Space, which witnessed a cutthroat struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War period, has now become an arena where companies compete with each other.
Most recently, SpaceX, the American spacecraft and rocket maker, launched the world’s most powerful rocket, Falcon Heavy, into space. The missile, owned by Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and founder of SpaceX, was smoothly launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. As Falcon Heavy made its way to Mars, two rockets that broke off of the capsule shortly after launching returned to Earth, with a third expected to land off the Atlantic Ocean.
In the space race that ensued with the Cold War, the Soviet Union achieved considerable success by sending the first artificial satellite into space in 1957. Later, the Soviets achieved their second significant success, with Yuri Gagarin completing an orbit around the Earth on April 12, 1961, and successfully coming home.
Although the U.S. initially lost to the Soviet Union, it soon gained considerable momentum, starting with the first manned trips to the moon and then with its rapidly developing space studies.
Historians considered the Cold War period as a war between two different state systems. The U.S. and the West represented the capitalist order, while the Soviet Union represented communism.
Both sides had different ideas about ruling their countries, and each believed in the superiority of their own system of governance. That was the source of tension between them, the idea that the opponent was trying to spread its own belief system around the world.
A common point
There is no single answer to this, however, historians generally agree that the end of World War II was a turning point.
The U.S. and the Soviet Union were allies during the war, but this was a far-fetched union against the common enemy, Nazi Germany, and it did not last long.
As World War II divided Europe into two, the two sides emerged as the world’s superpowers.
In keeping with their contrasting belief systems, they had different ideas about the post-war order of the world and how Europe should be divided.
This divergence led to a power struggle that resulted in a tense rivalry and freezing of relations. The sky and space, which have been subjects of curiosity for human beings for all of recorded history, became the next objective for societies. They discovered over time that travel into space could be possible with rockets, and the process of inventing rocket formed the historical basis of space travel.
The Soviet Union and the U.S., which were united against Nazi Germany during World War II, entered the Cold War period in 1947 after the hot war ended and agreements had been reached on some issues. Their ideologies and policies were contradictory. This was not an open war; it was rather a matter of prestige.
In the process, then-U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower was the first to use the term “space race.” This struggle lasted for nearly 18 years. Uncertainty over whether this fight was a real one ended in time, and the fight officially began on Oct. 4, 1957. When the dates of this struggle are taken into account, it is evident that moves similar to a game of chess were made between both countries. And in the process, two people came to the forefront.
Stanley Kubrick’s role
American filmmaker Stanley Kubrick somehow managed to influence every filmmaker who succeeded him. Having regrounded the importance of every kind of detail from symmetry to color, from light to sound in the 13 films he shot throughout his career, Kubrick is a director who deserves attention for his care of such technical details as well as his bone-deep stories. I would like to commemorate Kubrick, whose filmmaking techniques I have often relayed with many details about the philosophical underpinnings of his films.
A 1962 black comedy by Kubrick, “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb” offers a parody of the period when the Cold War made itself the most evident and a critical approach to concepts such as war, genocide and power using satirical art.
In the movie, freak general Jack D. Ripper, who wants to attack the Soviet Union, decides to carry out a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union on the grounds that the Russians pollute the “precious bodily fluids” of Americans during the Cold War. Meanwhile, everyone else, especially Dr. Strangelove (Peter Sellers), a former Nazi scientist, does his best to avoid the nuclear genocide that continues to destroy the world.
Kubrick illustrates the Cold War, where the U.S. and the Soviet Union fought to become a hegemonic power, in a way that pits the two sides against each other. Especially in this movie, it is easy enough to see that Kubrick implies the reasons behind being a superpower and asserts the superiority of a country that has succeeded in being a superpower over other countries.
Likewise, when Kubrick reveals the sense of arrogance in man, he also questions the motivations behind achieving such powerful positions. In this context, the film “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb” gives clear meanings to writings developed through the Foucauldian notions of power and power dynamics. At the same time, the film offers realistic and critical perspectives on the nature, selfishness and arrogance of man oppressed by power.
