2001: A Space Odyssey

2001: A Space Odyssey ★★★★★

Film #8 in My Stanley Kubrick Series

It is fitting that my 500th review for this website should be for 2001: A Space Odyssey, that glorious mystery that seems to defy interpretation yet inspire such awe in its viewers. As sweeping and majestic as epics can be, Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece (or the United States' masterpiece, or cinema's masterpiece) seeks to capture what it means to be human, beginning with the first violent act that separated us from the animals and ending with a distant future whose ambiguity is both intentional and necessary. Though certain scenes might seem a little forced now (the phenomenal opening scene taking especially misguided derision regarding its supposed "obviousness" or unoriginal take on morality), this manipulation works to the film's benefit. Despite its grandeur, 2001: A Space Odyssey is truly a simple tale, or a simple triptych.

Much has been written about the famed monolith of the film, and what it "represents" might be quite unimportant, especially in a film that so defies narrative conventions. Suffice it to say that whenever the monolith appears, mankind is on the brink of discovering a piece of knowledge that will eventually lead, in some way, to its downfall. The pitfalls of the invention of the weapon (and thus violence) is plain to see, and the dangers of the development of artificial intelligence more powerful than man himself can certainly be understood by a 2016 viewer (though those watching 2001 at its premiere would have faced an astonishingly novel proposition). The appearance of the monolith in the film's beautiful final sequence is certainly more difficult to explain, and this is simply because it is impossible for modern man to comprehend the future. This is not to say that Stanley Kubrick was more visionary than the brightest scientists of his time or ours, but that 2001 seeks to capture the fact that though mankind's knowledge and physical situation will evolve to the point that the future of our species is hardly recognizable to its present, its fundamental curiosity (its fatal flaw) is constant. We do not know what direction mankind was heading toward in the last sequence of the film, but we do know that the desire for the betterment of our species will be both our strength and weakness as long as our species exists.

As to the bulk of the film, man's "present" (used rather loosely), it is difficult to say much that has not been articulated better by more talented fans of the film. HAL-9000 is, of course, one of the greatest characters in the history of the medium. His slow, helpless death is as horrifying as any murder but as calculated as any surgery, the climax of Eyes Without a Face coming to mind as one of the only truly comparable scenes. Though the dim red that engulfs the frame ensures that nothing is visually out of place, one can certainly not look away from the careful dismantling of HAL's memory until his final musical number. Perhaps it is a political warning against computer development, but it is also a quite emotional sequence, and the fact that HAL's death is so affecting is a testament to just how human the computer was made to seem. Singularity hangs over the film like a chandelier, its presence completely inescapable, but the film deftly handles not only the fear-mongering nature of any anti-progress movement but also the fundamental idea of singularity: that computers will one day be seen as human.

A projection screen can hardly do justice to 2001: A Space Odyssey, and 600 words even less so. Though I have not read the novel, it is difficult to understand how such a film could be novelized, as it uses the power of cinema to its full potential. The acting (and voice acting), the set design, the majestic music, the breathtaking cinematography, the overwhelming sense of pessimistic wonder that one gets from regarding every frame of the film is simply impossible to describe yet a miracle to behold.

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