If you consider yourself a film buff or someone that is in any way passionate about film, chances are you’ve seen Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. If not, it’s probably sitting in your Netflix queue right now. Not viewing this film is like a clergyman having never read The Bible, a communist having never laid eyes on the Communist Manifesto, an art connoisseur having never seen a Monet, or a janitor having never used a broom. Watching 2001 is just part of your duty as a self-respecting lover of cinema.
Does that mean you’ll love it? It’s possible you won’t, but what’s so brilliantly enigmatic about 2001 is that it’s not about liking or disliking it. The experience alone is about being able to appreciate what it has done as a forerunner in cinema and more so as a work of art. Whether you “get it” or not, you can’t deny its mesmerizing affect and find sheer awe in its magnitude of experimentation.
Historically, the first time beings went crazy over an object that was long, hard, and black.
2001 opens to a vast, barren land in which viewers watch the activities of a group of apes whose very existence is threatened by predators and a rival group that bullies them away from their watering hole, their eminent life source. After a strange monolith appears before the group of threatened apes, they seem to evolve overnight as the leader realizes a bone from a carcass can be used as a weapon. When the apes are again threatened by their rivals at the waterhole, the now mentally improved apes weld the bone against the face of the rival gang’s leader, killing him and claiming the watering hole for themselves.
Ecstatic, the apes rejoice and their leader triumphantly throws his bone into the air. We follow the bone slowly up into the sky where it is match-cut with a space ship, transporting viewers millions of years into the future and the film’s new setting. In space, we are slowly but surely brought up to speed about strange occurrences taking place on the Moon due to a 4 million-year-old monolith on its surface. It is further revealed that this monolith is sending signals to Jupiter. The story then shifts to explore the battle between a group of mission scientists and the ship’s arrogant, malfunctioning operating system, HAL, as they travel farther into the abyss of space to Jupiter for answers.
“Damn it Hal, you sank my battle ship!”
There have been articles, essays, and even books written about 2001: A Space Odyssey to explain it’s greatness and understand it’s blooming complexities. Therefore, anything I praise doesn’t nearly scratch the surface of what this film offers. But alas, I take the duty because I believe it’s a film that should constantly be poked and prodded because it’s still relevant by today’s standards.
Kubrick created a film so ahead of its time in 1968 that today, almost 50 years after its release, there has yet to be a science fiction film to trump 2001’s greatness (although the Star Wars trilogy was arguably close). Nearly every science fiction film that looks to space as the backdrop for its story owes its inspiration to 2001. Sci-fi films made in the past few decades are still simply attempting to touch the hem of 2001’s cloak, hoping its glory will magically rub off on them to make it better; see Oblivion and Moon for starting examples.
But alas, no film has yet to have the luck and know-how to achieve its greatness, and that’s because 2001’s portrayal of the evolution of man and technology is explored in such esoteric, complex ways that to make something of equal or greater thought-provoking value would require massive amounts of hallucinogens to unlock the parts of the human brain even capable of being able to fathom how. Those parts of the brain just don’t work under normal circumstances.
2001: A Space Odyssey is a film that seems to have been created by an otherworldly being. Something that has seen the depths of the space-time continuum and that thinks in terms of past, present, and future. A being that can see into the 4th dimension. 2001 works on a level that attempts to promote and expand human thought, so if your goal when watching films is to shut your brain off, then 2001 isn’t the type of film you should be watching.
That being said, I think it’s pretty sane and logical to praise Kubrick as a deity, or god among men, due to his work on 2001. A perfectionist who exhausted his efforts to make nearly every shot he filmed visually immaculate, Kubrick’s labor of love and ingenuity in 2001 transcends the very filmstrip on which it was filmed. Kubrick’s magnificently epic set design roots itself in a 1960s vision of the future which creates the most aesthetically pleasing vision of the future yet, complete with bright primary colors and smooth rounded structures.
If I weren’t color blind, this trip would be so much cooler.
Now, as a history buff and Ancient Alien enthusiast, the implications that Kubrick’s outlandish script raises are enough to give me brain aneurysm. 2001’s opening sequence feels as though a curtain to the past has been drawn back in order for viewers to witness Darwin’s theory of survival of the fittest take place before our very eyes better than any film has before. At the same time, Kubrick created a vision of the future set in both reality and striking imagination. Some of the film’s elements, like passengers on a plane watching a movie while flying, have come true. Yet our ability to do that comfortably in space has yet to be tweaked. Kubrick pushed for humans to embrace the future of technology, yet also fear its repercussions.
And whether you realize it in the moment or not, your life will change after you experience “Jupiter and the Infinite Beyond.” The sheer brilliance of the near 10 minute sequence is like seeing the face of god through film; the changing colors, the breathtaking visual effects, the quick edits, the intense soundtrack, the patterns… excuse me, I need go change my pants.
Watching 2001: A Space Odyssey is like starting into a lava lamp. If you’re open minded enough, you’ll turn off the lights, get comfortable in your snuggie, and let the images you see floating before your eyes wash over you as you fall into a transcendental head space. You may come away with new ways of viewing the world or mentally taking in new concepts. However, it’s possible that your brain works in ways that find it silly and pointless to see psychedelic images in lava lamps. 2001 may not be your cup of tea, but any open mind should be able to notice and appreciate its physical beautiful and influence in not just on cinema, but society as whole.
Take a Drink: every time the music swells into an epic piece.
Do a Shot: when the music turns into a shrill, nearly unbearable pitch.
Take a Drink: when red is a scene’s major color
Take a Drink: every time we see the monolith
Take a Drink: every time the setting changes.
Do a shot: for everything Kubrick predicted of the future. Skype anyone?