2001: A Space Odyssey

2001: A Space Odyssey ★★★★★

You are watching from space as the Sun slowly rises from behind the shadow of the Earth. Richard Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra starts humbly with the quiet horn section, and slowly builds in volume, creating a grandiose sense of importance as the Sun rises farther, passing the horizon and illuminating its surroundings. This is the opening to Stanley Kubrick's 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey, a film I have loved my whole life. This film is about the world we live in, but also about emotion and humanity; the sun, a far off symbol of scientific wonder crests behind the home we all know as the music hits its peak. There is a feeling of togetherness, a sense of an underlying purpose.
As a person with endless, seemingly distinct passions, I strive to find a sense of togetherness for my life, and this film led me to it. Whether it is next to my best friend, shaking with excitement in a booming theater, or with my mom, warm and relaxed in my leather chair, this film has always found a way to get through to me on a personal level. One of the key plot points in this film is that the human race must reach the planet Jupiter for gravely important reasons both diplomatic and scientific. Jupiter is a planet that is described in the novel and shown in the film as so awe inspiring that the brain cannot quite comprehend its size. It can fill your entire vision from miles and miles away, forcing your logical mind to give up trying to rationalize its existence. This was a feeling I could only imagine until my Astronomy class.
I had the opportunity to study Jupiter in my Astronomy class, creating only a more tangible idea of this raging gas giant. Its eternal storms the size of continents, its impenetrable atmosphere. But I had never truly made a connection between the emotions I felt when watching the film and the facts I was furiously scribbling in my overfull notebook. I felt passion for both the art of film and the art of science. Both were awe-inspiring, of course, but they felt disconnected in some significant way. That was, until I went on a field trip on a chilly Friday night into the farms and ivy-entangled suburbs of Mountain View, California. Nearing the end of my Astronomy class, we had the opportunity there to use a handmade telescope in the backyard of a retired scholarly man and his two shy cats. Through the lens of this telescope, our group of 10 or so got to see globular clusters, a supernova, and a local galaxy. But what I saw that night that changed my perspective so permanently was Jupiter itself. Jupiter was striped with rusty orange and haloed by four of her moons, so small they appeared as tiny pinpricks of light around this dime-sized sphere. And when I saw this planet as a tiny circle with my own eyes, my face pressed up to the cold metal, in one moment we were both moving and thriving and exploding and changing in real time, nothing separating us from each other. As I stepped down the small wooden steps to the ground, I felt that everything I loved and felt passionate about could exist as one and could connect to the universe around me. Jupiter had meaning for me in film, in science, in math, and emotionally. And I had seen it materialized. On the drive back home in our van, music roaring in my headphones, I felt the togetherness of the Earth overlapping the Sun, this idea that I had felt for so long but couldn’t describe. When realizing this, it was my brain’s first instinct to feel small. I flirted with the idea, certainly. But instead I chose to feel big. Everything I create and become will exist and have an impact just as much as this impossible ball of gas will always exist somewhere, turning.
My theatre will move someone, my art will inspire awe, my comprehension of numbers will solve a problem. My understanding of the way the universe moves will fulfill someone’s rampant curiosity. And I can do all of these things simultaneously without stopping: orbiting and storming on and on in the darkness.