This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Ishan’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
"I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that."
They say this film on the big screen is a religious experience and after witnessing it that way at last, I couldn't agree more.
Because for about 2 hours and 30 minutes I was in a state of nirvana, feeling an inexpressible transcendence throughout.
After the magnificent title sequence unfolds, Kubrick takes us all the way back to our primitive days as apes in the "Dawn of Man" sequence. Apes are shown as powerless animals, ones who have no control over their fate and have to do whatever they can to survive. Suddenly a monolith appears and György Ligeti's eerie Requiem is emitted. The apes begin to surround it and touch it, in absolute wonder of its majesty. Then, a miracle occurs...one of the apes discovers tools and weapons. The use of Strauss' Also Sprach Zarathustra in this scene excellently signifies how important this moment is not just for the apes, but for the entire of humanity. This was the moment when those powerless apes had control and thus we realize that the monolith is something that helps us evolve. It is simply incredible to watch this unfold. The apes then use the weapons to hunt for food and then kill anyone who opposes them as a sign of authority. And then you all know what happens, movie magic happens. One of the apes throws the bone in the air and then.........we jump-cut millions and millions of years later to the future to a satellite. This jump-cut is just......extraordinary. It tells an entire story and shows how much mankind has advanced in the matter of seconds. And 2001: A Space Odyssey is full of legendary direction like this...
What then follows are many beautiful and long sequences to showcase the grandeur of space. Perfectly complemented with The Blue Danube, I could watch those visuals all day. Kubrick's slow-pacing adds so much of an immersive quality and level of realism to the film. It never, ever feels boring. Instead rather captivating. To quote Roger Ebert "'2001' is not concerned with thrilling us, but with inspiring our awe" and my god does it do that. It also is the best way of showing the technological advancements of mankind and how they are now seemingly taking it for granted. We are then introduced to Herwood Floyd, who we later find out is on a mission to observe the cause of the magnetic activity at Clavius. Floyd laughs at the thought of it being “Deliberately buried” by some other kind of species. But once we see that the magnetic activity was caused by the same monolith that was in the "Dawn of Man" sequence, we realize that a being of a higher power has sent the monolith in order to help humans evolve. But what's really significant is the way the astronauts approach it. It’s almost identical to the way the apes approached it and this conveys that no matter how much we have advanced, we will still always have those basic human emotions, in this case wonder.
Fast forward 18 months later to the "Jupiter Mission" sequence where we are introduced to astronauts Frank Poole and Dave Bowman and their spaceship's computer HAL 9000. This sequence is Kubrick at his best. The crew seems very emotionless to the extent that even HAL 9000 has more emotion than them. Just look at Frank's reaction to his family's birthday message transmission, not even a single ounce of a smile. I think this excellently shows just how isolated the crew are and how much artificial intelligence has advanced. HAL 9000 is known as the most reliable computer ever built, but the crew start to have suspicions after HAL makes an error of judgement. HAL as we know has been given human qualities in order to interact better with the crew. Knowing this, whenever HAL is constantly shown on the camera during the scene where HAL’s error is shown, it’s as if we can feel HAL's inner emotions (despite the monotonous voce) and as a result we feel uneasy whenever we see him. Due to this error, Dave decides to have a chat with Frank about HAL but does it in one of the space pods to avoid HAL hearing. Dave discusses with Frank about how he feels that HAL should be disconnected, we are still feeling uneasy because of Kubrick's excellent placement of HAL right between the middle of the two. But then, our uneasiness turns into complete trepidation when we see HAL looking at Frank’s and Dave's lips. This is another example of ingenious direction from Kubrick. With that one decision, so much tension is created and as a result, we are hugely concerned for Frank and Dave. Sheer horror then occurs as a space pod turns around and heads towards Frank while he's fixing a part of the spaceship. The camera then rapidly zooms onto HAL and then what we feared will happen has happened, Frank's oxygen supply has been cut off and he is now drifting into the vast emptiness of space on HAL's command. Kubrick's use of silence and nothing else except for the breathing of the astronauts during these scenes, is so petrifying. It just shows how empty space can be and how alone humans are up there. The silence completely contrasts the way space was looked at during the earlier scenes that looks at the beauty of space with so much classical music and thus the haunting effect is far more effective. HAL 9000 may honestly be the scariest villain in cinema history. The scene where he terminates the lives of the people in hibernation is the stuff of nightmares. Nothing is said, we are just looking at HAL and then at the people in the hibernation machines loosing their lives. But what makes him even more frightening is how his killer ways is just human nature. HAL 9000 a robot is resorting to killing everyone in order to survive, which was the main objective for the apes back in the "Dawn of Man" sequence. When Dave deactivates him, HAL is begging for his life in the same way a human would. This really shook me, despite HAL's monotone voice you could almost feel his desire to live and the pain he is suffering. This makes him even more human and it's chilling seeing that contrasted with Dave showing no mercy towards him in an inhuman way. It’s just….so damn powerful. Few films match the level of power here.
Once HAL is deactivated. Dave is on his own continuing the Jupiter Mission. Enter "Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite”. This sequence transcends cinema. The ominous music signifies that Dave is entering the unknown (the infinite) and then we are fired at with an abundance of colours juxtaposed with Bowman's face, which seems to be incapable of handling whatever is happening. This sequence (most commonly known as the Stargate Sequence) is utterly mesmerising to watch. First of all some of the images Douglas Trumbull creates here are unbelievable, and second of all it really captures the mystery of space and how we are unaware of what is out there. The combination of that music, those visuals and the facial expressions result in an almost psychedelic experience for the viewer with imagery that manages to absolutely floor you. It works so well because we truly feel as if we are entering another world in the exact same way Dave is. Dave then seemingly lands on Jupiter but then we see him walk out of his space pod into a white room. He then sees an older version of himself eating and then becomes that version. Then the older version of him sees an even older version of him lying in bed and then he becomes that version. Then the monolith is shown and the old man tries to reach out to it (in a similar way that the apes and astronauts did) and then is transformed into some kind of non-human star-child. This filmmaking is so otherworldly that I can't help but be completely taken aback by it. There's no way anyone can fully understand it, but are we really meant to understand it? We are witnessing the activity of beings of a higher power, activity that we humans cannot comprehend. This scene truly feels as if a force of another nature is controlling Dave's fate and then changing him into a star-child, which is a new form of evolution created by those higher beings. Not a single word is said, yet I'm shook every time. It is the very definition of pure cinema, evoking indescribable feelings you can't help but relish. When the star-child looks straight towards earth and then us, for me it shows how despite whatever state Dave is in, he will forever be connected with humanity in some way. When that scene unfolds with Strauss' music playing I can't help but tear up. They're not tears of sadness, they're tears of awe and disbelief that something so spellbinding has been crafted.