world-building, is occasionally beautiful, and, like "Solaris," plays out like a dream.