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Time and Desire



After finishing Solaris in 1972, Tarkovsky wrote in his diary, 

"I have finished my Solaris. It's more harmonious than Rublev, more purposeful, less cryptic. More graceful, more harmonious than Rublev. Not that there's any comparison."  (Tarkovsky, Time Within Time 53)

I am not going to pretend that a comparison is possible, instead, we are moving from Andrei Rublev to Solaris in order to continue in our pursuit of an understanding of time as the medium of cinema. If the filmmaker sculpts in time, do we see time itself or do we see what has been sculpted? 

The movements of the movie camera that produced Andrei Rublev allowed Tarkovsky to film a chronological narrative without betraying the flow of time. But the phenomenological approach we applied to Andrei Rublev begins to fall apart as we spend more time with Tarkovsky. Solaris introduces the element of desire, specifically erotic desire, that was largely absent from the story of the monk and icon painter, Andrei Rublev. 

Desire crystallizes time in Solaris.


There is a gap that remains in our philosophical exploration of cinema following Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenological approach to perception, namely the limit of his phenomenological subject’s perspective. Solaris lends itself well to an analysis where we can begin detailing an alternative to the strictly subjective experience of time that Merleau-Ponty proposes in his phenomenology because of the relationship between Kris Kelvin and Hari in this film. We will take up Gilles Deleuze's philosophy of cinema in this part in order to provide an interpretation of what Deleuze calls the "crystal-image of time" through the web-like relationship of desire, memory, and death that binds Kris and Hari together. 

In this sci-fi film, Kris Kelvin, a psychologist from Earth, is sent to the planet of Solaris to evaluate the mental states of three scientists currently in orbit around the planet: Gibarian, Snaut, and Sartorius. Solaris is home to a mysterious ocean that has baffled scientists due to its ability to produce hallucinations among the researchers who have come near it. Before Kris leaves for the space station, a family friend and scientist by the name of Berton visits Kris's family to share his experience with them. We learn that Berton was ridiculed by the scientific community for his account of a garden and giant baby that he claims he saw in the Ocean on Solaris. When they watch the recording that Berton made of this sight, they see "nothing but clouds". Although Kris does not claim to be nervous about his imminent voyage (he offends Berton by saying that he has no interest in what Berton thinks he saw, Kris only cares about the "Truth"), shortly thereafter, he  burns his old thesis notes, among other documents and photographs, saving only a home video from his childhood. Clearly Kris harbors some sense of regret or at least a desire to destroy something of his past.


Tarkovsky based this film, albeit loosely, on the Polish author, Stanislaw Lem's novel by the same name. Tarkovsky was interested in the story's themes of memory and guilt rather than its science fiction elements, which we can see through the harrowing experience that Kris has in the space station as he comes into contact with his dead wife, Hari. Lem was not pleased with Tarkovsky's version of the story because it seemed to neglect the sci-fi lens of Lem's original. However, as we shall see, Tarkovsky was interested in the human experiences of conscience and memory that are not bound to any particular setting. Ultimately, Kris's voyage to Solaris does not equal a departure from his regret that he tried to leave behind on Earth. 

The uncertainty of perception in Solaris is wrapped up in the problem of memory. This will provide us with another facet to our philosphical lens on film as the image of time. 


In distinguishing Deleuze's alternative to the subjective understanding of perception that

Merleau-Ponty proposed, Elena del Rio writes,


“. . . the subject is not so much the locus of consciousness as the interval or gap that interrupts the flux of infinite images to expose one singular shot or frame out of that flow.” (Del Rio 77).


The “eye” of the movie camera can perceive without adopting subjectivity because it is only "conscious" of what it sees by interrupting the subjective experience of an event. There are several elements in Solaris that challenge Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology when it comes to film and require an expansive and non-subjective evaluation of time in order to uncover the network of desire that is rooted in memory. 


Tarkovsky’s film Solaris will be presented here as a cinematic window onto the method of philosophical thinking that Henri Bergson calls "intuition". Bergson considers this method to be an approach to the problem of inner experience — inner experience which cannot be spatialized or broken up into quantifiable parts. Tarkovsky’s consistent emphasis on dreams and memories in his films allows us to encounter cinematic images that open up the opportunity for thought and creative engagement. 

