In the world of two different genres, some may say that there are no similarities, but upon closer examination, it becomes glaringly obvious that analogous thematic threads do exist even across foreign borders. Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris and Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo tell the same story with almost identical characters and personalities, despite the fact that one is a Science-Fiction film made by a Russian and the other a Mystery made by a Brit. The role of the male character and his obsession for his lover is the most significant storyline in both films. More specifically, there are three character traits possessed by both Kris Kelvin of Solaris and Scottie Ferguson of Vertigo that embody the true horror and power of these films. The inability of the male to protect the female, the multiple disguises or resurrections of the loved one, and the inevitability of repeating past mistakes by the male are the three reasons these films are so alike.
In the opening moments of both films, Kris and Scottie are introduced along with the fears and obstacles that justify their actions. Kris is suffering from a tremendous amount of grief and guilt, for having abandoned his wife, Hari to commit suicide by poisoning herself. That first incident where Kris rushed home to save Hari after he realized his wrong was the beginning of an ongoing cycle of mistakes and attempted redemption on Kris’ part. Through languorous shots of Kris gazing at underwater reeds and picturesque scenery, it becomes apparent that Kris’ mind is caught in the past, dwelling on the tragedy of her suicide and longing for her love. With that established, the apparition of Hari while on Solaris and Kris’ subsequent obsession with her is clearly accepted, because the one thing Kris’ conscience desires is to have Hari by his side again.
The pattern of both Kris and Scottie’s inability to protect their lovers is explained early on by their lack of control over Hari and Madeleine’s suicidal tendencies. Regardless if Kris constantly reassured Hari of his love for her, she was convinced and reminded by Sartorius that she wasn’t even human, let alone Kris’ wife. It became increasingly more difficult for Kris to save Hari from her own hand when she couldn’t ever be separated from him. As soon as Kris left for even a moment to meet with Snaut or to take a step outside his room, Hari went berserk and suffocated under the blankets, or on another occasion, bled to death while trying to bust down a metal door. The only way Kris could protect Hari would be to never sleep and always keep her in sight. Ironically, over the duration of the film, Kris became more and more willing to make those sacrifices in order to protect Hari. This point will be discussed in detail later on.
Another interesting conclusion to be drawn was how often Kris abandoned or even discarded Hari before he became a loyal husband. It most likely originated from the moment he left his real wife ten years ago and she ended up poisoning herself with chemicals he left out in the open. This was one of the mistakes Kris repeatedly made.
Reminiscent of how Kris could not stop Hari from killing herself, in Vertigo, Scottie had no true power over Madeleine or even enough charm to discourage the plan. The difficulty factor for Scottie continued to escalate when he discovered that Madeleine’s body and mind was being controlled by Carlotta. During those moments, she grew detached and difficult to reach, thus complicating the situation even more so. Scottie would verbally plead with Madeleine to return his love and not commit suicide, (like during the scene at the tower before her death), but his words passed by her unnoticed and she followed through with her plan to kill herself. So, in other words, the Carlotta masquerade made it impossible for Scottie to provide protection, (which in real-world terms was his profession), because she alluded his love and detective skills by not listening to him and not responding to his demands.
Besides the shocking similarity of Kris and Scottie’s failure to protect their lovers, both men had specific weaknesses that impeded their progress. In Kris’ case, it was his preoccupied mind, which caused him to lose sight of reality and the present moment. In Scottie’s case, it was his acrophobia, which prevented him from not only keeping up with his fellow cop, but also with Madeleine when she “jumped” from the mission tower to her death. The first time Scottie failed to save his fellow policeman because of his acrophobia introduced his physical flaw, which Elster knowingly took advantage of when he hired Scottie to trail his wife, Madeleine. Scottie fell in love with Elster’s wife and was tricked into chasing Madeleine up the tower where he would take the blame for not saving her, because of his vertigo. Elster found the one person (Scottie) and the one way (through his acrophobia) he could kill his wife. Eventually, Scottie’s failure to climb up the stairs and catch Madeleine plagued him so much that he became possessed by it.
