Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Andrei Tarkovski on SOLYARIS, Stanislaw Lem and the cinema

I think very highly of Stanislaw Lem and I like his works very much. I read them whenever I can, everything I can, I read and I like his prose but it so happens that — and I'm sorry to say this — he does not like too much, does not understand, what cinema is. That's why during our time working together we were unequal partners. I loved his books beyond all measure while he was entirely indifferent towards my films. In brief, he would always think that he as a writer... that literature existed as a fact. As does music, poetry, painting. But he could not comprehend cinema and he still does not to this day. He doesn't know what it is. There are many people like that, even very intelligent ones, who thoroughly know literature, poetry, music but they do not consider cinema an art. Either they think cinema hasn't been born yet or they do not feel it, they cannot see the trees in the forest — in the sense they cannot distinguish between true and commercial cinema. And apparently Lem does not seriously treat cinema as art. That's why he believed we should have followed his novel in the screenplay, should have simply illustrated it. This I could not do. In this case he should have approached not me but a director who was an "illustrator."

There are directors like this, those who follow the writer scrupulously illustrating his work. There are many pictures of this type and they usually all look alike. Because it's a mere illustration everything is dead there, it has no life, in and of itself it has no artistic value. It's a mere reflection, something secondary to the literary original. And this is what Lem was expecting. If indeed he was expecting this. It is something I cannot understand. It's very strange to presume he had this kind of expectation but it's precisely his attitude towards film art that put him in the position of a man expecting exactly this result, an illustration — although he perhaps didn't want it at all. But he would invariably oppose any divergence between our screenplay and the exact narrative of the novel. He would become indignant whenever we invented a new thread.

At that time we had a screenplay variant which I was very fond of. In it almost all action took place on Earth, more than half of it, i.e., this whole prehistory with Harey, why she "came into existence" over there on Solaris. It was reminiscent of Crime and Punishment and was of course completely at odds with Lem's original idea because I was interested in issues of inner life, spiritual issues so to speak, and he was interested in the collision between man and Cosmos, the Unknown with a capital "U". This is what interested him. In some ontological sense of the word, in the sense of the problem of cognizance and the limits of this cognizance — it's about that. He was even saying that humanity was in danger, that there was a crisis of cognizance when man does not feel... This crisis is on the increase, it snowballs, it takes shape of various human tragedies, also tragedies scientists experience.

And then it all ripens into a kind of explosion, a jump forward, everything marches towards the future, etc. etc. Explosion — that's very good, I don't deny it, but I'm not interested in this at all. And this novel attracted me only because for the first time I encountered a work about which I could say: atonement, this is a story of atonement. What is atonement? — Remorse. In a straightforward classical sense of the word — when our memory of past wrongdoings, sins, turns into reality. For me this was the reason I made such a film.

On the other hand if we are to talk about this issue of encounter with the Unkown — then again the ontological aspect of it was not important to me, it was instead recreation of a man's psychological situation, to show what is happening to his soul. And if the man remains human — to me that's the most precious thing. It's no accident the hero of my film is a psychologist, the hero of Lem's novel is a psychologist as well. He is an ordinary city dweller, a philistine, he looks just so, ordinarily. For me it was important that he would be just like that. He should be a man of a rather limited spiritual range, average — just in order to be able to experience this spiritual battle, fear, not like an animal which is in pain and does not comprehend what is happening to it. What was important to me was precisely that human being unconsciously forces himself to be human, unconsciously and as far as his spiritual abilities would allow he opposes the brutality, he opposes all that is inhuman while he remains human. And it turns out that despite him being — so it would seem — a thoroughly average guy, he stands at a high level spiritually. It's as if he convicted himself, he went right inside this problem and he saw himself in a mirror. And it turned out he was a spiritually rich man — despite his apparent intellectual limitations we had seen earlier. When he talks to his father he is a plain bore, in his conversation with Berton he speaks in banal trivialities about knowledge, morality, he tells some banal stories; as soon as he begins to form his thoughts he becomes banal. But as soon as he begins to feel something or suffer — he becomes a human being. And this was leaving Lem completely unmoved. Totally unmoved. And I was deeply moved by this. And when the film received a prize in Cannes and someone was congratulating him, he asked: "And what have I got to do with this?" He asked this question with resentment — but one could look at it differently and ask: "Indeed, what has he got to do with it?" If he treated cinema as art he would understand that film, a screen adaptation, always arises on the work's ruins so to speak. As a completely new phenomenon. But he didn't see it that way.

But I am infinitely grateful to him for those days we spent together and talked... He is an extremely interesting man, very pleasant. So if I feel a bit bitter it is not because he treated me and my film that way — it is because he treated cinema this way in general.

By the way, I'd like to ask you to convey to him my best wishes, my regards and heartfelt gratitude. I shall always remember with gratitude the time we spent working together. What I said earlier, however, had to be said at least for objectivity's sake.

Here we are touching upon an issue which has always presented me with a certain problem. Well, here is what happened once: I meet someone, he is a very intelligent man, well-read, knows about poetry, painting, music, etc. An intelligent man. And he says that he loved my new film, he thought it was great, something like: "Oh, I'm so glad, thank you, thank you." I start talking to him and I realise that he hasn't understood a thing. And this is terrible. This is terrible. This is the reverse of what I was just talking about. It's somewhat similar — the guy says "yes, yes, cinema, I understand" — but in fact he does not understand cinema and does not know what it is, how to treat it, what can be expected from it — what shouldn't be expected from it, and what should.

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