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by Alessandro Palmeri

  • You are not Gibarian.

  • Ah, no? And who would I be? A dream of yours?

  • No. Their puppet. You just don't know.

  • And you, how do you know who you are?

    Stanislaw Lem "Solaris", (1961)


First of all there are the shadows.

The anthropomorphic silhouettes of shadow theater. 

They are not really shadows, even if they live thanks to the projected light, they are representations of men and animals and tell stories.

In any manual of the history of cinema, when we talk about the birth of the seventh art, we refer to three human activities that have allowed its discovery:

1 - Surely photography, from a technical point of view the camera is an evolution of the camera.

Naturally the film and the study of movement in Muybridge 's sequential shots  and Marey


2 - Science, with the study of the persistence of the image, that is the defect of the human eye that stores the image and merges it with the next.

Without the correction of this defect, the eye would not be able to see the flow of the frames smoothly.

Here vita (from 1:16 you can see the effect), a visual example of what happens when the "shutter" corrects the error making the animation fluid.

When the structure rotates the eye "mixes" the images but when a black (in this case a stroboscopic light) interrupts the "persistence of the image" in the retina, the animation comes to life.

3 - The theater, generically as an "architectural structure" in which cinema came to life and specifically the shadow theater which has the same mechanism as cinema: a light projects the image on a screen.


Talking about puppets and cinema means going back to the beginnings, to a relationship that is not expressed only with the use or interpenetration of two techniques, it is a closer, almost “genetic” bond.

Starting from this assumption, I did not look for the presence of puppets in the cinema but for the trace, the inspiration, the gene that makes them perceive their presence even when they are not there.


Solaris, directed by Andrej Tarkovskij

The planet of water


Solaris is three things: a book and two films.

The book is a famous science fiction novel by Stanislaw Lem.

As in all of Clemont's books this literary genre is expanded and addressed to philosophical speculations.

Solaris  tells the story of a psychologist, who in a future where the colonization of the planets is a subject of study in universities, is called for a mission to the planet Solaris, of which he is a profound student, to understand what is happening.

Indeed, it seems that the few remaining settlers on the planet no longer respond to the earth.

The psychologist, Kris Kelvin,  as soon as he landed on the planet, he realizes that the situation is dramatic.

The friend Gibarian, who has been in the Solaris base for years, has committed suicide and the other two members of the mission are "disturbed", one does not want to leave his room and the other does not want to explain to Kelvin what is happening.

The next morning Kelvin wakes up and finds in the room where he slept his wife, who had committed suicide years earlier on earth.

This is how he discovers the terrible secret of Solaris: the planet, through the influences of its water, penetrates the minds of the guests and recreates in flesh and blood the people that their mind recalls.

These unexpected "guests" are, of course, my interpretation of the presence of the puppet in the work.

The quote at the beginning of the article is taken from the novel, it is the moment in which Kris Kelvin meets his suicidal friend in a dream: “You are not Gibarian”, “Ah, right? And who would I be? A dream of yours? "," No. Their puppet. You just don't know ”,“ And you, how do you know who you are? ”.

Human beings recreated by Solaris are women or men who are molded through the memory of those on the planet.

They are therefore human figures built from the hidden desire of these subjects, almost anthropomorphic artistic creations.

Isn't this the wish of a puppeteer?

That of reflecting the human embarrassment, bringing to life forms that recall something human. In the collective imagination, the desire of the puppet, and of its creator, is to be able to become human.

These Solaris characters  they are puppets of skin, flesh and bone.

And as in the fairy tales in which the puppet humanizing takes out a soul, so in the novel the bodies of these reincarnations begin to develop a conscience of their own.

This leads them to understand that they are just reproductions, that they are not the originals but only a reflection of someone else's desire.

This concept must have been very clear to the two directors who made the films from the novel.

One is Andrei Tarkovskij , the very famous and very great Russian director, who makes Solaris  in 1972, the other is Steven Soderbergh , an American director who is also very famous and with the ability to go from extremely successful films to more intimate films, who makes his own version of Solaris  in 2002.

In Soderbergh's version the presence of the puppet is made explicit in the scene of Kelvin's dream in which the text of the book is reported in a more articulated way:

Solaris, directed by Steven Soderbergh

But the presence of the puppet, as I said, is inherent in cinema.

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

As in the ancient shadow theater.

Gibarian's static, completely black figure is an explicit representation of this.

There is another presence in Soderbergh's film that underscores the concept.

(SPOILER) In this version of the story, the American director adds a character: it is Snow, played by Jeremy Davies.

The character seems out of his mind all the time and we viewers think this is due to the stress of the situation, but in the end we discover that his "ghost", created by Solaris, was his twin brother.

What we see is not the human, but the copy of Solaris, which killed its creator.

In short, what we see is Solaris trying to be human, imitating human behavior.

Like a puppet trying to perfectly reproduce our movements.

In fact the actor moves like a puppet, the exaggeration of the movements, the arms that are raised in an unreal way and the final position of the body that concludes the speech:

Solaris, directed by Steven Soderbergh

In Tarkovsky the actors are asked the same.

It is clear in this scene, where Kelvin's wife has the distant memory of life on earth as she looks at a Brueghel painting.

The actors are obviously two puppets: the way they embrace each other, their levitation hanging from transparent threads.

Even objects move in space as if they were elements of an animated theater.

When the camera revolves around them and the two embrace, their hands also have the fixity of puppets.

As well as the two bodies lying on the sofa: wireless puppets that support them.

And her head in the gesture of kissing him on the back of the neck: it is a head that loses control of someone who previously supported it.

Solaris, directed by Andrej Tarkovskij

Natural elements are always very present in Tarkovsky's cinema.

In this film, water is central, it is naturally in all versions of Solaris because it is the main element of the planet, but in Tarkovskij it becomes one of the protagonists.
Its liquid state allows it to pass, purify but also stop and take the form of something else, and then mold itself into a new self. 

The water of Solaris creates human puppets, in its passage it awakens in them the memory of a form, of a life, then it dissolves and begins its attempt again in an infinite flow.

Water and puppets. 
Here is the ending of the film: two human beings who are puppets and who dissolve forever in the flow of water.

The sequence begins with the terrestrial water where the protagonist lives as he returns to his father's house.

Through a window he sees the father figure.
Observe the protagonist's blank face through the glass, the unnatural way he holds his hand and face.
Inside the house the father hit by a roar of boiling water which, being a puppet, does not notice. 

Look at the mechanical, non-naturalistic way in which the father walks out the door of the house and the son kneels.
Then the revealing "zoom out": these lives are created by the planet, dispersed in water.

Solaris, directed by Andrej Tarkovskij

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