In his article entitled, The Concept of the Collective Unconscious, Carl Jung defines the collective unconscious as, “The collective unconscious is a part of the psyche which can be negatively distinguished from a personal unconscious by the fact that it does not, like the latter, owe its existence to personal experience and consequently is not a personal acquisition. While the personal unconscious is made up essentially of contents which have at one time been conscious but which have disappeared from consciousness through having been forgotten or repressed, the contents of the collective unconscious have never been in consciousness, and therefore have never been individually acquired, but owe their existence exclusively to heredity…In addition to our immediate consciousness, which is of a thoroughly personal nature and which we believe to be the only empirical psyche (even if we tack on the personal unconscious as an appendix), there exists a second psychic system of a collective, universal, and impersonal nature which is identical in all individuals. This collective unconscious does not develop individually but is inherited (Jung 2).” Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris is representative of the period in Russian film culture best known as the Thaw in which Russian filmmakers explored new freedoms that they had not previously had under the reign of Stalin and Socialist Realism. This is best exemplified in the way that the film explores the repressed state of the collective unconscious of Russian society throughout the film.

For the viewer of Solaris to better understand the meaning found within the images on the screen, it is crucial for them to be aware of the film culture that the movie was a part of, and the transitionary period between what was known as Socialist Realism into that of the Thaw. Prior to its release in 1972, and under the reign of the Soviet Socialist Republic of Stalin, movies of that period were by and large conditional on the artistic method known as Socialist Realism established by leaders such as Lenin and Stalin: Stalin to whom noted in this regard that, “If the artist is going to depict our life correctly, he cannot fail to observe and point out what is leading it towards socialism. So, this will be socialist art. It will be socialist realism.” In his book Soviet Socialist Realism: Origins and Theory, C. Vaughan James elaborates further on the topic of Socialist Realism as he notes, “Brought up in a society that not only does not boast a widely-accepted theory of socio-political function of art but is, in the main, hostile to the very idea of the elaboration of such a theory, he is thrown into dramatic confrontation with the artistic method of Socialist Realism. This, he learns, demands from the artist a true and historically concrete depiction of reality in its revolutionary development. Moreover, this true and historically concrete depiction of reality must be combined with the task of educating the workers in the spirit of Communism (James 5). James then expands on this conceptualization as he states later on that, “Socialist Realism is a worldwide phenomenon that arose under the influences of the great social changes at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth – the sharpening contradictions within capitalist society, the crisis in bourgeois culture and the rise of a socially conscious proletariat. It is, therefore, the reflection in the arts of the struggle for the victory of socialism (James 90).” On a rudimentary level, the descriptions of what was expected from Socialist Realism as indicated above exemplify how several generations of the Russian collective unconscious had become repressed. Generally speaking, art of any medium has, throughout the centuries, represented and expressed the history and culture of the people in which it speaks to. Under such strict propagandistic guidelines, various different values, ideologies, beliefs, norms, feelings, and thoughts of both the artist and with it the people at large that did not promote the spirit of Communism would have otherwise been greatly limited, restricted, and repressed. These ideas would not be able to surface until the next period of film culture as found in the Thaw.
In regard to the period of Russian film culture known as the Thaw, Martha P. Nochimson writes, “As is clear from Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears, and many other films of the period after Stalin’s death that eventually came to be known as the Thaw, what most Russian filmmakers wanted was the freedom to investigate ordinary human desires and frustrations. They felt weighed down by the demand for films to show the Communism is the panacea, the all-purpose cure, for whatever ails the characters. However, Andrei Tarkovsky, was shooting for a higher goal. Not only did he want to be more realistic about human concerns…He was determined to be free to think about the violence and disharmony at the heart of human existence that was denied during the Stalinist years by a government that demanded films for the millions, which was code for explaining everything simply and in terms of the utopianism of Soviet ideology (Nochimson 93).” At the heart of Nochimson’s quote lies an illustration as to how the repressed state of the collective unconscious was awakening to a varying degree now that the political limitations that had been placed on Russian cinema and impeded upon the vision of its artists had been lifted. With these restrictions no longer in place, directors such as Tarkovsky were given the freedom and liberty to express to their audiences those issues, or human concerns at the core of the Russian people that no longer were confined to that of the advocacy and self-promotion of communism and Soviet ideologies. Consequently, the pressing matters of Russia at that time, such as that of the socio-political and socio-economic implications and ramifications were brought into the public eye for the first time in decades. Something that the Russian officials were cautious of, as Nochimson comments on as she commented in World On Film that, “However, the Soviet authorities were (correctly) suspicious that in the mysterious images and unusual plots of his (Tarkovsky) films he issued a strong challenge to the approved formulas of Socialist Realism, and from time to time they reined him in (93).” In terms of the mysterious images and plots utilized by Tarkovsky in his films such as Solaris that expressed the awakening collective unconscious from its repressed state, Tarkovsky heavily relied on symbolism to speak to this aspect of Russian society. More specifically, the symbolism of mirrors or reflections, which is highly prevalent throughout the film, water, the contrast of life and death, and in the characterization of Hari and the ostensible hallucinations of the crew members about the station of Solaris.
