Tag Archives: Solaris






solaris 5
















The terrifying, and profoundly affecting, central conceit in Stanislaw Lem’s novel Solaris (made subsequently into brilliant, if entirely differing, film adaptations by Andrei Tarkovsky and Steven Soderbergh) is the idea that we are, essentially, how others see us. Although this is hardly a new notion, especially for anyone who has studied existentialism or simply spent time analyzing the human condition, it is still put into very painful relief in the form of Rheya, the wife of the main protagonist and scientist, Kris Kelvin, a man who finds himself investigating the mysterious circumstances surrounding the deaths of scientists on board a spacecraft that is being inexplicably magnetized, radiated and manipulated by Solaris, the planet the spaceship is currently in the process of orbiting: an insidious, nocturnal, interference that manifests itself in the form of night visitations to the surviving crew members by people that they left behind on earth, many years ago, mostly dead.



They return, to visit their loved ones, looking and seeming identical, the planet’s advanced intelligence scanning each crew member’s memories of that person and reproducing them with perfect fidelity, except, and most crucially, for the fact that they only have that person’s memory to go by. Meaning that the replicant being – unmalevolent, new, unaware of his or her condition – feels strangely, and excruciatingly lacking: sensing, and suffering, from the fact that vital parts of their mechanism – their soul if you like – are missing, for the simple, yet deadening, reason that their reborn, reassembled selves are composed, solely, of one other person’s limiting, self-serving and subjective, view point.




As the implications of the narrative begin to unfold, I always find this to be quite a horrifying idea. Where the myriad of components of our personalities, some concealed, some revealed, some unformed, some exaggerated, are in a perpetual flux of opposities and contradictions, moods and nuances – an ever evolving, constantly shifting mass of contrasting moods and perceptions, the Solaris projection is fixed: locked: and limited, simplified annihilatingly by the absorbent and moulding – if loving –  gaze of another. We are trapped, in other words, in their vision; undeserved: simplified: trashed. I may be wild and anarchic, a hooligan, libertarian: rude, vain, aggressive, irrational, a dreamer inclined towards decadence and crazed romanticism – but I can also be conservative, quiet, logical, removed, and actually, to the surprise of some people, really rather introverted. Both libidinous and chaste. Stupid and intelligent. Compassionate yet vindictive. Spiritual, yet a hedonist. Multifaceted. Just like anyone.





And although it may seem like a somewhat spurious link, I think the ideas presented in Solaris are also connected, in some ways, to perfume and personality: signature scents, other people’s associations of us, and the varied, unfaithful, and promiscuous lives of the true and collecting perfumist. Unlike the civilians on the street, who usually probably have just one, or possibly two scents, often given to them by somebody else as a gift (can you imagine having your signature scent conferred on you? my mind thrashes instinctively in protest and rejection even imagining this), just to wear………. because, we ‘smell sensitives’ bond far more deeply with the scents that we have identified with and chosen for ourselves – knowingly -and use them, often, to externalize and exteriorize our internal feelings (….why do we do this? To reinforce them? Double them? Colour them and decorate them, make them manifest? What weird, space-probing extroversion is this exactly?).






When we feel erotically inclined, we know what to wear, precisely, to boost the body’s arsenal. Extroverted, gregarious, attention-seeking: they’ve got my name on them. Comforting, sweet……oh yes. Mysterious and complex….something vintage and difficult; impenetrable, androgynous, and cloaky, from my antique Japanese cabinets. Then, another day……. simplicity, to strip ourselves right down to the bright rind frisks of the lemon, the yuzu; iciness, colournessness. Negation; nihilism even – I Hate Perfume’s Black March, with its bleakness of black-branched, crow-cawing sky; its hints of death, of soil, and of winter.






So while we may have our standard, essential, familiar-to-others base character – in my case probably patchouli, vanilla, tropical flowers, and coconut, and I admit that these are the smells I most readily identify with (party boy: heat: dancing: summer), we all, all of us, have our secret sides, our private sides, our unexpecteds, our anti-intuitives – our mood-changers, if you like: the perfume that is our rebellion against type. Our clandestine, impenetrable, refuge.














Rheya, in Solaris, is trapped, tragically, in her grieving husband’s remembrances of her, which centre around three pivotal characteristics. Firstly, her sensuality (less so in the Tarkovsky, but especially in Soderbergh’s version of the story – one of my favourite films of all time, incidentally, starring a beautiful, sad and bereft George Clooney as Kelvin, and the compelling, eerie Natascha McCelhone as his dead wife . We see their first chance meeting, on a train, and she is mystery and salvation itself; alluring; intellectual, all eyes and try-to-get-me gestures). Her strange beauty, which has such a hold over him, is the principle affirmation in her alien reincarnation. But also there is poetry, for this is what they bond over, initially – their shared love of Dylan Thomas’ ‘And Death Shall Have No Dominion’:









And death shall have no dominion.