In “2001: A Space Odyssey,” Kubrick attempts to explore phenomena such as God and human and artificial intelligence in the context of post-modernism and post-human studies philosophically and ethically. While bringing the essence of man and the universe into question, he attempts to search for truth and God. In this sense, Kubrick, wanting to reveal the unchanging human essence and the human impulse to become God in changing conditions, draws attention to the present and the future with every symbolic detail in the film, from sculptures to paintings, with a prediction he developed decades before the post-human research of today.
With the Soviets launching Sputnik-1 into space on Oct. 4, 1957, the space race that would last for at least 18 years began. Sputnik-1, the first artificial satellite to have been launched into space, was the beginning of the space adventure, sparking global confusion and urging the U.S. to question its dominance in the field of technology. Undoubtedly, the fact that Sputnik-1’s skills were not exactly known was also a separate cause of concern. Sputnik-1 burned down a few months later, entering the Earth’s atmosphere on Jan. 4, 1958.
In the face of these developments, the U.S. established the National Aeronautics and Space Agency (NASA) on Oct. 1, 1958. The U.S. continued its space studies with the programs Mercury (1958-1963) and Gemini (1965-1966). Although these programs did not represent great successes in their own right, they were important in preparing for the Apollo program, which would have a great impact in the future.
Progress continued on the Soviet front. On April 12, 1961, within the framework of the Vostok Program, Yuri Gagarin became the first human to orbit the Earth with the Vostok Spacecraft, approximately 3.5 years after Laika the dog’s launch. With the Soviets launching Vostok-6 on June 16, 1963, Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman to go to space. The space race was, in a sense, a race of firsts. After the Vostok Program, the Soviets continued with the Voskhod Program. On March 18, 1965, Russian cosmonaut Alexey Leonov became the first human to walk in space with the Voskhod-2 vehicle.
The U.S. responded to the Soviets one year after Sputnik-1, the world’s first artificial satellite, was placed into orbit at 7:28 p.m. on Oct. 4, 1957. Although it was the Soviets that technologically started the conflict during the Cold War, it was the U.S. front that started the war in cinema. Hollywood launched this war in 1968 with “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968), directed by Kubrick.
The film was coscripted by Arthur C. Clarke, one of the most important figures in science fiction literature, and Kubrick. The Russians’ first response to the film “2001: A Space Odyssey” was Andrei Tarkovsky’s “Solaris.” The inspiration for this film was Polish writer Stanislaw Lem, who in his works addresses the relationship between modern science and humanistic morality. After the success of “Solaris,” the Soviet science fiction cinema believed that it could fight Hollywood and, exactly seven years later, they allocated a large budget for “Stalker,” another film by Tarkovsky.
Andrei Tarkovsky’s movies
The 1972 film “Solaris” is an adaption of the 1961 novel of the same name by Polish science fiction writer Stanislaw Lem. Lem, the author of the novel, does not consider “Solaris” to be a reliable adaptation.
The reason for this is that the film “was a break” from his earlier films, as its story takes place in a purely fictional universe of the future, although the setting is essentially made up of cultural and mythological reminders. Tarkovsky was also preparing his next work, “Zerkalo” (The Mirror) (1974), consisting entirely of pieces of collective historical and cultural memory. Lem’s novel “Solaris” touches on the inner-self of modern man, and tells about the battle that the planet puts in front of humans and against which they fight with their subconscious on the planet Solaris.
In his own “Solaris,” Tarkovsky refers to “the contrast between the modern and the traditional.” “It is seen that traditional values of culture and human relations are opposite to modern technical humans,” he says. While Tarkovsky describes a different world in “Solaris,” he places the culture as an external element within the narrative. The theme of the journey and wandering that Tarkovsky created in the Solaris universe was also seen in the films he shot later.