Ultimately Solaris introduces the possibility of thinking in cinema; as Deleuze said of cinema and philosophy:


“One naturally goes from philosophy to cinema, but also from cinema to philosophy” (Flaxman 366)

How do we begin this sort of thinking? It must begin with a new understanding of consciousness. Éric Alliez points out that, with cinema, the world itself becomes an image, and there is no longer consciousness of something but rather consciousness itself becomes something. In a thorough explanation of Deleuze's theory of the time-image, Alliez writes, 

“Deleuze’s way of proceeding once again cannot stop until it grasps the genetic element of this new ‘thinking image.’ Here the genetic element is the crystal-image, ‘when the actual optical image crystallizes with its own virtual image, on the small[est] internal circuit.’ It is nonchronological time grasped in its constitutive bifurcation into the actual image of the passing present and the virtual image of the past that is preserved in itself, the  fleeting limit between perception and memory, the contemporaneity of the present with the past and what will come. It is the ‘affection of self by self’ as an ontological definition of time, the mirror-image of time; a direct time image (from which movement derives, a movement that is necessarily aberrant), and not a indirect one (that flows from the movement of montage), which makes us pass from the affect (suspending and ‘puncturing’ chronological time) to a purely chronic time. It is a time that is internal to the event, which ‘is no longer confused with the space which serves as its place, nor with the actual present which is passing.’” (Alliez, “Midday, Midnight: The Emergence of Cine-Thinking” 298-299)

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I will begin with the idea of memory in order to explain Bergson's method of intuition. As Suzanne Guerlac describes it, Bergson attributes mirror-like elements to memory:


“Memory acts like a mirror. But, because of the dynamic flow of time, we would have to consider it more like a magic mirror that has accumulated a multiplicity of past images. It can therefore activate a certain number of past images, as well as give back the echo (or reflection) of the image it has just received through sense perception. There is no real limit to this multiplicity.” (Guerlac 135)


It may be tempting then to ask why memory is not simply the images collected on the film itself: does the celluloid not contain the memory, the memorial, of whatever was captured by the movie camera? Tarkovsky’s words on the subject shed some light on the matter, as he writes,


“Just as life, constantly moving and changing, allows everyone to interpret and feel each separate moment in his own way, so too a real picture, faithfully recording on film the time which flows on beyond the edges of the frame, lives within time if time lives within it; this two-way process is a determining factor of cinema.” (Tarkovsky, Sculpting in Time 118)


Tarkovsky’s words can be used here to describe the real image which, according to Bergson, is the image produced when the actual and virtual images coalesce. This “coalescence” allows the film-image to become an image of time. This coalescence can then be equated with the transference of perception to a new plane of consciousness. It is the movement to a new plane of thinking that catalyzes the possibility of a perception-informed memory. Bergson writes:

Between the plane of action — the plane in which our body has condensed its past into motor habit, — and the plane of pure memory, where our mind retains in all its details the picture of our past life, we believe that we can discover thousands of different planes of consciousness, a thousand integral and yet diverse repetitions of the whole of the experience through which we have lived. To complete a recollection by more personal details does not at all consist in mechanically juxtaposing other recollections to this, but in transporting ourselves to a wider plane of consciousness, in going away from action in the direction of dream. (Bergson 322)

The Crystal Image

The opening shot of Solaris captures plants growing just below the surface of a pond and flowing in the current of a stream. While Tarkovsky frequently films water, still or moving, in order to present the viewer with a meditative moment this opening shot stands out as the earthiness/unearthliness of the image prepares the viewer for the unsettling sci-fi film that is about to unfold.  The camera then shows Kris Kelvin standing in a foggy field, washing his hands in the pond, and later, sitting outside during a downpour. But in each of these shots, Kris moves beyond the scope of the camera and thus establishes himself as a gap — as something that is not available to subjective perception. 


You can watch the opening scene here.

