2001: A Space Odyssey ★★★★★

I cried when I first saw 2001: A Space Odyssey on the big screen. A wave of emotion brought on by a mix of anticipation, expectation, relief and pure cinematic mastery. The Earth. The Moon. Strauss. How could anyone not be overcome?

And yet, stepping back.


Where does that reaction come from? I wonder that with Kubrick. How do his cold cinematic compositions draw out such deep connections. How does he, with barely a word, leech fear and ecstasy and wonderment from our bodies, when his films feel so calculated and calculating.

Intellectual. Logical.

Kubrick in general and this film in particular is a wondrous enigma to me. Which is why I'll never stop returning to it.

If you want to speak conceptually, 2001: A Space Odyssey is not a difficult film to understand: Monolith sparks evolutionary violence. Crazy computer. Space baby. Nothing to it. But get into the nitty gritty detail and things get more complicated. That's the same with most of Kubrick's films. He was a perfectionist. He had a singular vision for what he wanted presented on the screen and he brought that vision into this world with exacting precision.

To many, that means there is an answer - a single, tick-on-the-page answer. I don't subscribe to that school of cinema-going. Films aren't a one way street. What Kubrick has put into his film is only the beginning. One only has to watch Room 237, Rodney Ascher's rapid-fire documentary on the meaning of The Shining, to know that.

Films are collaborative efforts, first in their making - let's not forget that the genesis of 2001 was not Kubrick's alone; he had as his screenwriting partner one of the world's foremost writers of science fiction, Arthur C. Clarke - then in their viewing. Every audience member brings their own experience to a film and the combination of each film and each audience member enables a new meaning.

Kubrick knew this. If he had a singular interpretation for 2001, it went to the grave with him. The director refused to give an explanation of the meaning of the film. In response to that very question from Eric Nordern at 'Playboy Magazine', Kubrick answered:

How much would we appreciate La Gioconda today if Leonardo had written at the bottom of the canvas: "The lady is smiling slightly because she has rotten teeth" - or "Because she is hiding a secret from her lover"? It would shut off the viewer's appreciation and shackle him to a reality other than his own. I don't want that to happen to 2001.

(On a side note, how jarring is it seeing the male pronoun used so ubiquitously?)

So, if you came here seeking an explanation for the film, sorry to disappoint. I can direct you to this excellent presentation, which with one or two minor adjustments would fit with my theories on 2001 (and caters for perplexed movie-goers in 13 languages).

What I want to describe here is how Kubrick's film stuck in my memory. How his images burned themselves into my consciousness. How expansive I found his and Clarke's ideas, and how terrifying I found that expansiveness to be.

Almost all of this is tied up in Kubrick's visuals. That is fascinating when you actually think about it. Out of the entire 160 minutes of 2001's runtime, under forty of those minutes carry (rather banal) dialogue, so any ideas (and there are many) need to be expressed visually. 2001's longevity is testament to how well Kubrick succeeded in this.

So I want to explore how he did this for me. I want to unpack how he has managed to link my head to my gut so powerfully...

This one is a bit long, so if you are keen to read it please click through to the original post - it's got lots of pictures to keep you entertained.

2001: A Space Odyssey is #63 in my Personal 100, a journey back through my hundred most beloved films.

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