Edgar Cochran ✝️’s review published on Letterboxd:
This is, probably, the most complicated review I will ever make about a movie. 2001: A Space Odyssey is definitely a new wonder of the world that goes beyond the definition of cinema itself. 2001: A Space Odyssey is pure art... cosmic art. Because of its majesty, among many other aspects that will be treated in a moment, it became in what many people consider "the mother of sci-fi films". For me, the real mother of sci-fi films is Metropolis (1927), so we'll consider 2001: A Space Odyssey as the mother of space sci-fi films and Metropolis (1927) as the true mother of sci-fi films. Undoubtedly, not even a single written review on this planet does complete justice to what 2001: A Space Odyssey manages to transmit to worldwide audiences if we do a full recount of what this masterpiece accomplishes. This is the most beautiful proof of the famous phrase "an image is more worthy than 1,000 words", so 2001: A Space Odyssey should be a seen and heard experience, but not only spoken or read about without seeing it.
2001: A Space Odyssey is a masterpiece ahead of its time. That's a fact. Stanley Kubrick's direction is so unique and brilliant that despite the fact that he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Director, lost to Carol Reed with his charming, yet inferior musical Oliver! (1968), which is incredibly stupid. However, the 60's can not be entirely put to blame. Thank God the Academy was not so blinded with so much majesty and glory on the screen 40 years ago and awarded the film for Best Special Effects. I'll write a paragraph specifically about that aspect as well. The awards for Best Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen and Best Art Direction-Set Decoration were not won by the film either: it just won an Oscar... Undoubtedly, 2001: A Space Odyssey has redefined both the genre itself and the definitions of "cinema" and "direction
2001: A Space Odyssey tells the story of a mysterious artifact that is discovered buried on the moon, which, curiously, is estimated to have been buried about 4 million years ago. Eighteen months later, once that a signal being sent to Jupiter from the moon is detected, a team is sent to investigate along with the computer HAL-9000. Being more honest about this, the plot is the least important thing about the film, since it only helps to get to the point the film tries to make and to establish the theories that the film exposes.
Since the first seconds of the film run, Stanley Kubrick shows his ability to create art with cinematography. From the prehistoric Africa to the confines of space, every shot, every angle, every camera rotation, every sequence is incredibly filmed and taken care of, adjusting themselves to a stunning and unparalleled perfection. That's why, cinematographically speaking, 2001: A Space Odyssey is one of the most beautiful and sensual experiences I've ever had: a true, authentic odyssey. The fact that the film wasn't nominated for Best Cinematography either is beyond me. To all of the things we've mentioned, we'll talk about two mire essential aspects in Kubrick's filmmaking style: the music and the pace.
The music of Johann Strauss is one of the most elegant and harmonious choices for the creation of atmospheres in a film that I have ever seen. Songs like "The Blue Danube" and "Thus Spoke Zarathustra," beautifully performed by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, makes us feel like dancing in the stars throughout space like if we were little children. The rhythm and pace of each sequence has a specific purpose, transforming each shot into something that must be admired at its fullest, never losing their original meaning; not one single shot is a leftover since everything forms part of a gradual process of transmitting a message. The pace is obviously not fast. Nor is it slow. It is just the best for a story of such uniqueness and depth.
Finally, talking about the cinematographic and technical aspects of the film, one of the most amazing and innovative characteristics for the year of 1968 (analyze that number, please) were the special effects. The way these were created, the creativity that required bringing them to the screen, are details that ultimately end up being completely irrelevant. What really matters about the special effects is that they can create and portray a universe, the emotions they cause in us (including travelling to infinity), the brilliance they have, the genius they represent, the way they hypnotize us, and the beautiful, wide range of colors they include. Just take a look at those colors! I even dare to say that those are the best special effects I've seen in my life.
