2001: A Space Odyssey
Stanley Kubrick I 1968 I USA / UK
A journey unlike no other, 2001: A Space Odyssey remains one of the most thought-provoking, dazzling and extraordinary films cinematic experiences I've ever seen. Miraculous, dominant, cool, spectacular, Kubrick's film about the nature of man and his search for the boundaries of the universe is uniquely captivating from start to finish. Heralded as one of the greatest films of all time, 2001: A Space Odyssey is a supremely intriguing science-fiction voyage that takes us into a profound glance at the future of mankind - it is a film to discuss and analyse to the point of exhaustion, as it gives us something to think and to say, while at the same time igniting our imagination and curiosity for discovery and the real truth.
The film begins with The Dawn of Man, a passage that shows us the commencement of the human race. From the very first shots we immediately realise that what were about to see is indeed going to be truly special, as we contemplate barren landscapes, and scorching red sunsets in gorgeous cinematography (filmed in Cinerama and Technicolor). It is then that a group of apes/proto-humans discover a monolith planted in the middle of nowhere, alien to their surroundings, and they recoil back in utter horror and amazement at the sheer sight of it. What the monolith is we never find out; this scene, like the film as a whole, is encircled in a web of seemingly impenetrable ambiguity. Because, one has to ask themselves, what is the significance of the monolith? What does it mean? It may represent God or some omnipotent form, fear, death, life, evil yet what exactly? It is further on revealed in the film that "Its origin and purpose are still a total mystery." It is precisely from that moment on that with mounting anxiety we long to ascertain the connotation of it all, as we're transported from a lost era in the prehistoric past to the future via one of the most stupefying jump cuts ever conceived on celluloid.
As we leap thousands of years into colonised space, the Blue Danube by Johann Strauss kicks in, and we pay witness to a beautiful collage of music and images in a cosmic ballet of rotating and navigating spaceships. This is what has to be one of the most stunning sequences in cinema history; it shows you an ineffable kind of beauty, the realms of space, both with finesse and accuracy, with slowness, subtlety and daintiness. What makes it all the more great is the fact that Kubrick depicts space with startling precision, given that at the time the picture was made few people really know what it looked like. One can simply describe it as a majestic poem, full of motion and love, where the power of cinema is fully explored, and shown. Surely this is what films were made for?
The plot of the film is not as complex as one may think; however, it is the ideas and concepts thrown in it that manage to engross the most. 2001 is a countdown to the day of tomorrow, a search for human destiny, a quest for the infinite. Evolution is a theme that plays a large role in the film; for instance, right at the beginning when the ape throws the bone into the air and it suddenly changes into the spaceship, the meaning of that is as inspired as it is straightforward: as the course of time goes on, tools replace one another while man progresses simultaneously. Man at first was a creature that was ignorant, savage, brutal and wild but then, as we see, man has changed into something completely distinct: he is a cold, emotionless, quiet, sterile being obsessed with the wonders of technology and with the desire to have it all. The search for human destiny is portrayed in the film as an unreachable dream, an unfathomable thing that nobody could ever get to, a road of dangers that will get you nowhere. It is soon revealed that 2001 is not really a science fiction film at all - if we were to compare it to other works such as Star Wars or Flash Gordon, we'd instantly come to the conclusion that, besides the comparisons not being just (2001 is art, the other two are pure escapism), 2001 lacks all the mega-explosions, gunfights and spaceship battles that the aforementioned two contain. Tha'ts partly one of the motives why I consider 2001 not to be a science fiction film (at least, no that kind of one). Instead, it's a masterwork that makes us think and meditate, a film filled with theoretical enigmas and doubts that are never fully explained.
During the viewing of the film, dozens of questions are asked, but none of them are answered - rather, Kubrick opts for a more effective way with which to haunt the viewer: he gives no determined answers and lets us find out for ourselves. In fact, Kubrick once said, "You are free to speculate, as you wish, about the philosophical and allegorical meaning of 2001." Which means that any assumption, interpretation or conjecture about the film's meaning is valid if it seems reasonable enough. And tha'ts yet another major strength of the film; no matter how you view it, its real significance will always remain hidden, as not even its creators, Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C Clarke (the author of the novel the film was based on - The Sentinel - he was also the screenwriter along with Kubrick) knew what it all meant. Ideas are given, concepts are constructed and magnificent visions are created; but is the film overall provided with a definite explanation? The answer is no.
There is so much to say about this film that it's impossible for me to sum it all up in a few words. It's a film that has to be seen at least two or three times in order to totally appreciate it. Its pace is slow, but ever-engaging. It sure is a love it or hate it film; I've encountered innumerable people who seem to loathe it, on message boards, books and at school. Not very long ago, for instance, I found this comment made on the movie's pace: "Kubrick basically conflates sheer lugubrious (read: deadeningly slow) length of the film's running time with 'depth' (of meaning)." I see that the film gets criticized a lot by people who were simply bored by it, for one reason or another. It doesn't matter, but what I'm getting at is that they don't seem to be aware that i'ts all done deliberately, and, what's more, it all has a purpose. Kubrick didn't just give the film a boring pace that "serves as a cure for insomnia" for the heck of it, because what it does is convey a sense of time, a sense of prolonged stretchiness. As the film goes, our anticipation to find out what's going to occur next grows with every frame, our expectations get larger and larger, and it is at the very end where we find out that what we've seen means absolutely nothing and everything. Whilst the vast majority of the subjects raised in the film don't have a concrete meaning, I am quite certain that the pace of the film does. It's beauty.