These several opening shots convey a feeling which could be characterized by the uncannily Tarkovskian description Bergson offers regarding the way that we experience others in our dreams:


 . . . [A]n idea really fills our whole self. It is necessary that all our ideas become incorporated into the mass of our states of consciousness. Many float on the surface, like dead leaves on the water of a pond. By this we mean that when our mind [esprit] thinks it always finds them again in a state of immobility, as if they were outside. . . But if, digging beneath the surface through which the self makes contact with external things, we penetrate into the depths of living and organized intelligence, we will observe the superimposition or even the intimate fusion of many of these ideas which, once dissociated, seem to mutually exclude one another according to logical contradictions. The most bizarre dreams, where two images overlap, and present us with two different people at the same time, that have become one, would give us a feeble idea of the interpenetration of our concepts during the waking state. The imagination of the dreamer, isolated from the external world, reproduces with simple images, and parodies in its own way, the work that is ongoing in ideas, in the deepest regions of intellectual life. (Guerlac 75-76)

As Solaris continues, we see exactly that: overlapping images that “present us with two different people at the same time”. Kris’s arrival on Solaris corresponds with his arrival to a zone that differs from the regular course of life: it is an entrance into the duration with which intuition engages as a method of thinking. Bergson’s theorization of duration defines time as of a heterogeneous, qualitative multiplicity. It is this multiplicity which is presented by the film. 

According to Bergson, it is intuition that allows us to have an immediate experience of duration because duration cannot be expressed in symbols. There are three rules of intuition, which are outlined by Deleuze, and can be found within Solaris. First is the invention of a problem. As Deleuze describes it, creating problems characterizes the history of humanity inasmuch as the problems invented by humankind suggest their solutions in the very way in which the problem itself is constructed.


“[I]n Bergson, the very notion of the problem has its roots beyond history, in life itself or in the élan vital: Life is essentially determined in the act of avoiding obstacles, stating and solving a problem. The construction of the organism is both the stating of a problem and a solution.” (Deleuze, Bergsonism 16)


We witness the invention of a problem when we encounter Hari’s image in the photograph, in her presence, and in her gaze in the mirror.


Second, the struggle against illusion. Deleuze explains that perception consists of the “object minus something, minus everything that does not interest us” (Deleuze, Bergsonism 25). This perception takes place when the virtual and actual images meet. In Cinema 2, Deleuze describes the indiscernibility which characterizes an illusion as an occurrence of “coalescence” unique to the meeting of the virtual and actual images.


“The indiscernibility of the real and imaginary, or of the present and the past, or of the actual and the virtual, is definitely not produced in the head or the mind, it is the objective characteristic of certain existing images which are by nature double.” (Deleuze, Cinema 2 73)


Hari is an instance of illusion within this film insofar as she is the coalescence of virtual and actual images embedded in Kris’s memory and activated by his perception. Beyond immediate experience, the planet of Solaris plunges Kris into the practice of intuition precisely because it sets up the conditions to experience duration.


The third rule of intuition allows us to apply the notion of time, as Deleuze writes,


“This rule gives the ‘fundamental meaning’ of intuition: Intuition presupposes duration, it consists in thinking in terms of duration.”  (Deleuze, Bergsonism 31)


Bergson distinguishes duration from space but Deleuze explicates the way in which a duality does not only exist between duration and space but moreover, duration allows difference itself to exist, thus providing for all other dualities.


“Duration is always the location and environment of differences in kind; it is even their totality and multiplicity.” (Deleuze, Bergsonism 32)


The distinction between duration and space lies in the fact that duration is a heterogeneous intensity. This flow of time as intensity of perception is essential to Tarkovsky’s own film theory in which the rhythm of time makes the film image realizable and recognizable as such:


“The dominant, all-powerful factor of the film image is rhythm, expressing the course of time within the frame.” (Tarkovsky, Sculpting in Time 113)


While there are other art forms that require time in order to exist, such as dance or music, cinema does not simply use time as a tool or platform but rather, it presents us with an image of time. The rhythm of the film allows it to reveal a constantly coalescing actual and virtual. As Ronald Bogue describes the crystalline formation that Deleuze attributes to cinematic images,

“Every moment forms a crystal as it perpetually splits into a virtual past and an actual present, and ‘the visionary, the seer, is the one who sees in the crystal, and what is seen is the gushing forth of time as doubling, as scission’.” (Bogue, Deleuze on Cinema 133)




If the medium of cinema is time, then how does memory figure into it?

