2001: A Space Odyssey

2001: A Space Odyssey ★★★★½

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

After watching Mallick's The Thin Red Line, I have come to appreciate films that focus more on form and style and less on narrative. 2001: A Space Odyssey is no different - there are some clear recurring themes, but Kubrick seems to be more concerned with having us marvel at the cosmic journey he is taking us on, than any specific plot details. Unsurprisingly, 2001 engages our intellect much more than it engages our emotions. Ironically, the most heartfelt lines are not delivered by human characters, but by the infamous H.A.L 9000, aboard The Discovery.

2000traces the evolution of the human race through four distinct chapters: from the dawn of man to the birth of a new species. A recurring motif in the film is an ominous black "monolith," associated with a possible alien race that has piqued the interest of humans. These monoliths in the film seem to be catalysts for evolution. The first time we see one, the ape has a revelation that a bone can be used as a destructive tool (one of my favorite scenes in the film), the next time humans stumble upon it, it precipitates a technological development allowing humans to travel to Jupiter, with the help of H.A.L, and finally, at the end of the film, as Dave beholds it on his death bed, it ultimately leads to the birth of a new species (the "starchild"). Similar to the monolith, the appearance of 2001 in the history of cinema was a catalyst for all the developments in sci fi that were to follow, from Solaris to Star Wars to Alien to more recent films such as Ex Machina and Interstellar.

2001 has also predicted and influenced technological developments beyond cinema including the "picture phone" Dr. Floyd uses at the beginning of the film. While the idea to use grip shoes to counteract the effects of zero gravity seems a bit far-fetched now, the popularized design of the rotating space station, the ability of A.I. to beat humans at strategic games such as chess, as well as the notion of recreational space travel have been foretold by 2001. The images of 2001 are both distilled and ambitious in their scope, from H.A.L.'s watching eye to the extended stargate sequence, where Dave gazes into the void of a wormhole, traveling through space and time.

Nearly 50 years later, 2001 is still a cinematic marvel of sounds and imagery that are quite convincing. I found myself constantly asking "how did they do that?" seeing objects floating in the station, spacecraft gliding through space, liquified cosmic images, and characters walking (or jogging) around circular rooms. The final moments of the film are left open to extensive interpretation, but it seems that throughout the film Kubrick is warning us about the destructive nature of technology and its ability to dehumanize us, and that our only hope is to somehow transcend it.

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