2001 is an orgasmic assault to your senses - to your eyes and to your ears, especially. The classical music specifically chosen by Kubrick, who was a lover of such thing, integrates with the atmosphere of the film perfectly. It contains works by Richard Strauss, Aram Khachaturyan, Johann Strauus and Gyorgi Ligeti (one of my favourite composers of all time). Together they are able to weave an impression of fascination, dread, coldness, amazement and pure terror, and let me just say that it all works wonderfully. No wonder the composer that Kubrick originally hired got sacked because his score was inferior. Visually, the film proves to be a towering achievement. The cinematography is one of the most pivotal elements that composes the film, and proves to be one of the most exceptional. Done by Geoffrey Unsworth, it contains Kubrick's trademark dolly shots, which are put to great use, chiefly in the scenes set in the rotating spaceship. Close-ups of faces are also employed in order to plunge us into the personages' psychology. We feel their intense fear and trembling anxiety, we actually get to feel their feelings. This is grasped even more during some scenes in which the camera contemplates HAL 9000's glowing red eye for long periods of time. Despite the fact that he (or "it) is a machine, his psychology is more developed than that of the human characters in the films. Funnily enough, it's just about the only being in the entire film that has to show a whole display of emotions, be it sadness, fright, cruelty or segregation. This proves to be one of the most ironic aspects of the film, considering that it deals with the human psyche. That said, the visual effects are ground-breakingly awesome. It's difficult for me to believe that this film was made thirty five years ago, as they look extremely well polished and believable. There's no muddled CGI, and it still looks impressive (even more so, in fact) with the miniatures, designed by Kubrick himself. It puts Star Wars' effect to shame.
HAL 9000 simply has to be one of the most memorable villains in cinema history. In case you haven't seen the film, he's a man-made machine, who has never made a mistake or distorted any information. Containing enormous intellect, he is capable to produce (mimic) most acts of the human brain and is in charge of controlling the ship. Despite the fact that he's only a machine, there is no doubt that HAL (whose name was adapted from IBM - incrementing each letter that's what you get, even though Clarke said that it was completely unintentional, as it stands for Heuristic Algorithmic Computer) somehow manages to create malfunction, annihilate all the crew that's hibernating and sing "Daisy" seconds before his death. His intelligence is undisputed, his irony is palpable and his malevolence is unequalled. He's the kind of villain you love to hate.
Silence. That was one the key elements that most startled me when I first saw this film. 2001 is not so much a picture about spoken words but about spoken images; Kubrick uses illustrations to communicate with us and does not waste time in trying to connect with mere words. The images are poetry and above all genius, sheer genius. The quietness of the space is also intertwined with the quietness that lies in the human heart, and this is very well represented. What most astounds me is that Kubrick's usage of silence is incredibly effective. Had it been done by someone else, it would have most likely failed, but there are scenes in the film that are as hushed as they can get and still manage to remarkably hold your attention. Without spoken words, atmosphere is created. There are moments of unrivalled tension and suspense in 2001, such as when Dave Bowman is fixing the ship. We hear his anxious, intense breathing, it stays embodied on our ears and a sense of pressure is masterfully weaved. All in all, the silence in the movie plays a very relevant role in the film, and it is without a doubt one of the things that will most likely astound you to an incredible extent. In fact, the first line of dialogue is spoken by a stewardess, 25 minutes and 38 seconds into the film.
2001: A Space Odyssey contains some of the most extraordinary images ever seen onscreen. The bone thrown by the ape, the perfect alignment of the monolith, the moon and the sun and the aforementioned stratospheric ballet are all some of the most unforgettable images ever. And, of course, there's the colour-changing pupil and the star child that appear at the end. Ah, the ending. It is sure to be the most indefinite, perplexing and gaping finales I have ever witnessed. It is the third and last part of the film, titled Beyond the Infinite and its significance is as vague and unclear as it is imperative, its images as powerful as they're seemingly random. It goes beyond mere description; i'ts a piece of art in its own right that means, as I've already said, everything and nothing. I'll try not to ruin it, but, I'm telling you, there simply is nothing like it. It leaves you wondering in such a way you can't help but wonder at how it makes you wonder, and that's quite a feat.
In all honesty, 2001 is one of the greatest films I have ever seen. It's a film I appreciate, a film I admire and I film I truly adore. Few films have ever come close to its sheer grandeur; few films have proved to be as meritoriously and hauntingly irreplaceable. It's managed to be enduringly alluring through the course of the years and Kubrick's vision has enthralled innumerable viewers, as well as leaving a inerasable footprint in the history of cinema. Impressive, fascinating, influential, mind-bending, 2001 is the ultimate trip. Arthur C Clarke once said, "If you understand 2001 completely, we failed. We wanted to raise far more questions than we answered." Well let me just clarify by saying that their mission has been accomplished, because 2001 is a celestial experience.