THE POSSIBLE DIALOGUE BETWEEN KUBRICK'S "THE SHINING" AND TARKOVSKY'S "SOLARIS" (ON THE ROLLING BALL)

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My proposal is that just as Tarkovsky dialogued with Kubrick in his Solaris, so too was Kubrick dialoguing with Tarkovsky in The Shining.

Tarkovsky's Solaris was promoted as a response to 2001, Tarkovsky of the opinion his approach was more humanistic, so Solaris has been viewed as a kind of anti 2001.

In Tarkovsky's own words, from an interview with Naum Abramov, "For example, if one shoots a scene of passengers boarding a trolley, which, let's say, we'd never seen before or known anything about, then we'd get something like Kubrick's moon-landing scene. On the other hand, if one were to shoot a moon landing like a common trolley stop in a modern film, then everything would be as it should. That means to create psychologically, not an exotic but a real, everyday environment that would be conveyed to the viewer through the perception of the film's characters. That's why a detailed 'examination' of the technological processes of the future transforms the emotional foundation of a film, as a work of art, into a lifeless schema with only pretensions to truth."

An example of this is had in Tarkovsky's reframing of Dave Bowman's journey into infinity. Tarkovsky instead films a corresponding journey using highways. The film opens with Kelvin, a psychologist, still on earth, discussing with others his upcoming trip to the Solaris space station. An astronaut by the name of Berton is there, who had been to Solaris a number of years beforehand, had related a bizarre sighting that other scientists concluded was likely an hallucination, but now reveals the remainder of the story to Kelvin. When Berton leaves the meeting, he is the one who takes the long journey on the highways, which serves as a stand-in for Kelvin's journey to Solaris which isn't shown. There are unsettling aspects to the drive, but there's no reason to go into them here. It's enough to note that Tarkovsky responded to Kubrick's technological voyage through the lights with an urban commute, which was Tarkovsky showing he could accomplish the same by plugging into the everyday environment. The section is beautifully done, but whether it replaces Bowman's trip is up for debate. It doesn't communicate Bowman's trauma, his senses and intellect being pushed past their limit, overreaching his experience. The drive ultimately serves more as a transition, though one that demands a return to it after the film has been viewed all the way through and deliberating again on its tone and purpose.

Why might I think Kubrick may have taken the opportunity, in The Shining, to respond to Solaris. I believe part of that dialogue takes place with the ball that is rolled down the carpet toward Danny before he enters room 237.

In Solaris, Kelvin arrives on the Solaris space station to find it neglected to the point of dangerous disorder. Coming upon one door, he knocks and calls out for Dr. Snaut, one of the three inhabitants of the station. No one answers and when Kelvin glances in he sees nothing. At the end of the curved corridor we briefly see a glimpse of someone, only enough of them viewed to know that someone or something was there, and a ball rolls along the floor toward Kelvin from that direction, an action that seems initiated by that unknown person.

Kelvin picks up the ball. He hears someone singing numbers and turns to find directly behind him a seeming previously unnoticed door. Within is Dr. Snaut singing numbers as one would to a child, teaching them. Kelvin greets Dr. Snaut who, nervous, sits under a blue hammock that weighs heavily, as if someone is in it. When Kelvin approaches the hammock, Snaut draws him away from it. Kelvin learns that Dr. Gibarian, one of the inhabitants of the station, has died by suicide. Snaut mentions strange disturbances and that Dr. Sartorius, the other remaining inhabitant of the station, is sequestered in his laboratory. The hammock shakes behind Kelvin and he notices it, but is told there are only the three of them and encouraged to go rest. He's told if he sees anything unusual to ignore it. When Kelvin asks what he might see, he's told it depends on the individual. As Snaut closes the door, we are given the glimpse of what appears to be the ear of a child who is reclining on the hammock. The glimpse is a quick one and communicates that the viewer is intended to be uncertain as to whether they have really seen this on film. When Kelvin goes to see Sartorius, the scientist agrees to meet with him only if he doesn't go inside the lab. When Sartorius begins talking about heroism and duty, a dwarf briefly runs out of his room, whom he grabs and puts back in it. Kelvin appears to not notice, or perhaps he believes it is only a hallucination. A young adolescent girl in a sheer blue shirt over a bathing suit or leotard walks behind Kelvin, and he does see her and follows her to a freezer in which he finds Gibarian's body covered with thin plastic which he withdraws.

What is happening on the space station has a strong kinship with The Shining. The intelligence that is the planet Solaris, with which the scientists have not been able to communicate, had begun manifesting real life content drawn from people's memories. The book further clarifies that this content might include even one-time fantasies an individual may have had of injuring another, any passing thought, which is only one of the reasons why these manifestations are so traumatic, having to live with what might have been one's most absurd thoughts that weren't seriously contemplated, and they have been unable to put an end to the phenomena.

