2001: A Space Odyssey

2001: A Space Odyssey ★★★★★

"I am putting myself to the fullest possible use, which is all I think that any conscious entity can ever hope to do." - HAL
#23 on Berken's Favorite Movies Of All Time

What the hell did I just watch? The only possible conclusion I can come to is the following:

1. Stanley Kubrick is an alien.
2. 2001: A Space Odyssey is his monolith.
3. You and I are apes, crowding around the foot of that monolith, hooting, and hollering at the giant black slab standing above us that we can't possibly make sense of.
4. This is a good thing.

Okay, let me unpack this concept. First, in the intro, a group of apes encounters the alien artifact that they can't understand, leading one of the apes to look at a dead animal's bones from a completely altered perspective and thereby discover weaponry. Then, in the 2nd act, a similar encounter with the alien monolith triggers an innovation frenzy among the modern human race and propels them to Jupiter a mere 18 months later. In both these cases it is experience of that which we cannot grasp, according to Kubrick, that causes us to push beyond our mental barriers and reach for something greater.

And so in 1968 Kubrick gave us 2001: A Space Odyssey, wherein we came upon shot after shot of fantastical ideas that we could barely grasp - a robot intelligence with a capacity for logic (and possibly, emotion) beyond that of even humans, a mind-meltingly insane ring-shaped spaceship hull in which any direction could be up or down depending on where one is standing, and most of all, a trippy, nonsensical finale that's as alien to us as that giant slab was to those apes.

Finally, he issued the human race a challenge in the form of a deadline - the year 2001 is where this would all take place, he claimed, leaving us a mere 33 years to innovate like crazy and see where our newly altered perspective might take us.

Well, we failed to live up to the lofty standard set by Kubrick's imagined 2001, for sure, seeing as most of us don't live on moon bases or hang out with hyper-intellectual robots. Yet Kubrick's goal wasn't to predict the future; his goal was to provoke and inspire.

Did it work? Well, speaking personally, I know it inspired me to think of the cosmos differently - wondering why, for instance, we haven't seen private corporations pursue space travel with more vigor. More importantly, however, ask yourself this - how many of the world's current astronauts and scientists were inspired by 2001: A Space Odyssey so many years ago to do what they do today? My guess is quite a few.

Admittedly, this will never be my favorite movie, given its glacial pace and non-sequitor ending - hence why I went back and forth before finally deciding to give it 5 stars. Yet does that really matter when something is as genuinely revolutionary and inspirational as this, no less now than it was in 1968? In the end, Kubrick's monolith and the legacy it inspires will speak for itself.

Year 1968 on my Hollywood Century Project

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