Thursday, September 29, 2016

Looking for Meaning in the Ocean Below

Made it all 5,200 miles or thereabouts from the windy, cool shores of Uruguay to the warm, humid farm, pulling up mid-morning following my red-eye flight to Miami, then the short second leg up to Charlotte.

The flight was only around half-full, which meant I enjoyed a short row to myself allowing for an opportunity to grab a few hours of not-entirely-restful-but-adequate sleep along the way.

As there weren’t any back-of-the-seat, in-flight movies coming down, I correctly anticipated that would be the case going back as well, and so planned ahead a little by loading a copy of the 1972 sci-fi film Solaris onto the laptop. It’s an adaptation of the 1961 novel by Stanislaw Lem, a book and writer I’ve always liked.

I’ve written here before about Lem, in particular about the Polish writer’s 1968 novel His Master’s Voice, whose stories and novels encourage the reader to think a lot about what exactly makes us human, how we communicate with one another, the role of technology in our lives, and the place of humans in the larger context of the universe. In other words, wholly appropriate stuff when hurtling in a metal tube over land and water seven miles high.

Solaris is a curious book, involving the exploration of a planet (Solaris) that has been determined to be “sentient.” Its distinguishing feature is a huge ocean covering it that throbs and seems to be alive, and which additionally seems capable of affecting the thinking of those studying it, including inducing hallucinations causing them to experience all sorts of weirdly vivid, psychologically troubling phenomena.

Again, kind of appropriate while flying over an ocean.

The film by Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky has a lot of affinity in style and tone with 2001: A Space Odyssey, similarly featuring spacemen in trouble. There’s a lot of long, slow passages with a mix of classical and electronic music (and sounds) making up the soundtrack. And like 2001, it’s long (nearly three hours) and a bit challenging perhaps for some viewers.

As it happened, I couldn’t quite meet the challenge. It kept my interest, but around two hours into it I found myself starting to lose the battle to stay awake while watching an extended shot of the protagonist, Kris, sleeping. It was too suggestive, I’m afraid, and I had to give in to my own need for rest. Thankfully my dreams weren’t as disturbing as his were, though.

I’ll watch the last hour soon, and probably go back to the novel again as Lem’s books always seem to reward rereadings. Seems like I’m pulling them back off the shelf for these poker tournament trips a lot, too, which end up encouraging a harmonious kind of reflection on similarly “deep” questions.

The world can seem smaller to you when you’re hopping from one point to another 5,200 miles away. But so, too, can such traveling about encourage rethinking your sense of self in relation to it.

Image: “IMG_0093” (adapted), Lucy Gray. CC BY-SA 2.0.

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