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By Arielle Cohen February 1, 2021

Buried Desires and “Alien” Forms: A Psychoanalytical Reading of Solaris’s Kris Kelvin, The Haunting of Hill House’s Eleanor Vance and Forbidden Planet’s Dr. Morbius

The ocean in Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris, the house in Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House and the Krell technology in Fred Wilcox’s Forbidden Planet all perform a “psychic vivisection” on their unconsenting visitors, namely Kris Kelvin, Eleanor Vance and Dr. Morbius (Lem 201). These paranormal entities have “taken account of desires locked into secret recesses of [their visitors’] brains” and brought them to the surface of their conscious minds (Lem 201). Characters in these three stories are reluctant to face these unconscious, primitive desires for fear of what the latter may reveal about themselves. Whether it be Eleanor’s sense of homelessness, Kelvin’s unresolved feeling of guilt, or Dr. Morbius’ primitive quest for vengeance, these individuals are hesitant to embrace these revelations. In the context of these stories, revelation is an enlightening truth revealed by an entity that is radically other than they are. This essay will first discuss the ways in which the ocean, Hill House and the Krell technology dive into the minds of trespassers and bring their unconscious desires to the surface. This will then allow for a discussion of the reasoning behind these characters’ fear of revelation. Once these characters’ fear of revelation is understood, the significance of this motif will be explored, as it reveals humanity’s tendency to suppress frightening truths about ourselves.

The ocean, Hill House and the Krell technology reveal unconscious desires in unusual and distinct ways. By examining its visitors’ minds, the ocean on Solaris is able to copy people engrained in their memories and create manifestations like Rheya, Kelvin’s deceased wife. One consequence of Rheya’s presence is the resurfacing of Kelvin’s suppressed feelings of guilt; he blames himself for his wife’s suicide. Rheya offers an explanation as to how the ocean learns this buried information and reveals what purpose she serves in the process: “‘To study your reactions – something of that sort. Each one of you has a … an instrument like me. We emerge from your memory or your imagination…’” (Lem 149). Rheya explains that she was created from Kelvin’s memory and that her purpose is to gain a greater understanding of him. Snow further clarifies this statement when he tells Kelvin that Rheya “… is a mirror that reflects a part of your mind. If she is beautiful, it’s because your memories are. You provide the formula” (Lem 161). Snow understands that Rheya is merely a reflection of Kelvin’s memories. While her presence does satisfy Kelvin’s desire to see her once again, she also brings up feelings of guilt and loss for him. Hence, Kelvin is initially hesitant to be content about seeing the woman he once loved.

Hill House undertakes a task similar to the ocean’s, as it attempts to connect with Eleanor by investigating her mind. Hill House studies Eleanor’s mind and learns of her desire to feel a sense of belonging. In an effort to meet this need, the house sends Eleanor messages written in blood saying “HELP ELEANOR COME HOME ELEANOR” (Jackson 114). Hill House also communicates with Eleanor by holding her hand and through a Ouija board (Jackson 120;139). Therefore, the house arguably uses its ability to look into its residents’ minds to help satisfy their unconscious desires. Hill House is successful in making Eleanor feel at home, seeing as she expresses: “‘[t]hus I enter Hill House […]  and stepped inside as though it were [my] own’” (Jackson 171). Eleanor’s revelation is not her acknowledgment of her feeling of homelessness, as she openly admits that “‘[she] want[s] to be someplace where [she] belong[s]’” (Jackson 154). Rather, her revelation is that Hill House is the sole place where she feels a sense of belonging. She tries to suppress this truth, seeing as she is initially fearful to welcome the house’s efforts to connect with her.

The Krell technology is also capable of manipulating the minds of those who use it, but in a different way than the ocean and Hill House. Using the plastic educator, a tool created by the Krell civilization to condition and test their young, Dr. Morbius is able increase his intellectual capacity. An adverse effect of this is the unrestricted power given to his Id. According to Dr. Morbius, the Id represents “‘an obsolete term […] one once used to describe the elementary basis of the subconscious mind’” (Forbidden Planet 1:26:34-1:26:45). The Id accounts for the subconscious, primitive desires of even the most civilized human being. The plastic educator allows Dr. Morbius’ Id to materialize into a monster that wreaks havoc in an attempt to seek vengeance against Adams and his daughter, Altaira. Dr. Morbius is angry at Adams because he believes Adams corrupted his Altaira and convinced her to return to Earth with him. He is also upset with his daughter because she proves to be disloyal and disobeys his orders. Although the Krell technology is not a conscious entity like the ocean and Hill House, it still accomplishes the same goal as them; it allows for the satisfaction of buried desires. The Krell technology satisfies Dr. Morbius’ primitive, subconscious desire of vengeance by allowing his Id to take over. As Dr. Montague elucidates, “‘… it attacks where modern minds are weakest, where we have abandoned our protective armor of superstition and have no substitute defense’” (Jackson 102). Dr. Montague believes Hill House manipulates its victim by highlighting their weakest point, similar to how Rheya and the Krell technology emphasize the suppressed feelings of Kelvin and Dr. Morbius.