Dead men naked they shall be one

With the man in the wind and the west moon;

When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone,

They shall have stars at elbow and foot;

Though they go mad they shall be sane,

Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again;

Though lovers be lost love shall not;

And death shall have no dominion.






And death shall have no dominion.

Under the windings of the sea

They lying long shall not die windily;

Twisting on racks when sinews give way,

Strapped to a wheel, yet they shall not break;

Faith in their hands shall snap in two,

And the unicorn evils run them through;

Split all ends up they shan’t crack;

And death shall have no dominion.







And death shall have no dominion.

No more may gulls cry at their ears

Or waves break loud on the seashores;

Where blew a flower may a flower no more

Lift its head to the blows of the rain;

Though they be mad and dead as nails,

Heads of the characters hammer through daisies;

Break in the sun till the sun breaks down,

And death shall have no dominion.









Mostly, though, what Kelvin seems to remember about his long-disappeared wife, now, is her depressive and hypersensitive nature, her strong, and ultimately fatal suicidal tendencies (he finds her dead in bed following a row, and is guilt-stricken and destroyed as a result). Rheya is thus confined to these three, simplified characteristics in her resurrected incarnation; a truncated, edited person, limited by his own projections of what she represented for him personally. Convinced, the first time, by the other vehement crew members to get rid of ‘it’,  sending the cloned version of his beloved out to her death into the lifeless atmosphere outside, Kelvin nevertheless again has numerous re-visitations by this wife-clone, this hampered, uncomplex creature who feels all the lacks in her constituents, keenly, painfully, to the extent that she no longer wants to ‘live’ any more because her memories, and her sensations, don’t feel like her own ( despite the love that they still feel, inexorably, between them). The scientist, is too profoundly overjoyed, however, to have been given another chance at redemption – even if it is by an alien life form that is tampering with his insecurites – and is unable to let her die again. And as expected, he pays the ultimate sacrifice as a result (or does he? The film is steeped in ambiguity and the lovers, in whatever form they have taken, seem to be destined for eternity……..ultimately, though ostensibly a science fiction film, I think of Solaris as a deeply haunting love story). The Soderbergh version is one of the most hypnotic films I have ever seen, actually, largely due to the set design, atmosphere, and the throbbing, shimmering soundtrack by Cliff Martinez, while the Tarkovsky, original film from 1972 is almost too intolerably exquisite for me to bear: profound perfection, but deeply depressing, touching some chord in me that I wasn’t entirely sure I needed to be touched. It sits there waiting in my film collection to be re-viewed, but where I have seen the Soderbergh version probably at least six or seven times, The Tarkovsky will just have to wait until I can steel myself again fully, to its beautifully, searing, unalloyed, unflinching poetry.






Essentially, I am fascinated by the theories at the heart of this story, of the limiting nature of human-to-human interaction, how we box people, categorize them, reduce them to one, defining buzzword, feeling, trait. Even on the blogosphere, among the perfume cognoscenti, we know the essential tastes of the better known writers, can imagine this one person constantly sashaying about in a tart, trumpeting tuberose; that one in an essential oil of Laotian oud, another in Indonesian vanilla, even if they are guaranteed in reality to be as complex, and conflicting in their desires and fantasies as we ourselves are. Maybe they also, like myself, need their rebellious sanctuaries, reactions against type, smells to help them escape the confining, and suffocating, constraints of society, stereotype, and ‘personality’, to be freed.






And I think that Hermès Narcisse Bleu, which I smelled for the third time yesterday in a Japanese department store and loved ( I will need to buy it), might be one of those saviours: those tranquil, nerve-calming smells of cool, stalactitian antidote: the shady undergrowth where I suddenly want to be not what is expected of me; to rebel internally and from without, to be invisible, swimming silently, more subtle……The Blue Narcissus, this time, not the Black.






This is a perfume that is austere; aloof, removed: almost daringly, and revitalizingly cold. Though the notes are listed simply as being of narcissus and galbanum over woods, I was reminded immediately of the melancholy distance of Hermès Hiris (one of my other go-to ‘refuge’ scents), as well as the green and beautiful escape chute that is Geoffrey Beene’s violet-leaved Grey Flannel. I smell iris, and green notes, and something crisp, unsweetened, even bitter and tannic in this scent- it almost repels you, startlingly, with its aversion to the the sweet, even while it draws you in with its understated, arcadian elegance. It speaks to me directly, and will be a portal. To my grotto, a place you can’t touch. A place of isolation, peace, solitude. My anti-reference point. My blue lagoon.














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