Chris Kelvin is a future psychiatrist on Earth, where he is eking out joyless existence after the death of his wife, Rheya. Out of the blue he gets a visit from agents of DBA, a private corporation involved in space exploration. They inform Chris they've lost contact with the Solaris expedition, headed by Dr. Gibarian, a close friend of Kelvin's. The last communication with the ship is a recording from Gibarian, pleading for Chris to come to Solaris, but with no explanation other than requiring his expertise as a psychiatrist. Gibarian's unstable behavior resulted in DBA sending a mission to recover the ship, but all communication with the second team was lost as they approached Solaris. Believing that Gibarian is possibly holding them hostage and that he was reaching out to his friend for help, DBA asks Kelvin to travel to Solaris to negotiate the safe return of both crews.
Kelvin is suspicious but agrees to go. When he arrives at Solaris, he finds the Prometheus in orbit, abandoned, with signs of a bloody struggle in its docking bay. He eventually finds a pair of survivors but both are unwilling to say what happened. Dr. Snow only asks Kelvin how long he thinks he can go without sleep, and Dr. Gordon explicitly tells Kelvin, "There's no point discussing it until it starts happening to you."
Kelvin is convinced the crew is experiencing some kind of mass hysteria, until he falls asleep. He awakes with Rheya snuggled next to him, apparently brought back to life by Solaris. At odds with the surviving crew and with his own scientific principles, he has to try and figure out what Solaris is and what it wants before going mad from the impossible situation that drove the members of the expedition to kill themselves.
Solaris (2002) provides examples of the following tropes:
- All Just a Dream: Towards the end of the film, a sequence occurs with Chris that is revealed as this, then reverts to the original position in time.
- Ambiguous Disorder: Rheya is apparently suffering from clinical depression.
- Dead Person Conversation: How Solaris interacts with humanity.
- Driven to Suicide: Rheya and Gibarian are driven to this.
- Foreshadowing: After Kelvin leaves the makeshift morgue in the cold room, the camera pans up, revealing blood seeping from a ceiling tile. Later, Kelvin and Gordon see the stain and push back the tile, revealing the body of the "real" Snow, who was killed and replaced by one of the manifestations from Solaris.
- Freud Was Right: In the flashback where Kelvin and Rheya see each other for the first time on the train, Rheya is holding a doorknob with a keyhole in it - between her legs.Kelvin: I'm going to resist the impulse to ask you about the doorknob...Rheya: Do you always resist your impulses?
- Gender Flip / Race Lift: Sartorius is replaced by a completely different character, a black woman named Gordon.
- Genius Loci: The planet Solaris is actually a single, living being—or at least the ocean that covers it is. It also responds to the memories of humans.
- Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Averted. Rheya has one. Her reasons aren't clear, but she apparently feared being a bad mother. Kevin's anger at her actions lead him to walk out on her—and her to kill herself.
- Heroic Sacrifice: The crew of the Prometheus. They were ordered to return home and refused, shut down the ship's AI to prevent it from returning, then ceased all communication with Earth. The reason? They didn't know if Solaris was dangerous and didn't want to risk leading the manifestations back to Earth if it was, choosing to remain and go mad in space.
- Jerkass: Gordon, though she comes off a lot more sympathetically than her counterpart in the 1972 movie, Sartorius.
- Jerk Ass Has A Point: Gordon again. She is caustic to Kelvin and Snow and downright hateful of the "visitors" from Solaris, tells the second manifestation of Rheya what Kelvin did to the first one to drive a wedge between them and deliberately keeps Prometheus's navigation system locked so the ship can't return to Earth. It's all done out of fear that Solaris or its influence might somehow follow them home, and what would happen to humanity if what happened on the ship started happening on a global scale.
- Ironic Echo: "And death shall have no dominion."
- Living Emotional Crutch: Rheya needs Chris as one of these.
- The Mole: Snow is a "visitor" who killed the human version of itself shortly after manifesting on the ship. Subverted in that while the imitation Snow knows what he is, he is not actively working on Solaris's behalf and is as confused and scared as everyone else, which is what led to the murder of his human self. The human Snow panicked and tried to kill the imitation Snow, and imitation Snow only fought back in self-defense.
- My God, What Have I Done?: Kelvin's has this reaction after luring the first manifestation of Rheya into an escape pod and ejecting her from the ship. Judging from the fates of the rest of the Prometheus crew, his reaction was not unusual.
- Never Trust a Trailer: The advertising campaign for this movie made it seem like it was a love story...IN SPACE!. And the fact that it had George Clooney suggested it was a lighthearted romp at most. Audiences went to see this film expecting a love story with the always fun and charming George Clooney only to find that it was a dead serious, psychological drama.
- Scenery Porn: The few shots of the planet qualify.
- Soulless Shell: An interesting case. Rheya's manifestation claims that that's all she is. Gordon agrees. Kevin thinks so at first, but as the film goes on he seems to reject this hypothesis. copy!Snow acts like he agrees with Gordon, but is one of these manifestations himself.
- Spell My Name with an "S": In the original film and the original Polish version of the novel, Chris is "Kris", Rheya's name is "Hari" ("Harey" in the novel), Snow is "Snaut" and Gordon is "Sartorius". Translations of the novel seem to cycle through the two sets, but "Sartorius" remains fairly consistently NOT Gordon.
- Spirit Advisor: Gibarian becomes this. Even though he is a manifestation of Solaris, he reminds Kelvin the people materializing on the ship are not human but "part of Solaris," and explicitly warns him that he should run before he ends up killing himself like the rest of the crew:Kelvin: What does Solaris want from us?Gibarian: Why do you think it has to want something? This is why you have to leave. If you keep thinking there's a solution, you'll die here.
- Starfish Alien: Solaris is a cross between this and an Eldritch Abomination. It is a planet-sized ball of shimmering light that communicates by invading the minds of humans that come near it and giving their deepest and darkest memories physical presence, often in the form of dead friends or family. The "visitors" themselves seem to be aware of what they are, but are just as frightened and confused because they don't know why Solaris created them any more than the humans do.
- Starts with a Suicide: Sort ofit's presented in flashbacks instead of at the start of the film.
- Tomato in the Mirror: Invoked with the "visitors" and the human crew of the ship. Intentionally or not, Solaris seems to want humans to question the nature of their own existence.Kelvin: You're not Gibarian.Gibarian: No? Who am I then?Kelvin: A puppet.Gibarian: And you're not? Maybe you're my puppet. But like all puppets, you think you're actually human. It's the puppet's dream... to be human.
- Why Don't Ya Just Shoot Him?: Discussed, with respect to the manifestations aboard the Station. Gordon does construct a machine that does the job, but Chris objects at the idea of using it on Rheya.