It seems that Tarkovsky's concept of filmmaking as "sculpting in time" would suggest that a film is a sculpture, a relic of what has happened. But cinema is more than a souvenir. 

As Guerlac writes in her text on Bergson's philosophy of time, 

“Memory images cannot be lodged in the brain because Pure Memory is virtual! Memory does not exist until it is actualized through interaction with perception, or in the mode of dream.”  (Guerlac 139)

Bergson proposed that memory is actualized in a cone-like perception that brings events and the corresponding feelings that accompanied those events into perception. Each memory interacts with every other memory and is brought into perception. In other words, perception includes memory:

“Memory mixes in with perception for the simple reason that it takes time for perception to occur.”  (Guerlac 118)

We can now begin to understand the role that memory plays in cinema. In Matter and Memory, Bergson describes the way that attentive recognition brings the past into the present by introducing memories into perception:

"For, while external perception provokes on our part movements which retrace its main lines, our memory directs upon the perception received the memory-images which resemble it and which are already sketched out by the movements themselves. Memory thus creates anew the present perception; or rather it doubles this perception by reflecting upon it either its own image or some other memory-image of the same kind." (Bergson 123)

And Bergson goes on to describe this perception as a closed circuit:

"...reflective perception is a circuit, in which all the elements, including the perceived object itself, hold each other in a state of mutual tension as in an electric circuit, so that no disturbance starting from the object can stop on its way and remain in the depths of the mind: it must always find its way back to the object whence it proceeds."  (Bergson 127)

We see this throughout Solaris: the numerous times that Kris tries to send Hari off or leave her behind and she simply cannot be separated from him. Even the circular shape of the space station on Solaris cannot be escaped. ​



While dreams are a characteristic element of Tarkovsky’s cinema, they hold a unique place in Solaris because of the role that desire plays in this film. The repetition of dreams becomes the production of memories on the planet of Solaris. For Kris Kelvin, whose conscience is troubled by the memory of the wrong he did to his wife, Hari, his dreams produce his wife in the flesh when he arrives on Solaris.


Perhaps the most powerful scene in the film is one in a series of resurrections which Hari undergoes. The first shot is of Hari’s frozen visage. We learn that she drank liquid oxygen in an attempt to take her own life. This is, first of all, a revitalization of Kris’s memory of his late wife who similarly took her own life using a compound he was supposed to use in his scientific research. But Hari cannot kill herself as she did on earth because she is no longer independent of Kris’s consciousness. Judging by how they are dressed (or rather, undressed) in this scene, Kris and Hari have just had sex. Hari’s orgasmic return to life is significant in that it unites the two as lovers in the viewer’s imagination. Professor Snaut, who looks on the scene with discomfort, turns away with the excuse that, “I can never get used to all these resurrections”. Is he truly uncomfortable with the resurrection itself? I would claim rather, that he is uncomfortable witnessing this instance of erotic renewal prompted by the mixture of memory and desire. As she is regenerated, Hari cries out that she is not Hari while Kris tries to assuage her distress by insisting that it does not matter because she is the Hari he is in love with now.


But Kris quickly learns that he cannot actually distinguish this Hari from the Hari who he wronged, the Hari who took her own life, because no matter how real, the Hari he meets on Solaris is the actualization of his guilt-ridden memory. 

We learn shortly thereafter, that Kris has agreed to test Snaut and Sartorius’s proposal to send his encephalogram to the Ocean in an attempt escape the “guests” who have been tormenting the scientists since they first blasted the Ocean with X-rays. Ultimately, Kris’s conscience is unable to sustain his memory of Hari. After transmitting the encephalogram to the Ocean, Kris becomes feverish and has a dream in which Hari repeatedly passes before the camera; we see Hari as a multiplicity in a single shot, each replicating Kris’s memory of his late wife. The dream then becomes a return to his home and his mother (no older than when we saw her in the home video, one of the few mementos Kris carried with him on his voyage to Solaris).


