2001: A Space Odyssey

2001: A Space Odyssey ★★★★★

Obviously 2001 deserves a considerable amount of writing if one is going to write about it, and what particularly is worth following is in it's explorations of unknowables and material (can we use that in regards to space?) indifference as opposed to adversity or hostility. What strikes me now though, just so I don't forget, goes back to that old Spielberg quote about "science-eventuality" over science-fiction - while the concept of a rotating wheel space station had been around since the early parts of the 20th century (and which was undoubtably researched by Kubrick) so much that can be seen as prediction, whether it be live video transmissions, a legitimate precursor to the iPad (remarkably, with a vertical screen), or artificial intelligence, are all rooted within invention in regards to utility. Though the concept of a rotating space station was ultimately deemed unfeasible by the mid-70s (Kubrick's one miss), nothing in 2001 exists because it "looks futuristic" or allows for imagination or subconscious impressions to reflexively fill the gap of what could be except for the monolith itself - whose appearances are almost like finally being allowed to gasp for air. Funny enough (given one object that looks like an iPad) I was reminded not of other films made before or after, but rather Steve Jobs 2007 Apple Keynote where the iPhone was first introduced, where Jobs carefully takes us through the iPhone's design decisions and how they are meant to accent and foreground the purposes the machine would be used for.

Naturally however, 2001 is a film and not a phone and so the reasons it works is not just because of this but precisely because of the tensions and contrasts it creates between the "eventuality" as Spielberg says, and the appeals to the subconscious throughout with the monolith and it's quite literal journey into the unknown - as Kubrick himself stated, HAL, the artificial intelligence, malfunctions because of its own emotional crisis from being incapable of admitting that it could make mistakes. One can wonder aloud what Kubrick's final intentions with 2001 are to this day - something he openly encouraged - though it's hard not to read 2001s finale as an optimistic one. Both HAL and David Bowman engage in a battle for their individual survival, however only one can admit their flaws. Yet as we know from the films end that we can't be so literal minded here, though it is still Bowman who wins and essentially progresses some next stage of human development, which I imagine Kubrick believes might take place in space. Survival and impulse is a recurring theme in Kubrick - most optimistic here, at its most debased in Clockwork Orange, Full Metal Jacket and The Shining, and most questionable in Barry Lyndon. Though I find myself thinking of Chaplin often lately it is what links the two filmmakers who so often clamoured for perfection - the darkest corners of instinct as seen in Clockwork Orange as Alex dresses with bowler hat and cane, or Chaplin's own life in Barry Lyndon (though admittedly with a considerably different outcome) and 2001 in many ways is an inverted Modern Times. Yet, its the optimism at the heart of 2001 that reminds one the most of the prior filmmaker, as well as being my favorite of Kubrick's works and the one I find myself returning to the most, sometimes out of curiosity, sometimes feeling like I have not understood something, and sometimes just out of sheer pleasure, which is something I only find myself getting otherwise out of Chaplin. That Bowman succeeds out his own survival instinct (though again, this notorious instinct will come under further scrutiny in later works) is what makes the film so beautiful and poetic - space travel is the next step, sure, but 2001 is about letting us know that we can get there too, and that unknowables are just that. That reads as too simple, but it is this tension and combination of utility and unknowable that makes this such a remarkable work of the mediums history. Some like myself, may prefer the utility, and some may prefer the unknowable, but 2001's triumph is that both need each other.

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