Well... it's time to actually start talking about 2001: A Space Odyssey:
2001: A Space Odyssey is more than just a trip or a simple odyssey. It is a reflection, a commentary... one of the most chilling and true commentaries I've seen in my life, by the way. Neither the 60's nor subsequent decades were ready for such a complex message. In fact, they were so unready that almost nobody really understood the film. The movie was called "tedious," "boring", "stupid", and it was said that "it didn't make sense at all". There was so much anger that even nowadays people can't understand why 2001: A Space Odyssey is considered one of the best films of all time. Therefore, these people show and express their anger calling it "the worst / most boring movie of all time." Why do they do that, you ask? They do that because they don't want to feel stupid. I'm not saying that people are stupid if they do not get the film, but that's how they usually feel. What they do not understand is the fact that the film itself is not easy to watch, and if a person does not prepare to watch the film with an open mind and fails to receive the beauty that 2001: A Space Odyssey ends up transmitting, admiring its majesty in the way that Stanley Kubrick planned since the beginning, and neither the person prepares to see a whole new, deep, complex experience, different from the usual garbage that modern cinema represents nowadays (especially the sci-fi genre), the experience becomes into a more tedious, longer and never-ending one, until the glorious moment finally arrives: "THE MOVIE ENDS!" Unfortunately, we do not live in a society that is eager to see new and different forms of art with an open mind; on the contrary, the modern society doesn't read, neither bothers to decompose something into different layers, neither applies critical thinking (just like when we were apes). Ironically, that is one of the main themes of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Funny, isn't it? What people see nowadays is "a bunch of dumb apes jumping for 30 minutes" and "see the same spaceships over and over again in endless sequences".
Another key topic in 2001: A Space Odyssey is the evolution of mankind. A highly relevant element within the plot is a deliberately placed monolith in the most important evolutionary stages of man. It is first seen in the prehistoric Africa, 4 million years ago when the man was an ape: "The Dawn of Man." The reactions the apes show are exactly the same ones that we as fully evolved and rational beings would show nowadays: fear, curiosity, astonishment. From this moment on, the man discovers the use of tools that are at his reach and the creativity to create new ones according to their specific survival needs. However, as time went by, such tools ceased to serve these purposes and they became artifacts that made of our lives something a little bit easier and comfortable. Finally, when man is at the top of his evolutionary process, the second part of the story begins. The brutal development of technology allowed us to know a little bit more about the visible Universe that man has acknowledgment of, until now...
It is exactly at this point when Kubrick expresses his opinion about man and his possible role and relevance in the Universe. In 1997, Robert Zemeckis directed a film called Contact, in which a thoughtful comment is made near the end of the film: since the size of the Universe goes beyond our imagination, it makes our size and the space Earth occupies look almost meaningless, which makes us think that we are talking about an immense waste of space. Kubrick exposed this idea in a more brutal and direct manner 30 years ago. Just like when we were apes, just like when we were born and just like when we grew up to be just children at some point, man finds himself in a condition of similar vulnerability and dependence (towards technology) one more time once he is in space. Man requires special grip shoes in order to walk due to the lack of gravity, requires of a deep hibernation state in order to assure a longer survival period and requires food literally turned into pulp so he can provide his organism with essential nutrients. The music of Strauss and the way the Universe (in fact, only the Solar System, a tiny part of the Universe itself) is represented makes us look SO small, that we do not know if our reaction should be based in fear or laughter. In fact, we are nothing. We are just a race in charge of getting rid of a planet located in the Solar System the best way we can, a race so curious that ends up ambitioning space travel in order to explore and builds a base on the moon.
Just as we mentioned, the monolith appears during the most important evolutionary stages of man: firstly 4 million years ago, then in the future (as the film in 2001) where we are capable of exploring the space and walking on the moon, and finally both in the infinity of space and in the death of man. Whether the monolith has a particular meaning or not, the truth is that the monolith is placed there more than just deliberately. It is present in the biggest challenges of man and has a notorious influence in our evolutionary process. That is a fact.
