2001: A Space Odyssey

2001: A Space Odyssey ★★★★★

The search for perfection through touching God, a superior race or inside the technology of a super-computer, aligns a symmetry that runs through the heart of Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke's depiction of human discovery. That level of superiority is always ebbing away from our fingertips. An elusive superpower we believe will transform our ills once we enter the golden gates of supreme knowledge that will hold the key to our existence.

As NASA was in the final stages of preparation for a launch into space that would change our comprehension of the universe around us, 2001 was released into the world. It builds upon decades of mostly absurd science fiction to create a soberingly cold platform that would mould our imagination in cinema toward a more cautious and cynical perception.

Like Terence Malick's The Tree of Life, which is a modern day take on many of the theme's explored here, 2001 is an inquisitive search designed to engage with our instincts. Visceral would be one way to describe the journey although it doesn't lean heavily on emotional elements. Douglas Trumbull's visual effects connect the two films together through their more surreal and translucent imagery. These moments are often dismissed as superfluous art-house navel-gazing at its worst. Rather - in the case of 2001 in particular - it is a post-modernist statement made in-line with evolution of the concept.

Whilst the serious propositions of the film have been intensely studied by the the general public and the science community, there is also a wicked strand of humour running throughout. It is very much in keeping with Kubrick's other films where he would point toward the absurdities found in the most intense or horrific of situations. His dry wit was very much in keeping with UK sensibilities which explains his move from New York and the continued reference to culture on this side of the Atlantic.

Kubrick brings full circle the ideas of confrontation, suspicion and self-realisation that he first presents in the first act on Earth. The atmospheric state onboard with HAL 9000 is seemingly placid and functional. There is an order and regularity without real knowledge of what they are actually doing floating through space with the software embodiment of human intelligence. HAL retains a level of information that the rest of the crew have not been allowed access to and that power-hungry status simulates a dictator taking action on others behalf. A piece of technology is only as precise as the people that construct it which makes HAL a digital spawn of the human race, a sentient piece of kit just as likely as us to blow a fuse as we are.

The 'star gate' inter-dimensional section is where the entire film slowly builds toward. Splashes of colour and walls of sound converge on the journey into the alien portal which makes little constructive sense to the mind but dazzles with its intense beauty. Much like the use of Strauss around the ballet of space earlier in the film the message is implicit. Follow the tracks of thought that make sense to you. No definitive answer was provided by Kubrick and that open-ended interpretation plays into the hands of our own desire to provide a personal answer to the question.

Space continues to expand and grow just as we are individually supposed to. The edge of the universe ventures into an incomprehensible void outside the margins of our imagination. We wake up tomorrow sure of the routines onboard our vessel but less certain of the exploration outside of that. We try and fail, we hope and succeed. It's what makes us who we are and drives us on to keep reaching for the stars and beyond.

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