2001: A Space Odyssey

2001: A Space Odyssey ★★★★★

“A film is—or should be—more like music than like fiction. It should be a progression of moods and feelings. The theme, what’s behind the emotion, the meaning, all that comes later.”

So said Stanley Kubrick of cinema, a quote which perfectly captures the essence of my overwhelming affinity for the director’s 1968 masterpiece. The reason I return to this film again and again is not to ponder its philosophical musings, although they are profound, nor its religious allegory, though it is transcendent, nor its cosmological scope, though it is bewildering, frightening, and awe-inspiring. All that happens later, after the lights come back on and the curtain goes down. No, the reason why Kubrick’s peerless achievement continually inhabits itself in my imagination, while so many other movies evaporate from memory before I’ve even left the theater, is because it appeals to us not only on an intellectual level, but a gut one—or as Kubrick put it on another occasion: “Sometimes the truth of a thing is not so much in the think of it, but in the feel of it.”

When I watch 2001, I watch it to watch it, to feel connected directly to its images, to be bombarded by its sounds, to feel and absorb the rhythmic movement of the shots. By a peculiar sort of logic, its narrative is beside the point; the film is an awesome audiovisual symphony, an interstellar ballet of geometry and euphonic classical waltzes. It’s the instinctual human attraction to symmetry set against the arresting notes of “Thus Spoke Zarathustra.” It’s planets and moons poised majestically against fields of stars. It’s magnificent centrifuges twirling elegantly to the tempo of “The Blue Danube.” It’s spaceships gliding across the cosmos to the chilling, disorienting chords of Ligeti. It’s intense close-ups of a computer eye whose unflinching, meditative calmness registers more strongly than any conventional antagonistic force could. It’s bodies spinning and tumbling through the cold, silent vacuum of space. It’s alien environments which shred the nerves by virtue of their sheer inexplicability. It’s shapes and colors and sounds and music reaching out to envelop us, to uplift us, to enlarge us.

Over the years, somewhat lost has been the sense that movies shouldn’t just be vehicles for narratives, but that they should foremost affect us viscerally—to show us sights we’ve never seen, to take us places we’ve never been or could never go, to immerse us in atmospheres, to offer us spectacle, and to let us vicariously experience things we could never have even imagined. The wonder of cinema. This film is wonderful.

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