2001: A Space Odyssey

2001: A Space Odyssey ★★★★★

Stray thoughts on an umpteenth viewing, first time in 70mm.

-A lot of science fiction critics will cite films for what they get right and wrong about the future, which always strikes me as a very dumb way to look at any type of science fiction. And even for what Kubrick gets "right" here, we also have companies like Pan American Airlines, Liberty Bell Telecom, and Howard Johnson's hotels. But there is a point in the emphasis on technology here. A lot of the film is essentially obsessed with the progress and limitations of the human body, and so we get a lot of scenes that make us examine "how would we exist up there?" with diverse results, some progress (grip shoes!) and others for jokes (the toilet explanation). What tools do we use to support us, and which ones do we become completely dependent upon?

-For all the poetry Kubrick creates with sound, music, and image, I think one of my favorite aspects is how bored everyone acts in this film. Not to say they are bored, but they see this as almost tedious in how slow they have to move. There's a great close-up on Poole when he first goes out to examine the antenna, where he has the blankest face in the world as he slowly moves from the Pod to the Antennae, only the sound of his breathing to occupy his mind. He senses his own limitations in this non-earthly environment, and simply has to deal with it by waiting.

-In some ways, the special effects are perhaps starting to show their age—or at least I can see the clarity of the models in 70mm in a way a small screen may have hidden that before. Not a diss of course. It's the way Kubrick moves through these shots with both a simplicity and a complexity. There's one shot in particular during the first "Blue Danube" sequence where the camera moves through the spinning space station that has a sweeping gesture of beauty to it, erasing any sense that we should see the special effects and begin to become part of its reality.

-I love the sounds of the monolith, which seem to work as both diagetic and non-diagetic score; you can imagine those apes hearing the godly choruses bellowing at them as they stare in utter confusion. And the same could be said of the astronauts approaching the monolith on the moon.

-HAL's ending registered as more disturbing than I've ever seen. It was interesting to see HAL's pleas garner laughs for the audience but they quickly elided as it became more tragic and more disturbing (except for one awful woman). "I can feel my mind going" — a fake plea or a real sense of technology seeing its own death? It is made extra tragic with the close-up's on Dave's terrified face: afraid of killing someone, who is essentially a friend, and also to be left totally alone in space.

-Kubrick's best gambit was to drop Clarke's nuclear peace ending. It's an obvious Rosetta Stone for the film (the apes can use the tool for meat but also as a weapon!! HAL both supports the humans but also can kill them!) for turning what is something epic and autonomous from meaning into something that would be blatantly didactic and obvious. It would essentially erase what makes 2001 special during the "Beyond Jupiter" sequence. Why that sequence works, is not that it confounds meaning, but it gives you just enough to create a narrative throughline. Kubrick cuts just enough to Dave's jolting face and then eye during the journey, and even this time, it seemed you could create a pretty logical progression of why each psychedelic image followed the next (wormhole to the diamond alien spaceships (I think?) to tour of galaxies to an ever distant planet). The same could be said for Dave's death room, as each older Dave appears, the crass collection of Greek/Roman sculptures, pre-Renaissance paintings, French antiquity architecture, and more, to the final appearance of Humanity 2.0. There's a point where it simply asks you to trust the filmmaker's poetry, and if you do, it's worth the purely sensual experience of watching more than anything else.