#15 2001: A Space Odyssey

“This conversation can serve no purpose anymore. Goodbye.”
HAL

2001: A Space Odyssey is different than anything you have ever seen. Many aspects of the film, such as the score, will be instantly recognizable to nearly every viewer. And many aspects of this film will be more foreign to viewers than anything they have ever seen.

Keep one thing in mind before watching this film. This is not a movie that can be fully understood. It is not meant to be fully understood, and it is possible that there is no ultimate meaning to it. This can cause the film to be a frustrating watch and create an unsatisfied feeling when the film is over. That being said, the artistic merits of this film cannot be disputed.

Every shot director Stanley Kubrick made was a deliberate shot with a specific purpose. Each shot was designed to create a specific emotion, and the result is magnificent. Similar to Hitchcock’s meticulous nature on the set of Psycho, Kubrick seemingly would stop at nothing to create exactly the images needed to set the perfect tone for the film.

Kubrick’s vision differed from Hitchcock’s in a fundamental way though. While Hitchcock did whatever he could to invite the viewer into the twisted world of Norman Bates by shooting at angles that the viewer is used to seeing, and with lenses that are similar to the human eye, Kubrick did whatever he could to isolate the viewer. The visual artistry did not stop there though.

2001 has been described as a Sci-Fi epic, and this description could not be more apt. Somehow Kubrick was able to create a journey through space that was both visually grand, and intellectually plausible. And unlike most works of science fiction that were around during this film’s 1968 release date, the special effects still hold up.

Visually the film was quite impressive, but Kubrick’s job was not finished with just what was seen. So much of this film’s story is transmitted through sound. For much of the movie all that can be heard is breathing, and the affect this has on the psyche of the viewer cannot be overstated. The film creates steady uneasy feeling of isolation.

The film takes place over four very distinct and separate acts. The first act centres on a fictional representation of the dawn of man. When a monolith appears over night outside the den of a group of sleeping apes an unspoken challenge from the universe is issued. The apes respond to this challenge by creating weapons out of the bones of dead animals. They use these weapons to drive a rival group of apes away from their watering hole, and almost overnight, the tool is born, and evolution takes flight.

The second act focuses on a crew that has discovered an artifact buried forty feet below the surface of the moon. It is a similar monolith as the one that spurred the apes to create their tools 4 million years prior.

When the humans discover this monolith they also discover that it is sending a pulse towards Jupiter, and once again, a challenge is issued.

The third act takes place eighteen months after the discovery of the monolith on the moon. Humanity has accepted the unspoken challenge of the monolith and has sent a crew of five men, and one really smart computer to Jupiter. The afore mentioned, “really smart computer” is an artificial intelligence unit named HAL. To date he is humanity’s greatest tool, and our only real hope for reaching Jupiter. He controls the ship’s life support, lights, doors, and basically everything that is mechanical on the ship. I don’t want to give anymore of the plot away, but I bet you can tell where that battle between man and technology goes.

The fourth act is what will turn most people off of this movie. The end is completely ambiguous, and that is the point. Sadly this leaves the viewer with a hollow feeling when the credits appear. Desperate for answers most people will probably resent the film and simply write it off as pretentious nonsense. But this would be a mistake.

There is no real ending to this film. How could there be? For there to be an effective ending to this film Kubrick would have to possess a complete understanding of the universe, something that he does not have. Instead Kubrick left the ending open to speculation. This was a wise choice by Kubrick as the themes that were dealt with in this film were too complex to be explained by any one revelatory statement.

This film deals with themes that range from man evolving, not just from apes but within themselves, to our dependence on technology. The most important thing to consider about this film though is its release date. This film was released one year before the moon landing, and with all eyes on space it seemed inevitable that our future lay among the stars.

Ultimately this film is about who we are as people, where both technology and curiosity will lead us in the future, and what will happen when that technology, as well as our physical bodies, fails us.

Who we are and where we are going are the most universal questions humanity has, and this film shows that. What this film does not do is provide any answers to these questions, but how could it?

It is possible to speculate that the monoliths that appear throughout the movie represent an architect of intelligent design. A being that created in all living things a subconscious knowledge of itself. A being that spurred the intellectual development of all living things, and created in these things a desire to seek it out. This would just be speculation though.

Kubrick himself said that there was no one correct interpretation of his film. The film does not act as a vehicle of enlightenment.  Rather, it simply exists to make the viewer ask the questions that are always lying right beneath humanity consciousness.

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1 Comment

  1. craig

     /  May 9, 2011

    nice review.
    this is one that shaped the way I watch movies, in fact, there are a few on this list that were my early film education.
    What I like about 2001 is it’s ability to be slow and patient and deliberate in it’s telling of the story, it’s never in a rush to get anywhere and I love that.
    Other films like the Deer Hunter, Apocalypse and many foreign films employ this technique and it’s one thing that, in my opininion, is one of the characteristics of a great movie.
    Don’t rush, let the story tell itself.
    Great work

    Reply

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