The impact on Snaut and Sartorius is such that they desperately endeavor to keep hidden what have become their perpetual companions, for these manifestations cling to the scientists from whose memories and fantasies they've been produced. But when Solaris produces for Kelvin his first wife, who committed suicide, after his initial confusion and fear he does nothing to hide her and struggles at finding a way to accept her though he's warned against this, told he should not accept her as real. She accompanies him everywhere. This is its own horror story for Kelvin, while also being bittersweet. The other scientists are only in continual, isolated torment, Gibarian even driven to suicide.

2001 was a technological marvel, and has never struck me as being only chilly and remote. But it's almost as if Kubrick took Tarkovsky's words as a challenge, and in The Shining was determined to transfer Tarkovsky's Solaris to earth's realm via the vehicle of Stephen King's resculpted novel, to "create psychologically, not an exotic but a real, everyday environment that would be conveyed to the viewer through the perception of the film's characters". What Tarkovsky did with the sci fi space station and Solaris as the source of these manifestations, Kubrick would do with the earthbound Overlook in which Danny rode his tricycle round and round, and Wendy concerned herself with the duties of the caretaker and making meals while Jack tried to write.

In Solaris, the child's ball that is rolled toward Kelvin seems to be the action of one of the manifestations. If we stop the film at just the right moment, we can identify the figure briefly seen is Sartorius in his lab coat stepping out of the corridor, but he is not the one who has rolled the ball. His hands appear to be in his pockets, and the ball does not drop from any height to its rolling path. Sartorius is viewed so briefly that all the viewer may likely register is that of a figure in white, the feeling that Tarkovsky communicates being more that of a mysterious apparition, just as we often have only the briefest of glimpses of the manifestations. As Kelvin asks Snaut where Sartorius is, even he seems unaware that Sartorius had been in the hall, and Snaut says Sartorius is in his quarters, upstairs.

"There are only three of us--you, me, and Sartorius. You know us from our photographs. If you see something besides me and Sartorius, try not to lose your head," Snaut tells him, and that what Kelvin sees will depend on him. Snaut insists they are not hallucinations.

Toward the film's end, Tarkovsky does plainly unite Sartorius with the ball as it makes one more appearance. Snaut is telling Kelvin, who is recovering from an illness, that while he was ill an experiment they'd conducted has stopped the manifestations, none of the guests having returned. We see Sartorius listening outside Kelvin's room. As Snaut says that none of the guests have returned, Sartorius picks up the ball in the corridor where the initial exchange with it had occurred. His action seems a musing on the "guest" that had haunted him, to which the ball belonged, and is now gone.

In The Shining, the ball is Jack's, one that he first plays with in the Colorado Lounge, then disappears with his examination of the maze. When it reappears, rolled toward Danny, we are never shown what initiated the rolling of the ball. At first Danny wonders if it's his mother playing with him and calls out to her. He sees the door to 237 is unlocked and open and advances into it.

From then on the movie is never clear on what happens, room intentionally left for conjecture on various possibilities, physical, paranormal, imaginary.

There are a couple other things Kubrick does on which I've deliberated over whether, at least on one level, they serve as devices to confirm the allusion to Solaris. The easiest one to approach concerns a door opposite room 237.

On Danny's first pass through the the hall of room 237, when he stops his Big Wheel before room 237, we see just beyond him on the right, catty corner room 237, a closed door. After he dismounts the Big Wheel, to try its double doors, which are locked, we see the door opposite again. It had been closed, but is now open, only black observed beyond (in what is actually an impossible room). This open door isn't even noticed by viewers, they are so focused on Danny before room 237. The door remains open throughout the rest of the scene, even as Danny cycles away past it, his head down, gaze averted.

That open door reminds me of Kelvin trying the locked door to Snaut's room, immediately thereafter retrieving the ball rolled to him from down the corridor, then turning to find a door open beside him that had previously been unobserved, and Snaut in that room instead.

The ball is not in Stephen King's book. And even if it had been, that doesn't mean Kubrick need have kept it, for there is always a great excising and transformation of material as Kubrick focuses on restructuring elements to his own purpose, as it is when any literature is brought to the screen. And though I know a child's rolling ball is a film trope, when I watch that ball rolled to Danny, I can't help but feel that in it Kubrick was speaking to Tarkovsky, and that for all intents and purposes it is the same child's ball that was rolled to Kelvin in Solaris, the "what/who" on the other end a memory or imagination given life by the intelligence of Solaris. In Danny's case, it is The Overlook, Kubrick early on having introduced us to the idea this is a place where the strange happens, memories and events lingering like the smell of burnt toast.


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