Nick’s review published on Letterboxd:
Reckless optimism held together by an emphatic vision of humanity’s future and Homeric spirituality. The existentiality and importance of outer space has never been more fully realized. Nor have science and spirituality ever been more in unison. It’s not so much a case of one not existing without the other, but rather a case of one (technology) used to help regain the other (spirituality). Nietzsche cried out “God is dead,” but who’s to say that he cannot be revived? Who’s to say that he even died? The enlightenment thinkers killed God, but Kubrick proposes that we are capable of bringing him back. But to eradicate cynicism in such a highly developed time, science and the hubris of man has to fail – reach a point where nothing else can be accomplished materially.
Science is finite and Kubrick proves it with the HAL computer. The man-made machine incapable of failure or malfunction failed and malfunctioned. Which almost renders every technological advance as worthless. From the ape’s femur tool to the spacecraft used to explore the solar system – all of it pales in comparison to the ultimate unknown. But to find the unknown, at least in Kubrick’s mind, you have to physically reach the end of human comprehension. Not to the point of insanity, but to the point of complete clarity and oneness with the divine. It’s not insignificant that David is transformed into the most innocent form of a human – an infant. Infants and children don’t see the world with cynicism or Germanic nihilism. They have no profound comprehension of things, they only experience life in the purest sense – devoid of logic and entirely emotional. At the end of his life, he’s brought back into purity.
This becomes evident in the filmmaking. There's only forty or so minutes of dialogue in this two-and-a-half hour film. It's about creating an experience that matches the inexplicable kind of innocence that only a child possesses. Where every gesture, action, and inaction is entirely rooted in subjectivity, and the greater moments are profound for different reasons depending on the individual. "I think that if 2001 succeeds at all, it is in reaching a wide spectrum of people who would not often give a thought to man’s destiny, his role in the cosmos and his relationship to higher forms of life." The message becomes the medium, to steal Kubrick's words.
And purity takes you through nearly all of Kubrick’s filmography. He’s obsessed with it - maintaining it, protecting it, perverting it. He winds up zeroing in on some specificity (male psyche, families, war, fathers, etc.), but the undercurrents are almost always the same. 2001 isn’t cautionary sci-fi, it’s not a horror story in outer space, but it is a celebration of wonder and purity. It’s something that simply cannot be manufactured – as he shows us in A Clockwork Orange. Purity is something that’s inherently divine in Kubrick’s eyes, and ultimately beyond a certain comprehension. 2001 is the ultimate fulfillment of Kubrick’s interest in purity – framing the narrative as an existential odyssey where man regains his soul and his connection to the divine.
Which is ultimately why space travel is so crucial to 2001. The search for God from within has manifested itself as a voyage into the great unknown. A fulfillment of our destiny. The logical next step. The faith was revitalized each time we discovered a new world. And I don’t mean that in a completely colonial sense, only partially. Think of the existential implications of sailing indefinitely on the sea, landing on a different world – these explorers in their own way got closer than any of us ever could to divinity. It was their way of collectively recapturing faith – escapism is the simulation of this sensation, minus the fulfillment. Pretty mind-blowing that we landed on the moon a little over a year after this film was released.