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"You are not Gibarian."
"Ah, really? Then who am I to you? A figment of your dreams?"
"No. Their marionette. You simply aren't aware."
"And you, how can you be so sure of your own identity?"


Stanislaw Lem, "Solaris" (1961)

First and foremost, we encounter the realm of shadows.

These anthropomorphic silhouettes belong to the domain of shadow theater. 

Although they are not genuine shadows, they owe their existence to projected light. They take the form of humans and animals, serving as vessels for storytelling.

In any historical account of cinema's origins, the inception of the seventh art is often attributed to three distinct human endeavors.

1 - Certainly, photography, from a technical standpoint, is an evolution of the camera obscura.

Additionally, the the study of motion through Eadweard Muybridge's sequential photographs and Étienne-Jules Marey's research are also noteworthy in this context.


2 - Science, through the study of image persistence, addresses a peculiar flaw in the human eye: the retention of an image that blends into the next.

Without the correction of this anomaly, the eye would struggle to perceive a smooth flow of frames.

Here we have a visual demonstration of what transpires when the "shutter" rectifies this issue, ensuring fluid animation.  (from 1:16 onwards, you can witness the effect),

As the structure rotates, the eye amalgamates the images. However, when an interruption occurs, such as a black screen (in this case, a stroboscopic light), it disrupts the "persistence of the image" on the retina, thus bringing the animation to life.

3 - The theater, in a broad sense, represents an "architectural structure" within which cinema originated. More specifically, shadow theater shares the same fundamental mechanism as cinema: a light source projects images onto a screen.


Discussing puppets and cinema necessitates a return to their origins, highlighting a connection that goes beyond mere utilization or intertwining of two techniques; it's a much deeper, almost "genetic" affiliation.

With this premise in mind, my quest wasn't solely about identifying the explicit presence of puppets in cinema, but rather tracing the inspiration, the underlying essence that allows their influence to be sensed even in their absence.


Solaris, directed by Andrej Tarkovskij

Solaris, The planet of water

Solaris encompasses three distinct elements: a book and two films.

The book in question is the renowned science fiction novel authored by Stanislaw Lem.

As is the hallmark of all Lem's literary works, this genre is expanded upon and delves into philosophical speculations.

Solaris narrates the tale of a psychologist living in a future where the colonization of planets is a subject of scholarly pursuit. He is summoned for a mission to the planet Solaris, a celestial body about which he holds deep expertise. His objective is to fathom the mysteries that have unfolded there.

Evidently, the few remaining settlers on this enigmatic planet have ceased to respond to Earth.

Upon his arrival on Solaris, the psychologist, Kris Kelvin, is confronted with a dire situation. His friend, Gibarian, who has been stationed at the Solaris base for years, has tragically taken his own life. The other two members of the mission exhibit signs of profound disturbance: one refuses to leave his quarters, while the other declines to elucidate the events unfolding to Kelvin.

The following morning, Kelvin awakens to a shocking discovery in the room where he had slept – his deceased wife, who had taken her own life years earlier on Earth.

This is the pivotal moment when he unearths the ghastly secret of Solaris: the planet, under the influence of its mystical waters, infiltrates the minds of its guests, recreating physical incarnations of individuals drawn from their own memories.

These unexpected "guests" serve as my interpretation of the puppet's presence within the narrative.

The quotation at the outset of this article is extracted from the novel itself, capturing the instant when Kris Kelvin encounters his deceased friend in a dreamlike encounter: "You are not Gibarian," "Ah, really? Then who am I to you? A figment of your dreams?" "No. Their marionette. You simply aren't aware." "And you, how can you be so sure of your own identity?"

The human entities regenerated by Solaris represent either men or women, shaped through the recollections harbored within the minds of those inhabiting the planet. Consequently, they manifest as human figures forged from the concealed desires of these subjects – almost akin to anthropomorphic artistic creations.

Does this not align with the aspirations of a puppeteer?

To mirror human complexity, and breathe life into forms that echo humanity itself. In the collective imagination, the puppet and its creator both yearn to attain humanity.

These Solaris characters thus exist as puppets comprised of flesh, skin, and bone.