It is reasonable to assume that the fulfillment of one’s subconscious or unconscious wish would be pleasing. Kelvin, Eleanor and Dr. Morbius, however, are fearful of their desires. They are reluctant to face the revelations associated with the fulfilment of their wishes. The ocean on Solaris fulfills Kelvin’s wish to see Rheya once more following her tragic suicide; it is as if the ocean sent Kelvin a present: “‘[y]ou could say it has taken account of desires locked into secret recesses of our brains. Perhaps it was sending us… presents’” (Lem 201). While Kelvin is grateful to see Rheya again, their rekindled romance brings up unresolved feelings of grief and guilt. Kelvin feels grief, seeing as his beloved wife ended her life so abruptly. Kelvin also feels responsible for her death because he left her during an argument where he thought she was “play-acting” when she implied her suicide (Lem 58). Kelvin had always wished he could ask for her forgiveness and when he is finally presented with that opportunity, he fears her instead. It is clear that Kelvin is initially hesitant to acknowledge his feelings; he sends Rheya into orbit in a shuttle in order to avoid facing this truth (Lem 67-68). Kelvin believes the ocean “… had infiltrated my mind without my knowledge, surveyed my memory, and laid bare my most vulnerable point” (Lem 163). Eventually, he learns that he cannot ignore Rheya and must acknowledge his “most vulnerable point”, his suppressed emotions. When Kelvin finally embraces this uncomfortable revelation, he ends up longing for Rheya’s presence. Upon learning Rheya has died, he expresses: “Instead of dreading her return, I wanted it. I did not attempt to remind myself why I had once tried to drive her away, and why I had been so afraid of her return” (Lem 198-199). Once Kelvin embraces Rheya’s company and acknowledges his difficult emotions, he is able to make peace with them and accept this revelation.

 Eleanor Vance is also reluctant to embrace revelations brought about by a radically other entity. While Eleanor openly admits she lacks a sense of belonging, she is fearful to accept the revelation that the only place she has ever truly felt at home is in Hill House. This is proven when Eleanor asks Theodora if she can follow her home after their stay at Hill House (Jackson 153-154). Eleanor desperately looks for a place to belong in order to negate the truth: she truly belongs at Hill House. Eleanor’s breaking point is arguably when Theodora refuses her company, as she begins to realize that the house is the only place that can provide her with a sense of belonging. Kelvin and Eleanor are similar in this sense, as they both fear the truths resurfaced by radically other entities. Dr. Montague explains this fear when he states: “‘fear […] is the relinquishment of logic, the willing relinquishment of reasonable patterns. We yield to it or we fight it, but we cannot meet it halfway’” (Jackson 117). Both Kelvin and Eleanor initially refuse to accept these revelations for fear of what they reveal about themselves and because they bring up uncomfortable or scary emotions. Kelvin doesn’t want to acknowledge his guilt and loss as they are uncomfortable emotions. Eleanor doesn’t want to accept that the one place where she feels at home is a haunted house where she should feel afraid and unsettled. Their fears, as Dr. Montague explains, are initially fought with reluctance and suppression. Both characters eventually learn to embrace these truths; Kelvin stays on Solaris and waits for Rheya’s return and Eleanor commits suicide to ensure she can never leave her new home.

Forbidden Planet’s Dr. Morbius, an intelligent philologist, is another fictional character who displays the same reluctance toward facing his subconscious desires. He has an exaggerated sense of superiority because he and his daughter are the sole survivors on Altair IV and he is the only one capable of successfully using the plastic educator. Dr. Morbius believes himself to be evolved past the point of any primitive hindrance, like the desires of the Id. Therefore, he is reluctant to admit that his subconscious is more powerful than he is. The thought of his primitive desire for vengeance being stronger than his evolved mind is frightening for Dr. Morbius, as it proves that he is not more evolved than anyone else. This reluctance to admit the truth leads him to fall prey to the same trap as the extinct Krell. As Adams explains: “‘… the Krell forgot one deadly danger: their own subconscious hate and lust for destruction’” (Forbidden Planet 1:27:30-1:27:36). If Dr. Morbius had accepted that he was not as powerful as his subconscious desires, perhaps he wouldn’t have experimented with the plastic educator. Ultimately, his confrontation with the monster of his Id is what leads to his demise. However, his acknowledgement of his weakness saves his daughter and the crew from imminent death. Dr. Morbius, like Eleanor and Kelvin, was reluctant to embrace the truth because it highlights suppressed feelings and weaknesses.

While a radically other entity bringing about revelation is unlikely to occur outside of the fictional realm, these characters do display realistic emotions frequently exhibited by humanity. Kelvin, Eleanor and Dr. Morbius all reflect humankind’s tendency to suppress enlightening truths for fear of what they reveal about themselves. As Dr. Montague explains: “’I think we are only afraid of ourselves’” (Jackson 117). Humanity’s greatest fear lies within the mind, not the radically other entities. If one could surpass this fear, perhaps they could evolve to a higher plane of existence, like the Krell attempted to accomplish. Unfortunately, as Kelvin, Eleanor, and Dr. Morbius prove, it is difficult to overcome this constraint. Although Lem, Jackson and Wilcox do not necessarily encourage their reader or watcher to embrace revelation, seeing as their stories all end in death or destruction, the stories do serve to demonstrate the consequences, positive or negative, of revelation. Whether it be the ocean, Hill House or the Krell technology, when these ineffable entities force humans to confront their deepest fears, it always results in an enhanced understanding of themselves.


Works Cited

Forbidden Planet. Directed by Fred M. Wilcox, performances by Leslie Nielsen, Anna Francis and Walter Pidgeon, MGM, 1956. Criterion.

Jackson, Shirley and Laura Miller. The Haunting of Hill House. New York: Penguin Books, 2018.

Lem, Stanislaw. Solaris. Translated by Joanna Kilmartin and Steve Cox, Faber and Faber, 2016.

About the author

Arielle Cohen is a first-year student in the Law, Society, and Justice profile. In Search of Secret Knowledge, a course offered to students in the Reflections program, peaked her interest, as it explored unique themes in fictional literature and film. She was particularly interested in studying the limitations of human knowledge and the ways in which technological advancements impact humanity.

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