The antagonist is one of the cruelest and coldest "villains" I have ever seen. The most chilling part is that the antagonist is a technological creation of man. The same man, blinded by industrialization, commerce, a faster technological development than those of the most powerful countries in the world, among other things, make him build machines that can amaze each new generation and each new millennium even more intensely, and (the worst of all) that can "imitate" human reasoning and emotions that distinguish us as human beings. That is the element Kubrick uses to create chaos. Although it ain't the first time that the concept of conflict between man and machines has been portrayed on a film, 2001: A Space Odyssey has definitely one of the most memorable, making HAL-9000 to become aware of its existence and to believe that it is "alive". Some may say that HAL-9000 won the battle but not the war, so man triumphs in the man-machine conflict. Obviously, this is totally untrue. If that were true, the man would not have taken his own spaceship and the thousands of artifacts in it to travel to Jupiter afterwards. We are incredibly dependent of technology and machines so greatly that it is laughable.
Another complicated issue treated by the film is the anxiety and curiosity that has always distinguished man for the comprehension of all phenomena around him so he can get to know what the human eye can't perceive or isn't able to see. Therefore, man is divided into two categories and creates two ways of thinking: science and philosophy (somehow linked with religion). That's why human beings are an agnostic and existentialist race in the deepest part of their being. We all have thought at least once about the classic 20 million dollar questions: "What are we?", "Where do we come from and where are we going?" and "What is the meaning of life?". The protagonist has a journey so intense and revealing, and experiences a rebirth so special and meaningful (becoming a very special being himself) at the end of the film, that, within the film, he's probably the only human being that ends up receiving the answers to these questions in a very direct and supernatural way. I'm definitely not suggesting that 2001: A Space Odyssey has the definitive answers to these questions, questions that I think we should not fully understand yet (what would be the purpose of life if we already understood them beforehand?) but the director definitely expresses his own opinion and what he thinks about the topic.
The last scene, which takes place in a very particular scenario of a very peculiar silence and a color that is so peaceful that one feels like floating when walking, is completely symbolic. There are different theories about what actually happened since the monolith made its penultimate appearance near Jupiter: the monolith opened a black hole; the protagonist travels to the fourth dimension where the schemes of time and space are broken; the protagonist meets God at the middle of his travel and he starts to have visions. Regardless of what actually could have happened, it is pretty obvious that the monolith had a big influence on it (once again), being a crucial element for concluding the story. We shouldn't take this scenario (the room) in its most literal form; it just shows the fragility of man and how vulnerable he can be specifically talking about the container of both the spirit and soul (the religious part and the emotional one) that is the body itself. The cup didn't just "fell accidentally". It tries to represent that our "container" may break at any time. "Death has its victory so assured that it gave us a whole life of advantage. Live it." Death can reach us at any time, an event that represents the final challenge of man: the transition to another life, or if you prefer it, the discovery of events that follow death if there is actually a new life.
The ending scene, which is one of the best scenes in movie history for me - just like the opening scene, the scene with the ape and the bone throwing, and the space sequence which begins with a bone thrown to the air which is transformed into a satellite - shows the rebirth of man as a very unique and special being: the Star-Child. That's the most perfect way to conclude all the theories and opinions that Kubrick showed throughout 2001: A Space Odyssey for me. "We are star dust." We just became into a star between millions of stars, having literally the same size we had when we were humans in comparison with the existent, infinite Universe and space.
Not even this review does justice to what 2001: A Space Odyssey really is. Stanley Kubrick was one of the best directors of cinema history that has ever lived and this is his most representative work of art of the genius he was. Forty years later, he continues to cause controversy and place new questions in his films, which are left to interpretation and have open endings. 2001: A Space Odyssey belongs to a category of superior cinema to almost any other and has the honor of literally being one of the best films of all time, of using a new way of narrating an epic story and of revolutionizing the genre, influencing hundreds of filmmakers in the future. Glory on the screen, and a feast for the senses, 2001: A Space Odyssey is the definitive masterpiece of a genius, and a rather interesting comment of what we are and represent, and the meaning of life itself.