Andrei Tarkovsky on...

Solaris, Lem, Fellini, and Polanski

The following is a transcript of an interview with Tarkovsky, conducted by Zbigniew Podgórzec in 1973. Mr. Podgórzec also interviewed Tarkovsky in 1972 — fragments of that interview is found among the excerpts on this page. Reference: The first English translation of this interview appeared as an Appendix in Time Within Time: The Diaries 1970-1986, Seagull Books Private Limited, Calcutta, 1991, pp. 362-366. ISBN 817046083-2. English translation by Kitty Hunter-Blair. The below constitutes an excerpt of the original piece.

Why, in a film which could be categorized as science fiction, are you more concerned with the drama of the hero's conscience than with the dramatic situation in the space station?

When I read Lem's novel, what struck me above all were the moral problems evident in the relationship between Kelvin and his conscience, as manifested in the form of Hari. In fact if I understood, and greatly admired, the second half of the novel — the technology, the atmosphere of the space station, the scientific questions — it was entirely because of that situation, which seems to me to be fundamental to the work. Inner, hidden, human problems, moral problems, always engage me far more than any questions of technology; and in any case technology, and how it develops, invariably relates to moral issues, in the end that is what it rests upon. My prime sources are always the real state of the human soul, and the conflicts that are expressed in spiritual problems. And so I paid more attention to that side of things in my film, even though I did so unconsciously. It was an organic process of selection. I didn't erase the rest, but it somehow became more muted than the things that interested me most.

What is the central idea of your film?

What is central is the inner problem, which preoccupied me and which coloured the whole production in a very specific way: namely the fact that in the course of its development humanity is constantly struggling between spiritual, moral entropy, the dissipation of ethical principles, on the one hand, and on the other — the aspiration towards a moral ideal. The endless inner struggle of man, who wants to be freed from all moral restraint, but at the same time seeks a meaning for his own movement, in the form of an ideal — that is the dichotomy that constantly produces intense inner conflict in the life of the individual and of society. And it seems to me that the conflict, and the fraught, urgent search for a spiritual ideal, will continue until humanity has freed itself sufficiently to concern itself only with the spiritual. As soon as that happens a new stage will begin in the development of the human soul, when man will be directed into his inner being as intensely, deeply, passionately, limitlessly, as he has directed his efforts up till now to his search for inner freedom. And Lem's novel, in my own specific understanding of it, expresses precisely man's inability to concentrate on himself, and points to the conflict between man's spiritual life and the objective acquisition of knowledge. It's a conflict that will never give man any peace until he has achieved complete outward freedom. We might call this freedom social, the freedom of the social individual who is not concerned with bread, food, a roof, or his children's future. Mankind does not move forward synchronously, it stops and starts and goes off in different directions. And only when scientific discoveries occur in the course of technological development is there a corresponding leap in man's moral development. There is an extraordinary cohesion between the two. That was the problem which exercised me all the time I was working on the film. In simple terms, the story of Hari's relationship with Kelvin is the story of the relationship between man and his own conscience. It's about man's concern with his own spirit, when he has no possibility of doing anything about it, when he is constantly drawn into the exploration and development of technology.

And what is the outcome of the conflict between Kelvin and his conscience?

In one way Kelvin is the loser, because he tries to relive 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. 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 it is not possible. If it were, then it would be possible to press the button of this microphone that is recording our conversation, replay the tape, wipe off all that has been recorded, and start afresh as if nothing had taken place. And then concepts like spiritual life, conscience, and morality would have no meaning whatsoever.

Does that mean that the film ends on a note of pessimism?

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. After all, that journey began for the sake of preserving intact, and protecting, feelings which every person experiences: love of your own earth, love of those close to you, of those who brought you into the world, love of your past, of what has always been, and still is, dear to you. The fact that the ocean brought forth out of its depths the very thing that was most important to him—his dream of returning to Earth—that is, the idea of contact. Contact in the sense of "humane," in the sense of "doing good." For me, the finale is Kelvin's return to the cradle, to his source, which cannot ever be forgotten. And it is all the more important because he had travelled so far along the road of technological progress, in the process of acquiring knowledge.

Do you think Lem is going to be pleased with your film?

I should not want to prepare Lem particularly for the film. He is a person for whose opinion I have great respect, I admire his talent and his intellect. I am very fond of the film, and extremely grateful to Lem for allowing me to make it. However Lem feels about the film, I don't think he will have any call to be angry or offended by its being badly done, or insincere, or unprofessional. As far as all that goes, I don't feel he is going to be disappointed. I am sure he will like Hari.

You took your film to Cannes. What did you think about the other films that were shown there?

I was astonished by how low the standard was. I don't understand. On the one hand everything I saw was highly professional, on the other it was utterly commercial. For example, they would treat a subject that was bound to be of concern to everybody: the problem of the working-class movement, or the relationship between the working-class and other sections of the population. And all of it was done with such an eye to the audience, with such a desire to please... One really had the impression that all the films had been edited by one and the same person. But in film the most important thing of all is to be aware of the inner rhythm. So, what can only be individual had become commonplace, hackneyed. It is extraordinary. Even Fellini's film about Rome, the most interesting film of all — it was shown outside the festival proper — is a sort of game of give-away played with the audience, the editorial rhythm is so slick that one feels offended on behalf of Fellini. I remember pictures of his where the shots, the length of the shots, and their rhythm, were tied to the inner state of the character and the author. But this picture has been made with an eye for what is going to please the audience. I find that repugnant. Anyhow, the film tells us nothing new either about Fellini himself or about Life.

What did you think about Polanski's Macbeth?

I didn't like it. It's very shallow, very superficial. It completely ignores the moral problem of conscience of the man who is paying for the evil he has committed. I am staggered that anyone can put on Shakespeare and completely bypass the spiritual issues involved. It is a major failure on Polanski's part. His serious intentions only show in his urge to be naturalistic. The film is so detailed that it ceases to be realistic. The director's aim becomes obvious, and as such, merely a means of achieving an effect. And once the audience can read that so clearly, the aim ceases to be one with the weave of the film and becomes just a patently obvious aim.

What are your plans now?

It's not easy to talk about them, I am always rather frightened of doing so. If you talk too much then nothing happens. But anyhow, I have a screenplay all ready. I want to start filming in the autumn. It will be an autobiographical film, about my childhood. It will look at the same events from two sides: the point of view of the older generation and my own. I think that the use of that parallel could create an interesting way of seeing things, an interesting angle, and the intersection will lend a curious colouring to events that are familiar to everyone in the course of their lives. I am very excited about the screenplay. I am very anxious to make the film, because I am afraid that if any length of time goes by without making it, I shall never return to the same theme. I thought about the screenplay for so long before I wrote it, and I have given so much thought to the production. And if time passes I am afraid that the idea of the film will live itself out.  end block

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