Daily Archives: April 2, 2011

Frye at the Movies: “Solaris”


The anniversary of Stanislaw Lem’s death just passed, so it seems like a good time to post the beautiful 1972 Russian film adaptation of Solaris, directed by Andrei Tarkovsky. Frye read the novel and alluded to it often.

I’m posting this in the “Frye at the Movies” category because it will always be interesting to see film adaptations of literary works he liked and could well have seen, contemporary ones especially. It’s at times like this we wish that Frye had kept his often made and always broken promise to maintain a regular diary, an effort that, unfortunately, ended altogether in 1955.

Frye cites Lem’s novel in The Secular Scripture to expand upon the archetype of Narcissus, which is primal. Two recent and very popular movies, Inception and Black Swan, are directly derived from it:

. . . Adam, after his fall, changes his identity, and the later one may be said to be the shadow or dreaming counterpart of the one he had before. The Classical parallel to the Adam story, as several Renaissance mythographers have noted, is the story of Narcissus, where we also have a real man and a shadow. The mistress of Narcissus, Echo, reminds us of the parrot or echo bird that we have already met. What Narcissus really does is exchange his original self for the reflection he falls in love with, becoming, as Blake says, “idolatrous to his own shadow.” In Ovid’s story he simply drowns, but drowning could also be seen as passing into a lower or submarine world. The reflecting pool is a mirror, and disappearing into one’s own mirror image, or entering a world of reversed or reduced dimensions, is a central symbol of descent. A study of mirror worlds in romance might range from the Chinese novel best known in the West by the title The Dream of the Red Chamber to some remarkable treatments of the theme in science fiction, such as Arthur C. Clarke’s The City and the Stars and Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris. (CW 18, 71-2)

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