Kris’s inability to escape the regret weighing on his conscience leads to Hari’s demise: she agrees to be destroyed in the neutrino disintegrator that Sartorius developed. As Tarkovsky pointed out in an interview on Solaris


"In one way Kelvin is the loser, because he tries to live his life without repeating the mistake he made on earth. He attempts to replay the same situation, because he has a conscience, because he feels guilty of a crime, and he tries to change himself in relation to Hari. But it doesn’t work. Their relationship ends as it did on earth, the second Hari commits suicide."

 (Tarkovsky, Time Within Time 363)

Tarkovsky’s point is that a person cannot deny the reality of their memories, especially not those shaped by conscience: the moral decisions one makes and, most importantly, those which relate to another person, will always be preserved within time. This is what makes the existence of the past real. It is perception, according to Bergson, that leads to the actualization of these memories, but they are no less real when they are virtual. Tarkovsky continues, in the same interview,


“But if he had been able to live this stage of his life differently, he would not have been guilty the first time either. And he realizes the reason for his inability to live this second life with Hari. He realizes that it is not possible.”  (Tarkovsky, Time Within Time 363)


Enter The Ocean


The portrayal of Hari in Solaris is itself a time-image that matches Deleuze’s conception of the term.  It describes the movement of the past into the present in which the virtual past becomes actualized.

Seeing Time in the Crystal


Deleuze himself describes the Hari of Tarkovsky’s 1972 film Solaris as “crystalline”, but he maintains his conviction that Tarkovsky’s development of the crystal image always closes in on itself. Deleuze writes in Cinema 2,


“Are we to believe that the soft planet of Solaris gives a reply, and that it will reconcile the ocean and thought, the environment and the seed, at once designating the transparent face of the crystal (the rediscovered woman) and the crystallizable form of the universe (the rediscovered dwelling)? Solaris does not open up this optimism… “ (Deleuze, Cinema 2 78)

While the French philosopher may consider Tarkovsky’s use of the crystal image to be closed in on itself, Tarkovsky does not feel compelled to offer his viewers any sort of "optimism" that might imply the possibility of reconciliation. Tarkovsky is interested, rather, in the permanence of conscience and the flow of time that constantly resurrects the possibility of an aesthetics of ethics. As Tarkovsky said in an interview on Solaris in reply to a question about whether or not the film ends on a pessimistic note:

"The film ends with what is most precious for a person, and at the same time the simplest thing of all, and the most available to everybody: ordinary human relationships, which are the starting-point of man's endless journey." (Tarkovsky, Time Within Time 364)

It is important to recall Tarkovsky's own artistic impetus: to demand the attention of his audience. As he writes in Sculpting in Time


"Through poetic connections feeling is heightened and the spectator is made more active. He becomes a participant in the process of discovering life, unsupported by ready-made deductions from the plot or ineluctable pointers from the author. He has at his disposal only what helps to penetrate to the deeper meaning of the complex phenomena represented in front of him." (Tarkovsky, Sculpting in Time 20)

That is, the viewer has intuition at their disposal. We must not lose our awareness of the way in which Tarkovsky’s films present images to us: within the film itself, we perceive turning crystals of time, but outside the film, as viewers, we are confronted with a larger, kaleidoscopic view into time which may alter our awareness of it and change the texture of life. Tarkovsky’s films are about that which they portray. In other words, Solaris simultaneously represents the crystal of time and uses these same time crystals as its medium. One might say that Tarkovsky does not sculpt in time but is rather mining in search of time, in search of the lost time of which the director says,


“I think that what a person normally goes to the cinema for is time: for time lost or spent or not yet had. He goes there for living experience; for cinema, like no other art, widens, enhances and concentrates a person’s experience—and not only enhances it but makes it longer, significantly longer.” (Tarkovsky, Sculpting in Time 63)

We can now bring Tarkovsky's quasi-autobiographical film, Mirror, into the conversation in order to further develop this idea of the turning crystal image of time.


 Enter Part III

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