“Science? Nonsense! In this situation, mediocrity and genius are equally useless! I must tell you that we really have no desire to conquer any cosmos. We want to extend the earth up to its borders. We don’t know what to do with other worlds. We don’t need other worlds. We need a mirror.” This quote issued by Dr. Snaut approximately halfway through Solaris reflects both literally and metaphorically how the usage of mirrors and reflections are a common and highly symbolic element leveraged by Tarkovsky in his film, as well as a prelude to his overarching theme in his next movie in The Mirror. The most noticeable demonstrations of the symbolic aspects of mirrors and reflections found throughout the movie asides from the quote given above are that of the reflection of Kris found in the calm waters of the lake before him as he stands near it in a contemplative state, and that of the scene were Kris Kelvin and the materialization of his wife stare into a mirror together as they discuss what it means to be human. As a director that emphasized the inner life of the Russian people, the use of mirrors and reflections throughout Solaris can be viewed as the Russian collective taking an inward look at itself through a process of deep introversion and introspection: a people that were deeply meditating on the turmoil of its past, its present, and the direction of their future. Likewise, these images could be interpreted as the Russian people looking inwards at their ideological beliefs at this time, on an individual and national level. Also, these symbolic elements have long carried with them connotations associated with the mythology of Narcissus, his love for himself, and narcissism, which with them speaks volumes to the Russian people of their having lived through the horrific and atrocious reign of a narcissistic dictator such as Stalin, with his love of himself and the type of government that he pushed on the Russian people. Something that is further substantiated in the parallelisms between the suicide of Narcissus and the members aboard Solaris, with which will be discussed in detail later on in the essay. While the evidence for the awakening state of the Russian collective unconscious as is found in the symbolic nature of mirrors and reflections inherent within Solaris is enough to substantiate this claim, the overtones found within the reiteration of the image of water further bolsters this argumentation.
The very opening scene of Solaris starts with a close uptake of a calm, tranquil, and otherwise peaceful reflection of a lake’s surface, which is almost immediately followed by the downpour of a rainstorm which absolutely drenches the main character, Kris Kelvin. This is only one of many instances throughout the film in which an image of a body of water narrates the story of the growing awakening of the collective unconscious of Russian society, the most substantial demonstration of which is found in the stark juxtaposition between the lake and the planet of Solaris in and of itself: an oceanic planet comprised mostly of chaotic, turbulent, and unstable waves of purple and green and that are mostly enigmatic in nature. There are many interpretations of the symbolic references of these images that can help elucidate as to how they are demonstrative of an awakening collective identity that had previously been repressed. First and foremost, when combined with the exploration of other various variables throughout Solaris, such as the examination of additional unknown depths like that of space, the Solaris space station, in comparison with the deepest most recesses of the waters of Solaris, it would seem that the trek made by Kris Kelvin can be viewed as an attempt to study the depths of the unexplored parts of the unconscious mind. This fact seems further vindicated in the decision of the Solaricists to send Kris Kelvin, a psychologist of all people, to give a detailed report on the state of the space station, when this seems hardly the appropriate occupation for someone to give such an account in this situation. It would seem much more fitting for them to send someone such as a scientist, an astronaut, a doctor, or someone with similar credentials as those aboard the space ship, as opposed to someone that has no experience with space exploration, and to whom is an expert in studying the mind. On a much deeper, more macroscopic level, the stark contrast between the two previously mentioned bodies of water act to paint a picture of various societal factors affecting the day to day lives of the Russian people. In this case, it would seem that behind the surface of these waters, which is symbolic of the more conscious layers of the mind, lies within the unconscious mind of the people of Russia the realities of living in what can only be best described as an intensified contact zone. Mary Louise Pratt defines this concept in her scholarly article entitled, Arts of the Contact Zone, as, “spaces where cultures meet, clash, and grapple with each other, often in contexts of highly. asymmetrical relations of power, such as colonialism, slavery. or their aftermaths as they are lived out in the world today (Pratt 9).” In the case of Russia in the aftermath of Stalin and Socialist Realism, this contact zone would appear in the form of the clash between social classes found in this epoch of Russian history, between that of the lower class and the bourgeois, as well as the conflict between the Russian people and the government in which they had previously been in, as well as that in which they found themselves in during the 1970s. Similarly, the unbalanced water of Solaris and this depiction of the contact zone could also be perceived as Tarkovsky’s attempt to illustrate the sociopolitical climate of Russia at this time that was only just coming into awareness by the Russian people: one of instability, turmoil, and upheaval. Although both symbolic elements of reflections and the bodies of water found within Solaris conveys a portrait of a people awakening to the repressed state of the collective identity found with Russian society, the materialization of the sentient being that is Hari further validates this claim.
(C) Aaron Weis