Tarkovsky describes “Solaris” as his most unsuccessful film, saying: “I did not consider ‘Solaris’ to be a science fiction film. Though, I consider Solaris to be my most unsuccessful film, which is because I have never managed to thwart the sci-fi connection.” Among Tarkovsky’s films, “Solaris” and “Stalker” bear the most prominent genre features. These films, which are classified in the science fiction genre, are shaped by the director’s own form and aesthetic cinematic perspective. “Solaris,” in which the contrast between the traditional and the modern is intertwined, develops on the axis of a genre film with the reconciliation between these two phenomena.
While “Solaris” reflects the director’s own “auteur” style and cinematic outlook, it is also defined as a genre film as it incorporates science fiction genre codes into it. Genre films are formed by the renewal of codes and indicators belonging to that genre of films, and by the combination of codes. If we are to talk about science fiction genre codes contained in “Solaris,” we first encounter the element of “new worlds.”
New worlds created in the science fiction genre are produced based on the existing world and assumptions. The planet Solaris is a habitable planet similar to Earth.
The extraterrestrial beings on the planet Solaris are the product of the subconscious and therefore cannot be considered human. Extraterrestrial beings have always been portrayed as enemies since the earliest pieces of the science fiction genre.
This representation continued in “Solaris.” Under this representation lies the human’s own internality. An important feature of the science fiction genre is that it predicts and formulates ideas about the future in the light of this prediction.
In “Solaris,” it is seen that there are video calls and autopilot cars, which are thought to exist in the future. In the scene in the city, it is seen that a different alphabet is used apart from the Cyrillic alphabet – which is the appearance of a single language and a single society in the future.
The film’s creation of the atmosphere is timeless when considered temporally. Futuristic elements and the decor established in this direction reflect the characteristics of the genre. This fictional universe created reveals the world of the future with the cinematic style of the director.
The experiment carried out by scientists and their teams on Solaris, which is a habitable planet like Earth, failed. The reason for this failure is planetary and focused on human psychology. To understand the cause of the experiment’s failure and to support the surviving scientists, the film’s protagonist, psychologist Kris Kelvin, travels to the planet Solaris as part of the mission. The film begins to unravel and be understood at this point.
“I must tell you that we really have no desire to conquer any cosmos. We want to extend the Earth up to its borders … We don’t need other worlds. We need a mirror,” it is said in the film.
“Solaris” is a film with a philosophical aspect. It is a production that takes the viewer on an intellectual journey with its lines and with the effect of taking place in a small space. There are questions in the dialogues of the film. This questioning is intensely related to the inner quest of human beings and their existence outside the world. The discourse is that the goal of mankind is not to conquer the universe but to reach the realm of life with wider boundaries for humanity.
The novel “Solaris” that inspired the film was published in 1961, and the film itself was made in 1972, both coinciding with the fiercest times of the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviets. It is important to take this fact into consideration when thinking about “Solaris” because if a work is read taking into consideration the conditions of the period in which it was created, it can be understood better. The show of strength of humans, or rather this Cold War between the West and the Eastern Bloc has been reflected in everything made by humans, from politics to science, from science to space, and from space to cinema.
This excerpt from the movie touches on the futility of man’s quest beyond Earth. Humanity wants to connect with the outside world in the film. While he wants this, he is aware of the futility of this situation. It is realized in the film that to deal with a situation other than humanity would not benefit humanity at all, and it is emphasized that what is valuable is the human. However, when we look at the historical process and the projective connection of the film, it is the other way around. What is done for humanity is intended to destroy it and threaten its very existence. Humanity was pushed to the background during the Cold War, and plenty of investments were made in the defense and war industries around the world during this period. When the film “Solaris” is taken cinematically in terms of form and content, it offers the audience information about the human and humanity in the period in which it was shot, both visually and intellectually.
At this point, as Aleksei Erkhov, the honorable Russian ambassador to Turkey, said: “The legal basis created today will allow people to one day explore space together using shared resources and power. When we finally discover a ‘Solaris,’ we hope it will host not a military base, but an orbiting scientific station to explore the galaxy. Let us create a bright future for our future generations.” This is what the world needs most today.
* Istanbul-based lawyer, Ph.D. student in constitutional law at Marmara University