During the second half of Vertigo, Scottie truly thinks he sees multiple false forms of Madeleine at locations where she used to visit when she was alive. Madeleine’s dress or outfit, hairstyle, shoes, manner of walk, and jewelry, all add to how Scottie remembered Madeleine and how he easily confused one anonymous woman with Madeleine. There must have been at least six different occasions where Scottie made the mistake of assuming he saw Madeleine after she’s dead: (1) the strange nightmare, (2) the woman running to Madeleine’s old car, (3 & 4) the woman at Ernie’s, (5) the woman sitting in the Palace of Fine Arts, and (6) the red-head who dressed up as Madeleine prior to her death. All of these examples confirm that Scottie is disillusioned and blindly in love.
In the first half of the film, there are fewer resurrections of Madeleine, but that doesn’t mean they are any less significant. After several scenes of Scottie pursuing Madeleine in his car or on foot with little or no conflict, we come to a scene where they stop at the San Francisco Bay right near the Golden Gate Bridge. Without too much hesitation, Madeleine jumped into the bay in hopes of drowning. Scottie rescued her and brought her back to his apartment, where she was reborn as herself, not as Carlotta. Up to this point, Scottie believed that Madeleine had been possessed by her deceased great-grandmother, so when she transformed into an attractive and reachable woman, it was clear that she had resurrected or reincarnated as someone else.
Later on in the forest when Scottie and Madeleine are more romantically linked, she changed back to Carlotta for a brief moment until she desperately cried out to stay alive. The last and most profound resurrection of Madeleine’s character took place at the end of the movie when Scottie solved the mystery behind her death. The red-haired woman was really the one Scottie fell in love with and the one who tricked him into thinking she was Madeleine. Elster killed his wife and made it look like suicide by throwing her out of a bell tower. At first Scottie was convinced that she was dead and obviously traumatized by the incident, but then he stumbled upon the Madeleine look-alike and she resurrected once again. To unbalance this pattern of dying and resurrecting, in the end Hitchcock kills off Madeleine once and for all without resurrecting her, through a freak accident at the same bell tower where the first tragedy occurred.
A similar startling ending transpired in Solaris when Kris Kelvin woke up to find a letter from Hari waiting for him. The letter explained that Hari had left and would not be returning ever again. In essence, the letter could be interpreted as either a suicide note, which would be a common letter for Hari to write, or a good-bye note right before she was destroyed by the annihilation Sartorius executed. Either way, it was obvious that once the letter was read by Snaut, Hari was no longer alive. In both cases, the stories conclude with an open-ending for the male characters as far as the certainty of their future, while undoubtedly terminating the possibility of the female characters’ future.
A trained eye is not required to know that in Solaris there are several other instances where Hari was resurrected. The first time she appeared at Kris’ side, he was frightened and hastily sent her away in a rocket, despite her pleadings to not abandon her. That scene was quite comparable to how Kris basically sent Hari (his real wife) to her grave by leaving poisonous chemicals out in the open when she was the most vulnerable and depressed.
After the first apparition of Hari was sent away in a rocket, she reappeared in Kris’ bedroom, again at his side and just as devoted as before. Kris, having not yet understood the seriousness of Hari’s needy condition, left her alone for a moment. He took a step outside his room and shut the door, only to watch Hari struggling to open the metal door and eventually bleed to death because of it. Shortly thereafter, Hari came back to life and sat up, completely void of cuts and blood. Even though that was a terrifying and disturbing event for Kris to witness, he still did not reciprocate the obsessed love and clinging fidelity Hari showed him. It took another death and resurrection for Kris to commit to always remain by her side and love her with the same amount of passion. This
time, Kris had followed Snaut down the hallway aways further than the last time, but rushed back suddenly to find Hari had intentionally suffocated to death.
