MOVIES EVERYBODY SHOULD SEE – 2001 A SPACE ODYSSEY
Once a week here at TWBT we will be discussing a movie we agree everyone should see at some point in their lives. For the most part we will try to avoid the really obvious choices (The Godfather, Citizen Kane, Die Hard, etc) as their reputations are such that if you are at all interested in film you’ll already have seen them, or you will be aware you probably should. In certain cases an obvious classic may be discussed if we think we have something new to say, or just really want to talk about it, but by and large we are looking at films the casual film fan may not have seen. This list will run the gamut as we’ll be looking at older films, foreign films, genre films, cult films, exploring the whole diverse world of the movies.
This weeks entry is…
2001: A Space Odyssey.
If someone asks me what happens in the great Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey I don’t have too much trouble answering them. It is when they ask me what it means that things get difficult.
At its most basic, the film is about the journey of our species. From its humble beginnings to its unimaginable end. It is about our relationship with technology and how that relationship has pulled us out of the mud and up towards the stars, but it is also about the dangers of that over reliant relationship. It is about astronaut Dave Bowman and his ship’s supercomputer H.A.L 9000 (the most iconic A.I in cinema). It is, to put it bluntly, about a lot of stuff.
If you haven’t seen 2001, I recommend doing so now and then coming back. Before you do my only advice is prepare yourself. This is not a film you just sit back and switch off with (although I recommend never doing that, even with trashy fun flicks). You have to meet Kubrick half way and really engage with what is being said. It’s worth it. See you in two hours.
Hi, welcome back. So… that was weird right? But weird in a breathtakingly beautiful way.
The film opens on darkness. Music starts to play. Music that will be heard a number of times throughout the movie, whenever the monolith appears. Where are we? When are we? Suddenly we are in space, overlooking the moon and the little planet we call home (at least for now). Down on the surface our ape ancestors are having a tough time. Starving, cold, forced away from their patch of dirt by stronger more aggressive apes, and near extinction. Then the monolith appears. The apes, inquisitive in nature, touch it. They learn to use tools. They use those tools to hunt and they are no longer starving. They use those tools to murder and they take back their patch of dirt. Those tools have pushed them back from the brink of extinction. Now they will advance, develop, and thrive. The film states this with the most efficient jump cut ever seen, as the ape tosses the bone up into the air it transforms into an orbiting satellite and we’ve jumped forward in time millions of years. This is where tools have taken us.
The following sequence, often described as the space ballet, is gorgeous. Spacecraft of all shapes and sizes dance freely across the wide expanse of space to the soothing sounds of The Blue Danube. Sound, images, and ideas coming together in a way that only cinema can allow.
The monolith appears again, this time on the moon. It signals our next evolutionary step, as we have grown beyond the planet that birthed us and spread our reach out among the stars. Are the monoliths simply signposts of our next steps or are they somehow responsible for them? Are we being pushed by a higher power, alien or otherwise?
The middle section of the film revolves around H.A.L’s attempted murder of his crew. It is the part of the film that is most focused on narrative and is therefore the easiest to follow. The influence of production design here can still be felt today. You see 2001 influences pop in everything, from Alien to Moon to Apple products.
Many have lobbed the complaint at Kubrick that this film is anti-humanistic and I can see where they are coming from. The movie posits that we come from violence and have survived because of it. In an early draft of the script the satellite Kubrick cuts to from the bone is carrying nukes. The jump cut therefore shows how far we’ve advanced, and how little we’ve changed. We are still killing each other, only our weapons have grown more impressive. When Dave’s shipmate dies it isn’t presented in an emotional way. Dave doesn’t react with any great feeling. The only death that we feel is H.A.L’s. The cold, murderous computer is the only character the director feels sympathy for.
But this is very much the point. This is made clear in the movie’s batshit crazy final third. Dave flees the ship in an escape pod and finds another monolith around Jupiter (Is Jupiter where they come from? Are the Jupitians responsible for our evolution?). The monolith exposes Dave to things beyond time and space. It opens his mind. Hence the prolonged acid trip. I’ve never seen this picture in a cinema but for this sequence alone I’d love to.
Dave then finds himself as an old man in a lavish, strangely furnished room. This is man at the end of his journey. Suddenly Dave is even older and frailer. Dying in bed. The monolith appears before him and he reaches out to touch it. And with that he transforms into a starchild.
The jump from apes to what we are now is almost impossible to comprehend. The change from what we are now to what we will be in millions of years will be even more drastic. As drastic as Kubrick’s space baby. But the Starchild is Kubrick’s hope for what we can be. Something above the use of tools to murder one another. By moving away from technology Kubrick hopes we evolve into something magical and peaceful.
Or maybe I’m completely wrong. That is what is so great about 2001: A Space Odyssey, it is open to all kinds of wildly different interpretations. What you’ve read is mine. I imagine yours was totally different.
And that’s why 2001 is a must see movie. It is one of the most visually dazzling films ever made. The editing is a work of genius. The use of music infuses these cold, almost abstract ideas with a warmth and humanity. There is a haunting beauty to this film. And it all adds up to an experience that will be unique to each of us. We will put these puzzle pieces together in different ways, but whatever picture we make will be no less impressive.
And that is why everyone should see it, even if I can’t promise everyone will enjoy it. It is the work of a master filmmaker utilizing cinema to its fullest to create something uniquely his own. There is no film like it.
Further Viewing – If you like 2001: A Space Odyssey you should check out…
Solaris (1972). A psychologist attempts to deal with the grief of losing his wife whilst trapped aboard a space station. If 2001 is anti-humanist then Solaris is the humanist rebuttal. It argues we can find our salvation within ourselves.
Fantasia. Another film that sets dazzling, dancing imagery to classical music. One of the most beautiful animated films ever made, and the best example of Disney’s more experimental work.