Similar to the fables where puppets undergo a process of humanization, the novel portrays these reincarnations as their bodies gradually acquire individual consciousness. This evolution leads them to the realization that they are mere reproductions – not the originals – and merely a reflection of someone else's desires.

This concept was evidently quite clear to the two directors who adapted the novel into films.

One of them is Andrei Tarkovsky, a highly esteemed and incredibly talented Russian director, who brought Solaris to the screen in 1972. The other is Steven Soderbergh, an equally renowned American director with the ability to transition from blockbuster successes to more intimate projects. He created his own interpretation of Solaris in 2002.

In Soderbergh's rendition, the presence of the puppet is overtly articulated within the scene where Kelvin experiences a dream, and the text from the book is rendered with greater detail.

Solaris, directed by Steven Soderbergh

However, as I mentioned earlier, the presence of the puppet is inherent in cinema.

Aren't the actors projected on the screen essentially human puppets?

Much like the ancient tradition of shadow theater.

Gibarian's static, entirely black figure serves as a clear representation of this concept.

In Steven Soderbergh's adaptation, there's another character that further emphasizes this notion. (SPOILER ALERT) In this rendition of the story, the American director introduces a character: Snow, portrayed by Jeremy Davies.

Throughout the narrative, Snow appears to be perpetually on the brink of insanity, and as viewers, we initially attribute this to the stress of the situation. However, by the end, we discover that his "phantom," created by Solaris, was, in fact, his own twin brother.

What we witness is not the human original but rather a replication by Solaris, an entity that terminated its own creator.

In essence, what unfolds before us is Solaris attempting to emulate humanity, imitating human behavior.

Much like a puppet striving to flawlessly replicate our actions.

In reality, the actor's movements mimic those of a puppet, characterized by exaggerated gestures, arms raised in an unearthly manner, and a final stance that punctuates the performance.

Solaris, directed by Steven Soderbergh

In Tarkovsky's work, the actors are subjected to a similar demand.

This becomes evident in a particular scene where Kelvin's wife nostalgically recalls life on Earth while gazing at a painting by Brueghel.

The actors, in this context, undeniably resemble puppets: the way they embrace each other, their suspension from transparent threads – all evoking the imagery of marionettes.

Even inanimate objects seem to traverse space as if they were participants in an animated theater performance.

As the camera revolves around them and the two characters embrace, their hands assume the rigidity of marionette strings.

This rigidity is also observed in the two bodies reclined on the sofa – marionettes no longer supported by strings.

And her head, in the act of kissing him on the nape of his neck, exhibits the characteristics of a head relinquishing control to the one who once manipulated its movements.

Solaris, directed by Andrej Tarkovskij

Natural elements consistently play a prominent role in Tarkovsky's cinema.

In this particular film, water assumes a central role. Naturally, it is a key element in all iterations of Solaris, as it represents the primary component of the planet. However, in Tarkovsky's interpretation, it ascends to the status of one of the central protagonists.

Its fluid nature empowers it to flow, cleanse, halt, transform into alternative forms, and ultimately reshape itself into a new entity.

The water of Solaris, in its transformative journey, gives rise to human marionettes. As it courses through their existence, it rekindles the memories of their forms and lives, only to dissolve and recommence this process in an unending stream.

Water and puppets are intricately interwoven in this narrative. The film culminates with a poignant scene where two human beings, now marionettes, dissolve eternally into the flowing waters.

This sequence unfolds by commencing with terrestrial water, the habitat of the protagonist, as he returns to his father's residence. Through a window, he glimpses the fatherly figure.

Observe the protagonist's vacant expression through the glass, accentuating the unnatural manner in which he positions his hand and face.

Within the confines of the house, the father is struck by the deafening roar of scalding water, yet being a marionette, he remains oblivious to the peril.

Take note of the mechanical and non-naturalistic gait as the father exits the house, and the son kneels in response.

Then, a revelatory "zoom out" moment: these lives are manifestations crafted by the planet, dispersed and dissolved within the waters.

Solaris, directed by Andrej Tarkovskij

"The Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being"
Genesis 2:7

To hold dear. The term "to believe" originates from Old English "gelefan", rooted in Proto-Germanic "*ga-laubjan", reflecting a cherished or trusted notion. This evolves from the Proto-Indo-European "*ḱred deh-", with "*ḱred" signifying "heart" and "deh-" meaning "to place" or "to put".

