2001: A Space Odyssey

2001: A Space Odyssey ★★★★★

Jan 12 2015; 9:15pm - Tired, drunk, already had dinner. But I was anticipating the day I’m supposed to watch this.

As the film began, there was no image. Only an abrasive and destructive noise that sounds like it came from the Eleventh level of hell. I still stared at my 16 inch TV, patiently waiting for something momentous to happen. And after three minutes, I was correct in my prediction.

My folks upstairs were minding their own business. I can hear pop music from there, but it never distracts from the viewing. In fact, if I were to take a bathroom break, made myself a sandwich or daydreamed, I felt that I haven’t missed a single thing in this film, mostly because the events are incredibly slow.

The noise away made me wonder, what would happen if there was no classical music at all and was instead replaced and curated by modern sounds. What if I could replace Danube with the sound of James Blake. Would it make any difference to the atmosphere provided?

My perception of 2001 is shaped by my beliefs in how the human race evolves. I’m not suggesting that I wanted this film to confirm them, but this is how its narrative follows. It creates a cycle between optimism and pessimism. As we start from the Dawn of Mankind, the sight of a primate picking up a bone and using it for self-defense sparks our hope. It reveals the sign of evolution and a birth of a new species. Four million years later, it seems that it happened much quickly. While we communicate via advanced technology, through videocalling (hello Facetime and Skype), the food we digest are more liquid than they are solid. Does that mean that Earth already ran out of resources and this is what we can depend on, to balance consumption and saving of food. Any enthusiasm for the human species felt much more moderate because we already had enough to explore the world.

But it diminishes that feeling as soon as we get into the Jupiter Mission. HAL 9000, the AI for the Discovery One, is designed to be perfect. He has the emotions of a human being, but remains a piece of technology assisting the Dave, manning the mission. It soon kills his own crew as soon as he eavesdropped Dave’s conversation into turning him off.

HAL’s rampage comes from a sense of a Napoleon complex. It’s a reflection on the individual’s larger ego; that they are capable of being as equal as their peers. That being alienated is going to be the end all of their lives and that their contribution would already be discounted. It’s based on a fear of superiority. During the conversation between Dave and Frank, it’s based on the assumption that HAL would not cooperate if he were to be turned off. I personally think it’s a dickish move for them to stab it in the back. Maybe he is capable of what he’s doing. But it’s perhaps HAL’s personality blunder that gets the better of him.

Ultimately Jupiter’s mission is an indication of pessimism based on a critical decision that is simultaneously ethical and unethical based on purpose and communication respectively. It confirms the passive technophobia of its audience where machines would take over human work rapidly, if our minds don’t know how to properly handle it.

Watching this film, I literally felt cold. It was a rainy summer day with a min. temperature of 19 degrees. My throat itches as soon as the film reaches the Jupiter Mission. Every film about space left me with such isolation, but rarely is this incredibly effective here.

One more thing to note. Last week, I watched Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris which explores the human psyche in space, but rather on a narrow and metaphysical scale. Watching 2001, I was reminded how great Solaris and whether it would go together as a double feature. And I wonder whether Kris Kelvin could go through with the assistance of HAL. But then again, a machine is more powerful than a human comparatively.