“It’s hard enough to be vulnerable, especially if depression is making you feel ashamed.”
Anyone up for a TenEighty film club? Our recommendation this week is the 2002 sci-fi film, Solaris – and Jack Howard’s accompanying video essay all about how it explores themes of grief, identity and mental health. Co-written with Rosianna Halse Rojas, the video is equal parts interesting film analysis and moving personal account of dealing with depression, at a time we need to be more mindful of our mental wellbeing.
After not letting us forget that he does a podcast with film critic Mark Kermode, Jack begins with a succinct plot summary of Solaris, urging us to watch it first and come back to the video later, “It’s only an hour and a half long – what else have you got on?” Fair point.
He then delves straight into the analysis, talking poignantly about the way the film is influenced by a post-9/11 political landscape. “The sense of people reeling from a collective trauma is woven into the world from the beginning,” he says. The warped sense of time, distorted memory and ultimate uncertainty that comes from a catastrophe – either international or personal – is carried into the filmmaking, as Jack explains using the film’s genre fluidity as an example.
Using the opening scene, Jack then makes clear exactly how director Steven Soderbergh mades Solaris “purposefully disorientating”, playing with linearity and throwing the reality we’re presented with “properly into doubt”.
After a brief interjection from Rosianna, Jack moves to the point of all this confusion and disorientation – it sides the audience with Rheya, one of the film’s main characters. While we’re “used to characters in sci-fi questioning their reality”, the way Rheya questions hers and the way her husband, Chris, responds, sub-textually tells us that she suffers from depression. The “visitors” in Solaris and how the characters deal with them offer interesting mental health parallels, as Jack details.
Jack goes on to talk about the abundance of religious and biblical imagery in the film, Rheya’s vulnerability and her struggle to be heard. It’s easy to relate to Chris’ frustration and confusion when it comes to Rheya’s mental health, as Jack recognises – “I have been that person. That need to fix or define something, to put it in a box and label it.” But then he talks about the dangers of being as dismissive as Chris is shown to be, even if it is well-intentioned.
“Opening up about depression, even just naming it, saying ‘I have depression’ – I didn’t think I deserved that title,” Jack shares, talking about a personal experience with a GP that didn’t go as he’d hoped.
“I wasn’t searching for a fix. What I was craving was to have someone really hear me and say that they understood.” He talks about how the fear of being misunderstood is what prevents many from seeking help. “So much about what makes this scary or overwhelming – threatening, even – is the risk that what you say won’t be heard,” he explains.
Jack thinks that’s ultimately what Solaris is about – a couple who can’t find a way into each other’s perspectives and the toll that can take on your mental health. The video ends with him thanking Rosianna and recommending the film again, “This film opened up so many conversations I maybe otherwise wouldn’t have had.”