Figuratively, "to hold dear" in the sense of the Proto-Germanic and Old English lineage implied entrusting or valuing someone or something deeply, akin to "placing one's heart". Over time, this sentiment has matured into holding trust or acknowledging something as genuine or true.

Nearly every performance is preceded by darkness, whether it's a film or a theatrical production. In that moment of darkness, there is a "leap" from one reality to another. From that moment on, we are willing to believe.

We believe that a puppet can come to life, that a man can become a character on the screen.

We reenact on a smaller scale what is written in the Bible: with the earth, we shape a "puppet," we breathe life into it through our breath, and it becomes alive.

The earth is what we are made of, and it is what we live on. We are born on Earth, and from Earth, we embark on a journey that brings us back to Earth. A cycle that combines a disguise and a journey through space. Men dressed as monkeys and men without expression who, like puppets, face the future.

From 2001: A Space Odyssey to the return to the planet of the apes.

The apes in the opening scene of 2001: A Space Odyssey are inhabitable puppets (inside them, actors give them movement): these figures live and move on an untouched land.

2001: A Space Odyssey is a film of transformations that, knowing well that transition from one reality to another which is the darkness, Stanley Kubrick initiates with a deep and lengthy darkness of 2 minutes and 56 seconds.

As we know, the alien intelligence conveyed by the black monoliths instills in the apes the spark of reason, a reason that can be violent and/or creative. Like the one that allows us, as in an object's performance, to transform a bone into a spaceship."


"2001: A Space Odyssey," directed by Stanley Kubrick.

The mysterious black monolith, conceived by the film's creators as an alien antenna sent to various planets seeking contact with other civilizations, emerges statuary and defined from the ground it pierced.

It symbolizes creation that molds something perfect, definitive, and dark from the earth.


"2001: A Space Odyssey," directed by Stanley Kubrick.

This film is a journey into the future: watching it today is astounding, as it has been since its release in cinemas in 1968.

Today, we understand what artificial intelligence is, the future is here. "Planet of the Apes" is another 1968 film directed by Franklin J. Schaffner.

Although stylistically distinct, both films represent a circular journey: from the apes in "2001: A Space Odyssey" evolving into modern humans venturing into space, to "Planet of the Apes," where humanity encounters a primitive version of itself.


"Planet of the Apes," directed by Franklin J. Schaffner.

What interests us are two factors: Earth and man's disguise as an ape.

This transformation catapults us into the fictitious enactment of a puppet worn by man, possessing the ability to seem more real than reality itself.

Essentially, it's about animating something we know isn't real.

Earth, our birthplace, even in biblical terms, is also the natural setting of our lives and the center of these two films.

The journey away from Earth in "2001: A Space Odyssey" ends with the sighting of a fetus in its bubble, lost in space like a planet, symbolizing "we are the Earth."

2001 Oddissea.gif

"2001: A Space Odyssey," directed by Stanley Kubrick.

It is perhaps the most surreal image in Kubrick's film.

Clearly a puppet, it's the prototype of a man, with an unnaturally adult face encompassing the entire journey's pain and wonder, and that of journeys to come.

This human prototype stems from the fusion of the protagonist astronaut and the monolith.

The journey leading to this future puppet is an exploration of our subconscious, envisioning us inhabiting new planets and creating not just spaceships, but an artificial intelligence as our inner replica: a bodyless puppet, a philosophical marionette, a puppet of thought.

George Taylor's journey in "Planet of the Apes" ends up back on Earth, crash-landing on a planet that, in the end, is revealed as a future Earth.

Inhabited by nature-dwelling apes who seemingly know no violence amongst themselves, the iconic scene where Taylor discovers the Statue of Liberty emerging from the beach sand is perhaps one of the most apocalyptic and telling images of human madness.

The screenplay's undercurrent is the fear of a looming nuclear war potentially annihilating the world.


"Planet of the Apes," directed by Franklin J. Schaffner.

Today, it's worthwhile to revisit these two past films that speak of our Earth, our present, with the same questions about artificial intelligence and, sadly, a potential nuclear conflict.

Do you also see that great "puppet," symbolizing liberty, emerging from the Earth?

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