If witnessing his wife die three times wasn’t enough, Kris had to watch while she drank liquid oxygen and experienced a gruesome death all because she did not feel his love confirmed. At that point, Kris was willing to do anything to bring Hari back and hold onto her, even knowing that she wasn’t real. He wanted more than anything to prove to Hari that he loved her and as proof he agreed to stay on Solaris forever. So, as the two characters evolve, they seem to switch places – Kris becoming vulnerable and dependent, and Hari becoming self-sufficient and disconnected. In the end Kris was blinded by love, abandoning all sense of reason and reality. Though he was influenced by the apparition of his dead wife, it was his fault that he repeatedly suffered grief and couldn’t move on.
The reoccurring past mistake played a monumental role in adding conflict and depth to the male characters Kris Kelvin and Scottie Ferguson. Though in the case of these two men, there was more than one mistake per person. The most noticeable and repeated mistake Kris committed was leaving Hari alone for a few minutes and for Scottie it was over-estimating his ability to swiftly conquer acrophobia. Scottie’s first mistake was falling in love with his client. It started out as a business relationship/pursuit, and then transformed into a fascination and finally a deep seeded love for Elster’s wife.
The mystery narrative structure uses Scottie as a detective to play on a man’s necessity to follow a woman, but then turns the construct on its end as he becomes obsessed with her. By not avoiding high places that could cause vertigo, Scottie risked his own life and even the life of others. As he became more willing to do anything out of love and out of his own stubbornness, he suffered as a victim from lies, false plots, and murder. In the beginning Scottie was skeptical when Elster introduced his wife’s problem and made his request of Scottie, but passion outweighed his doubts and soon he believed Madeleine was truly tortured by her ancestor. When love becomes an obsession like in the case of Scottie and Kris, everything is believable no matter how far fetched it is. That’s how blinding Scottie and Kris’ love was.
The most demeaning moment for Scottie, where he fell to his lowest point of obsession, was when he forced the red-haired woman to alter her whole personality by altering her lipstick, hairstyle, clothes, and even her hair tint. Hitchcock considered it the reverse of a striptease with the same insecure reaction from the female. It became a morbid fascination, because basically Scottie is trying to get in bed with a dead person. The same was true with Kris in Solaris. Kris and Scottie were so convinced of their love for Hari and Madeleine that they refused to believe they were dead. In Scottie’s case, he was so crazed and completely lost in his obsession of replicating his dead lover that he literally drove Madeleine to the edge of the tower and killed her.
Everything originated from Scottie’s assignment to simply trail Elster’s wife with no obvious intentions of falling in love or watching that love die. It was a perfect setup for Scottie to have things blow out of proportion and expand into something more than a business interest. Kris had a mission to the Solaris space station far from earth and closer to God or the supernatural, where apparitions of his dead wife could be acceptable and reality took longer to sink in. Both Kris and Scottie, from the beginning had a difficult time letting go and moving on. Scottie never wanted to lose sight of Madeleine, so he followed her in his car around every turn, even to his own house. On the other hand, Kris kept photos of his wife and also when the imaginary Hari died over and over again, Kris would wait patiently by her side until she came back to life.
The inevitability of repeating past mistakes for Kris and Scottie stems from the tormenting resurrections or disguises of the lost Hari and Madeleine and from the frustration caused by not being able to protect them. The worlds created in both Solaris and Vertigo are male-dominant worlds, but still worlds where each male has fears, sorrows, and insecurities. The more Kris and Scottie tried to hold onto love and to the past, the more they digressed and suffered. Just as both male characters had flaws, so too did the worlds they lived in; even when these worlds were masked in their individual, genre landscapes. Despite all the mystifying locations and moods, there is a human quality; an obsessive and desperate quality to both worlds of Solaris and Vertigo that reminds humankind that they need someone else and they don’t want to be left alone.
On this earth humans like Kris Kelvin and Scottie Ferguson are confronted with loss and can feel anguish when they lose someone they love. That’s what separates them from an apparition; no matter what world they are living on they can feel the true horror and pain that comes from watching someone they love destroy themselves. At the opposite end of the emotional spectrum, humans can also feel joy and pleasure when they return home and are reunited with love ones. Kris and Scott are only two such humans.